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Black Mambas

© Lee-Ann Olwage

Meet the ladies of the Black Mambas, an all-female anti-poaching unit who are changing the face of conservation.

The Black Mamba anti-poaching unit was founded in 2013 by Transfrontier Africa and was created to protect the Olifants West Region of Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa. They have since expanded to cover the entire Balule area which forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park. Since the unit went into operation in 2013, the number of rhinos lost to poaching has plummeted, snaring and illegal bush-meat incidents have been reduced by 75 per cent, and nine poacher incursions have been detected, leading to the arrests of the offenders. The 32 unarmed members of the unit conduct foot- patrols, observations, vehicle checks and, roadblocks, as well as educating their peers on the importance of conservation and gathering intelligence from their communities.

Restoring dignity and self-worth, and empowering communities to play their part, is a crucial component of efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade across the globe, and the Black Mambas are an outstanding example of success. Their brave actions are sending the message to others in South Africa and beyond those communities themselves can prevent the illegal wildlife trade—which threatens not only iconic species such as rhino and elephants, but puts money in the hands of criminal gangs, thus increasing insecurity, and threatens livelihoods.

The Mambas have recently been awarded with The Champions of the Earth Award by the United Nations for 2015. This is a remarkable achievement and shows that the world is taking notice of the incredible work that these women are doing.

The Black Mambas are often portrayed as women doing a man’s job. But perhaps that is not the case. Perhaps they are women doing what women do best: nurturing, educating and taking care of our communities and wildlife.

When Craig Spencer from Transfrontier Africa was asked to help with the increasing poaching problem, he realised that a new approach was needed. Poaching is evolving and the poachers now have access to greater tools then before. He knew that we couldn’t solve the same old problem with the same old tools. A new approach was needed. Hence, the Black Mamba initiative came into being.

“We need a rapid return on our investment and, therefore, we invest in the woman of these communities.” The women are the ones taking care of their families, the sick and the elderly. They are the ones harvesting fire wood and providing for the household. The women are the heart and soul of the community and, by investing in them, Craig knew that he was investing in the future of these communities and our natural heritage.

Initially the men laughed at the women, telling them not to go out and do a man’s job, but to rather stay at home to cook and clean. This perception soon changed and the
Mambas are now highly respected within their communities and valued for the work they do.

The Black Mamba initiative is a social upliftment programme that aims to address unemployment and assist with skills development in South Africa. All Black Mamba recruits are from local, previously disadvantaged communities, and they go through a rigorous six-week training programme prior to deployment with an existing unit to further their training through work experience.

“Yes, our main objective is the protection of wildlife, but we also strive to create a strong bond and educate the communities that live on the boundaries of Balule and the Greater Kruger National Park to the benefits of saving their natural heritage. It is our belief that the war on poaching will not be won with guns and bullets, but through the local communities and education,” says Spencer.

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