Illegal poaching in Africa has decimated wildlife such as rhino and elephant, which are targeted for their horns and tusks respectively. These items are smuggled to Asia, where they fetch high prices on the black market. Now a specially trained anti-poaching unit — the Black Mambas — comprised almost entirely of women, is taking the poachers head on, with remarkable success in the area in which they operate.
The Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit consists of a group of 36 women and one man who fight wildlife poaching on the ground and within the local communities. But instead of using guns in their battle against poaching, the Black Mambas believe education is key to combating wildlife poaching in Africa.
This tactic appears to be working, as these unique rangers have had remarkable success in their quest to put an end to wildlife poaching in their area.
Named after the fastest and most poisonous snake in the world, the Black Mambas Anti-poaching Unit was founded in 2013 by Craig Spencer, Managing Director at Transfrontier Africa and Head Warden at Balule Nature Reserve.
Spencer is the manager and only male member of this otherwise all female anti-poaching unit.
Before joining Balule, Spencer headed the Overstrand Nature Conservation Department in the Western Cape of South Africa, where he cut his teeth fighting coastal poachers whose primary target was abalone.
He founded and managed the coastal anti-poaching unit M.A.R.I.N.E.S., which was very successful in combating illegal poaching along this African coastline.
The female members of the Black Mambas are recruited from previously disadvantaged local communities dotted around game reserves that border the Kruger National Park.
Newly recruited rangers undergo a tough 6-week training program, before going out into the bush with a more seasoned team to gain field experience.
Their role is to prevent poaching activity by conducting regular patrols within the Balule Nature Reserve, as well as on a neighboring tribal farm.
By doing so, they create a barrier that prevents poachers from accessing the Kruger National Park, which experiences high poaching activity, with rhino being the primary target.
Fighting Wildlife Poaching on the Ground
The Black Mambas work on the ground, using specially trained dogs to track poachers who target wildlife for bush-meat or their valuable body parts.
The unit conducts daily searches for poacher’s camps and bush-meat kitchens, removing any wire snares set to trap wildlife that they come across during these activities.
To date they have removed more than 1000 snares, which could have resulted in the death of over 1000 animals, including that of endangered species such as wild dog and cheetah.
These daily patrols enable the female anti-poaching unit to detect poachers early, which gives them the opportunity to relay the information back to base, so that armed rangers can be sent out to thwart any attempt at rhino poaching within the area.
The Black Mambas also monitor rhino daily, tracking their movement using VHF and GPS transmitters.
When rhino move into poaching ‘hot-spots’ considered high-risk areas, armed rangers are alerted and deployed, to protect the rhino from any potential poachers.
The Black Mambas have identified and destroyed over 10 poachers’ camps and three bush meat kitchens within the “buffer-zone” and reduced snaring and poisoning activities by 76% within our area of operation since their deployment in 2013.
Environmental Education Initiatives
Besides fighting poaching on the ground, the Black Mambas are involved with a community environmental awareness program that strives to create an ‘environmentally literate community’ by creating awareness of the benefits of conserving wildlife and protecting rhino.
“The objectives of this program are to bring knowledge to life, raise awareness of their surrounding environment, give a better understanding of conservation, lead to sustainable use of resources and install environmental problem-solving skills and ultimately installing an ethical ethos in our future generations.”
The Bush Babies Environmental Education Program is an environmental literacy program involving weekly visits to four local schools, creating environmental awareness amongst 264 learners.
The environmental education program works in tandem with the school curriculum, covering four basic themes:
- Basic ecology (grass, trees, soils, environment, water etc.)
- Friends of the rhino (mammals, reptiles, birds, insects etc.)
- Tour my world
- Protectors of the rhinos (Black Mamba APU)
Anti-poaching and Conservation Awards
The Black Mambas have achieved recognition for their outstanding contribution to wildlife conservation anti-poaching efforts in Africa, winning some prestigious conservation awards.
In July 2015, the Black Mambas won the Best Conservation Practitioner Category of the 2015 Rhino Conservation Awards.
This category includes any person who is working full-time in the conservation field, and fighting rhino poaching through protected area management, intelligence gathering and strategic anti-poaching operation management.
In September 2015, the unit won the Inspiration and Action category of the prestigious Champions of the Earth Award — the United Nations highest environmental accolade “recognizing visionary people and organizations all over the world that exemplify leadership and advocate action on sustainable development, climate change and a life of dignity for all.”
“Community-led initiatives are crucial to combating the illegal wildlife trade and the Black Mambas highlight the importance and effectiveness of local knowledge and commitment. Their many successes are a result of their impressive courage and determination to make a difference in their community,” said UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, as he presented the award. “The Black Mambas are an inspiration not only locally, but across the world to all those working to eliminate the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade. With every rhino saved, the Black Mambas demonstrate that action on a local level is critical to achieving global sustainability and equity.”
The achievements of this remarkable band of women in such a short space of time is truly phenomenal, especially considering the hardened criminal element they are dealing with on a daily basis.
Their success highlights how focused, small-scale local community efforts with a broad vision can have a powerful impact on the conservation of endangered species.
Imagine the positive impact we could achieve if we had Black Mamba anti-poaching units in every protected area in Africa.