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The Balule Reserve is a vast open space covering 100,000 acres within the Greater Kruger National Park. It’s home to magnificent fauna which includes lions, elephants, and white and black rhinos. At the same time, the wooded savannah of the Limpopo Province is roamed by poachers who are slaughtering rhinoceroses for their horns. Since rhino horns can bring as much as $60,000 per pound, it’s clear why they think it to be a lucrative business. However, at Balule poaching has heavily declined, thanks to – the Black Mambas!
The Black Mambas are members of an anti-poaching unit, predominantly female. Squad consisting of 24 women and 2 men patrols around the area, looks for and dismantles snares, keeping a watchful eye over the park. They carry no weapons and literary risk their lives in order to protect South Africa’s natural heritage. The Unit was launched in 2013 by the anti-poaching group Transfrontier Africa. The logic behind it was that the existing armed patrols led to “escalation in tactics”, meaning that as poachers used increasingly powerful and more sophisticated weapons, the guards were forced to follow suit. A bit like British Bobbies, Black Mambas are in charge of preventive policing, and their presence the only measure to ward off the poachers.
They patrol the park and alert the guards at first sign of trouble, but they also undertake educational role by visiting schools and raising awareness of the necessity of preserving wildlife, and the impact of poachers on the local communities. At first laughed at, owing to an all-female anti-poaching unit, it took the Mambas less than a year to prove sceptics wrong.
According to Transfrontier Africa, since the Black Mambas were launched rhino poaching has fallen 65% and snaring 78%. Their successful efforts have earned the team the UN’s Champion of Earth Award, given for “sending the message to others in South Africa and beyond, that communities themselves can prevent the illegal wildlife trade.”
Patrols start at first light, which is when a team of women will march along the park’s fence and on various routes throughout its interior. They watch for any signs of poachers and look for snares which are often left near watering holes. The squad also checks hidden camera traps that snap HD images of anyone passing by. Night patrols start at dusk and women either use strong spotlights to survey the landscape, or watch motionless and silent, concealed by the dark.
Each time Mambas venture out in the open, they risk their lives. Poachers carry rifles, machetes and other weapons, while the most powerful one Black Mambas have on them is a pepper spray. They won’t however, try to apprehend poachers on their own; armed park guards will handle that part of the job. Nevertheless, these brave women make us proud to be South Africans. We do hope the proven success of such initiatives will see Black Mamba patrols implemented in other endangered areas, with similar results to follow.