The Black Mambas are a team of 26 young women between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. They all grew up in the tribal communities adjacent to the Kruger and Associated Private Nature Reserves. The group was created to support the armed anti-poaching unit on Balule Nature Reserve as extra eyes and ears to assist with early detection and the ‘softer’ issues such as visual policing and public interface. They also help to build a sense of pride towards the wildlife among the tribal communities on our borders. The latter is a long-term intervention and the armed APU will be needed for many years to come.

Though the group is only two years old, they are so successful that they have just been named one of the winners of the United Nations’ ‘Champions of the Earth’ awards.

The group’s founder, Craig Spencer, tells their story: “Once we had designed the project and the deployment strategy, I spoke with Kirsty of EWT who recommended that we apply for start-up funds from MyPlanet. We were successful and managed to select, train and deploy our first team of six Mambas on the western boundary. The success was almost immediate and poachers’ camps were identified, databases of all people inside and outside the reserve were suddenly available and detection of incursions was rapid. Several hundred snares were recovered and bush-meat poachers arrested, weapons recovered, etc. The Mambas were soon patrolling in areas we had previously never able to access for political reasons.”

Spencer continues: “Before the deployment of the Mambas, we had lost 19 rhino. After the first year, we had lost no further rhino and snaring was reduced by 86%. We then sent our first six Mambas to their communities to select an additional 20 young women.  The original group assisted with the training and deployment of these new recruits and we deployed across 50 000 ha. In the time that the Mambas have been operating, we have lost five rhino in three poaching incidents. Snaring is almost a distant memory and they now operate in the tribal lands that neighbour onto Balule.
“The high level of integrity and loyalty comes from the happy work environment and incentive schemes we have in place.

“The Mambas now have control of five primary schools in the communities and are engaged daily with these schools. They patrol on foot every single day. An average patrol is 15 km with the longest being 21 km. Around full-moon periods we have both a day shift and a night shift (night shift is vehicle based).”

I strongly supported the Black Mamba initiative when they first applied for funding from the MyPlanet Rhino Fund at their inception. I recognise and understand that women are a powerful force in protecting our rhino. Why? Because women are formidable as nurturers and will stop at nothing to protect what is special and sacred to them. What was really powerful in this initiative was that not only were we creating employment, we were paying women to protect our rhino. As Anton Rupert so sucinctly put it, “conservation without money is conversation”. I say, very simply, if we do not involve local communities (especially those surrounding our parks) in a way that they benefit from conservation, we will lose all the beauty that we spend money to see and recharge our stressful lives.

The Black Mambas are literally ‘walking proof’ of what I believe. It makes me feel proud to be a South African when I see abject poverty turned not only to long-term employment, but to saving our wildlife.
I will never forget a beautiful Black Mamba saying to me, “I do not look at an animal as nyama (meat) any more, I see this animal as something that is special because it is part of a bigger picture. It is this animal that provides me with a job and feeds my family.”

Funds raised through The MyPlanet Rhino Fund assist the Black Mamba All-Woman Anti-Poaching Unit to continue tackling rhino poaching. The MyPlanet Rhino Fund, through you nominating them as your beneficiary, is saving our rhinos and creating jobs!”  Braam Malherbe, MyPlanet ambassador, conservationist and MyPlanet Rhino Fund panel member.