Female War Veteran Is Now Fighting to Protect Africa’s Wildlife from Poachers

U.S. Army veteran Kinessa Johnson, who served in Afghanistan for four years, has gone from protecting humans to protecting animals. She is the latest addition to VETPAW (Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife), an organisation that enlists retired veterans to hunt down wildlife poachers in East Africa.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, rhinos, elephants, and other types of wildlife on the continent may become extinct within our lifetime. Which is why the work that Johnson and her fellow veterans are doing is immensely important. The team arrived in Tanzania on 26 March, and quickly got down to work: “We’re going over there to do some anti-poaching, kill some bad guys, and do some good,” Johnson said.

Johnson, a former sharp-shooter from Western Washington, works as a technical advisor to anti-poaching rangers. Her job is to train park rangers and patrol with them to provide support. The training will include marksmanship, field medicine, and counter-intelligence. “Our intention is not to harm anyone; we’re here to train park rangers so they can track and detain poachers and ultimately prevent poaching,” she said. “So I patrol routinely with them and also assist in intelligence operations.”

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“Most of the time anyone that is in the reserve with a weapon is considered a threat and can be shot if rangers feel threatened,” she added, explaining that African park rangers are in serious need of assistance. “They lost about 187 guys last year over trying to save rhinos and elephants,” she revealed. “Our goal is to prevent trigger pulling throughs strategic movements and methods of prevention.”

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Johnson said that she decided to join VETPAW because of her love for animals, and because protecting endangered species is a cause that’s important to her. Also, the revenue from selling the parts of slaughtered wildlife is believed to fund war and terrorism in Africa. So it made sense to her to volunteer her strength and skills to help protect wildlife.

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The non-profit VETPAW was established by retired Marine Ryan Tate, who specifically employs post-9/11 veterans as volunteers. “When I returned to civilian life after the Marine Corp, I lost myself,” he said. But when he learned about the brutality of the poaching crisis in Africa, and that the rangers were dying to protect wildlife, he found his new mission. “I realised I have the skills necessary to help save animals and the people who risk their lives daily. That’s when I decided to create VETPAW.”

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Johnson and her teammates are not only doing a phenomenal job in Africa, but are also helping to raise funds for the cause. Johnson has taken to social media for fundraising – posting badass photographs of herself and her team in action – with over 45,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram. When asked on a Q&A forum on Reddit if she or her team had killed any poachers yet, she stated: “We don’t operate with the intent to kill anyone.”

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If you’re interested in knowing more about Johnson and VETPAW’s unique mission, you could check them out on Facebook. Discovery channel will also be making a documentary on their activities in Africa, to be released sometime at the end of this year.

Sources: New York Daily News, True Activist

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