Team Lioness - KenyaWe're transforming what it means to be a woman ranger
Seven out of 10 of the fastest male marathon runners of all time are Kenyan athletes. Five out of 10 of the fastest female marathon runners of all time are Kenyan athletes. Names like Eliud Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei and Mary Jepkosgei Keitany should ring a bell for athletics enthusiasts, particularly in the marathon category as they are among that elite group of the world’s top athletes able to run 26.2 miles and earn their place as the world’s top 10 fastest people over the distance. One place in Kenya is common to all of them—Eldoret, a town on a plateau in the Rift Valley. At 2,100 meters altitude, this is where some of the world’s most elite athletes train to win – the high altitude scientifically proven to improve athletic performance. Eldoret is where many more go to try to accomplish dreams of being amongst the fastest runners ever. It is where they learn the life skills of working hard, staying the course and never, ever giving up.
Growing up in Amboseli, 550 kilometers south and about 1,000 lower in altitude, Eunice Peneti was a great athlete. She was so good at running that her high school education was supported by a government-sponsored scholarship. On completing high school, Eunice moved to Eldoret, revered training ground for world-renowned Olympic athletes. It was a unique opportunity for the young woman and one that helped drill further tenacity into an already determined character. Once there she participated and even won a few races before returning to Amboseli to apply, and succeed, in earning her position as a member of IFAW’s Team Lioness. Team Lioness is composed of women community wildlife rangers—the first women in Amboseli to take up this physically, mentally and emotionally demanding job in the highly patriarchal Maa community. The lessons learned at Eldoret came in handy. In July 2021, the 29-year-old achieved another milestone, becoming the first Team Lioness member to learn how to drive. She has also become the first-ever and only female community wildlife ranger in the Amboseli Ecosystem to drive.
There are four drivers amongst Eunice’s colleagues - the Olgulului Community Wildlife Rangers (OCWR) – all of them are male. We asked her what made her want to learn to drive and join her male colleagues. Eunice recalled how, in July 2019, while on a cross border patrol with fellow rangers from Kenya and Tanzania, there was only one competent driver amongst the rangers and when he needed assistance with the vehicle, none of the rangers could drive. Though this incident spurred Eunice’s interest, she did not do anything about it at the time. Several months later, Eunice’s boss the Director of the Olgulului Community Wildlife Rangers (OCWR) needed a vehicle moved from one of the seven OCWR bases to another. Once again, no one on duty was able to drive. This was the final push that Eunice needed! Soon after, she informed the Director of her desire to learn how to drive. He advised her to write a letter articulating her interest and just two days later, she handed over her written request. This was quickly approved and there began her journey to learn not just basic driving but also defensive driving, a key skill in the rugged Amboseli terrain. IFAW catered financially for Eunice’s training and upkeep including accommodation and meals throughout her seven weeks stay in Nairobi where she attended the courses. IFAW also catered for her transportation costs to and from Amboseli.
As a member of IFAW’S Team Lioness, Eunice is already a role model for young women in Kenya. Her new driving skills are rare among women in her community. Eunice does not take her achievements lightly. While she is rightfully proud, Eunice is mostly hoping to inspire women and girls from her local community to take on previously male-dominated roles. She cites her own inspiration as a woman police officer whom she greatly admired as a girl at high school. Though she never knew her name or anything about her, Eunice who is also a mother to a seven-year-old daughter, looked up to the woman officer whom she says was pristine in her uniform as she drove herself to work daily at the police station close to her high school. Now, Eunice is a role model for young girls in Kenya, inspiring them to push boundaries and chase their dreams.