Kinessa Johnson is much more than just a lady with a gun. She is a U.S. Army Veteran, diesel mechanic, weapons instructor and anti-poaching advisor who has a passion for the outdoors as well as wildlife conservation. She is also a part of the VETPAW (Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife) team that is currently operational in Africa.
VETPAW’s main objective is to conserve African wildlife, and they do this by using skilled U.S. Army Veterans to train and assist park rangers in anti-poaching operations and also to educate local communities about the harmful consequences of poaching.
GAFF editor Hennie Viljoen got in touch with Kinessa to ask her some questions about herself and also to find out more about VETPAW.
Tell us more about yourself and your military experience?
Born and raised in Louisiana, I joined the army in 2007 and served for four and a half years. I was a diesel mechanic and I served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2010. I grew up in a small southern town next to Fort Polk so I was always around the military community at a young age. I was a tomboy as a kid and played basketball and ran track.
How did you get involved with VETPAW?
I was doing a photoshoot for Skallywag Tactical, and a gentleman there getting a product shoot done came over and talked to me for a bit. He told me that he knew of a team looking for a tough female and that I should contact them. I got in contact with Oz and Ryan and I found out that they were searching for a female veteran to train female rangers in Africa, and now I’m here in Africa training rangers and conducting counter-poaching missions. Pretty exciting to say the least!
How will you be educating people in Africa to create anti-poaching awareness?
While our mission is to work with park rangers, one thing I am passionate about is working with park rangers to educate poachers on why poaching needs to be stopped. I’ve found that many offenders don’t understand the devastating effects that poaching can and will have if these atrocities are not stopped.
It’s truly satisfying to see the emotional changes in a poacher when they begin to realize that poaching is a selfish and dishonorable act that is ruining the futures of their families and their communities. As much of a crime as poaching is, we need these poachers reformed and back in their communities to educate others.
Which firearms will be used in your anti-poaching operations?
Park rangers typically carry AK-47s in Tanzania. This does vary from country to country.
What is your favorite gun of all time?
I would have to say the grease gun… it’s just a fun gun to shoot.
It’s quite obvious that you train hard, how do you keep fit in the African bush?
Haha about that… right now it’s kinda hard to get a good solid workout in. We don’t have any type of gyms or gym equipment here. So right now just a lot of body weight kind of stuff or I’ll throw on my plate carrier and use that. Out here it’s about improvising.
What music is currently on your playlist?
I have everything from country to metal… my mood determines what music I listen to.
What do you do for fun, other than combating poachers and protecting African wildlife?
Normally back in the states I spend a lot of time outdoors. I enjoy going fishing and camping, it’s nice to just cut the world out and enjoy nature. I also really enjoy shooting, traveling and just being involved in the Veterans community.
What can the public do to support VETPAW and its anti-poaching initiatives?
If anyone wants to support VETPAW they can go to www.vetpaw.org to donate or learn about more ways to support us. Spreading the word about our mission via social media is always helpful. We really appreciate the support everyone has given thus far.
Where can we follow you on social media?
You can follow me and the VETPAW team on the following:
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