Women of the Black Mamba unit prevent poaching and promote wildlife
A special squad known as the Black Mambas have reported on their first few years of protecting wildlife in South Africa, and they seem to be making inroads where more typical armed guards have sometimes struggled. Being named after venomous snakes might imply that this unit is intended to be more intimidating and dangerous than standard patrols of armed guards, but that’s not actually where they draw their strength. Instead, this unit is comprised of unarmed women, all hired from local communities surrounding the Greater Kruger national park.
The basic mission for the 26 members of the Black Mambas is to protect the wildlife in the park, particularly the endangered and prized rhinoceros population. While a variety of animals used to be poached for meat, rhinos are the most targeted species now, as poachers sell their horns in Asia for such exorbitant sums of money they’re willing to risk being shot by park rangers. Craig Spencer, ecologist and warden of the Balule nature reserve (a private reserve in the Kruger park,) started the Black Mamba unit as an experiment, to try a different approach to keeping poachers at bay.
Patrols and perceptions
After six weeks of training, the members of the unit started rigorous patrols of the park. A typical day might include 12 miles of foot patrols, looking for snares or breaches in fencing, or manning vehicle checkpoints and inspections. At night teams deploy on jeeps with searchlights to keep an eye on the park. While the women work with other armed teams if necessary, they’ve been prepared for potentially dangerous encounters with poachers as well.
The point is that the Black Mambas are visible and well known to the local communities where they’re from. Would-be poachers see them on patrols, knowing that it will be that much harder to get away undetected. The community sees that these women are earning a good living by protecting the park, countering feelings that the reserves were only for the benefits of wealthy foreigners who could afford to visit. As the community sees their stake in their local ecology, it shifts sympathies away from poachers, giving them fewer places to avoid trouble.
Signs of progress
The first couple of years has gone well, garnering international recognition and reducing poaching and snaring incidents by 76 percent. The first twelve months of patrolling saw only three rhino deaths, compared to the 16 lost in the six months before the Mambas went to work. The team members speak highly of their work, not just about the animals saved but also a feeling of empowerment, helping wildlife but also supporting their families. To build on this momentum, they’ve expanded with outreach programs to local schools, teaching that parks and wildlife should be part of people’s lives as a point of pride and economic stability, not just a source of illicit keratin.
Source: The all-female patrol stopping South Africa's rhino poachers by Jessica Aldred, The Guardian