Protecting Endangered Rhinos: The Black Mambas, South Africa’s Trailblazing All-Women Anti-Poaching Team

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National Geographic Traveller (UK) presents the incredible story of Tsakane Nxumalo, a sergeant in the Black Mambas, South Africa’s first all-women anti-poaching team.

Who are the Black Mambas?

The Black Mambas are a remarkable all-women anti-poaching unit located in the Olifants West Nature Reserve, a part of the Greater Kruger National Park. Their primary mission is to safeguard the region’s precious wildlife, including endangered rhinos, as well as protect other vulnerable animals like impalas hunted for bushmeat. Their daily duties involve patrolling the reserve’s fences, tracking poachers, and searching the bush for deadly snares designed to entrap animals around their necks or feet. They work diligently for 21 days straight, followed by a well-deserved ten-day break to reunite with their families.

Do they carry guns?

Surprisingly, the Black Mambas do not carry guns during their patrols. Instead, they rely on their training to call for back-up should they encounter poachers. This non-lethal approach is intentional, as their primary focus is on preserving wildlife rather than taking human lives. Many of the Mambas hail from the very villages the poachers come from, and they deeply care about the families affected by poaching. Most poachers are driven by the need to provide for their children, and the Black Mambas aspire to be positive role models, proving that parks can offer sustainable opportunities without resorting to poaching. While facing dangerous situations unarmed can be daunting, the team is well-prepared to step back, support one another, and employ their intelligence and skills.

Why an all-women team?

The choice to form an all-women team stems from the belief that women possess valuable qualities such as nurturing and caregiving that are vital in this line of work. Historically, the anti-poaching industry has been male-dominated, but the Black Mambas aim to challenge stereotypes and break barriers. Initially, they faced criticism and skepticism, especially from men, who doubted their capabilities. However, they chose to ignore the negativity and showcase their strength and competence to prove that women can achieve just as much as men.

The significance of their work

The Black Mambas’ efforts hold immense importance on multiple fronts. Firstly, by preserving wildlife, they contribute to attracting tourists who wish to witness these majestic animals in their natural habitat, thereby boosting the local economy. Furthermore, their work is driven by a desire to create a better future for their children, ensuring that upcoming generations can experience the awe-inspiring beauty of rhinos and other wildlife firsthand rather than merely reading about them in books.

The Black Mambas’ Remarkable Success

The impact of the Black Mambas’ work is evident through their remarkable success in combating poaching. At the beginning of their journey, they used to encounter and dismantle up to 70 to 80 snares per day. However, through their dedication and visibility, this number has dramatically reduced to only finding one on fortunate occasions. Their presence has made a significant difference, leading to a resurgence in wildlife populations.

Challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about significant challenges for the Black Mambas and the local communities they serve. The closure of tourist lodges meant that many lost their jobs, putting them at risk of resorting to poaching as a means of survival. In response, the Black Mambas initiated a program to provide food parcels to communities around the park, alleviating the temptation to poach. Additionally, they visited schools to educate children on farming and self-sustainability. As the pandemic’s impact subsides and tourism returns, the hope for a brighter future for both wildlife and local communities is slowly being realized.

[This article was published in the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK). To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, click here (available in select countries only).]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about anti-poaching

What is the Black Mambas?

The Black Mambas are South Africa’s pioneering all-women anti-poaching team stationed in the Olifants West Nature Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park. Their mission involves safeguarding wildlife, including rhinos, and protecting animals like impalas from poachers by patrolling, tracking, and removing snares.

Do the Black Mambas carry guns?

No, the Black Mambas do not carry guns during their patrols. Instead, they are trained to call for backup if they encounter poachers. Their focus is on conserving wildlife rather than taking human lives.

Why is this team all women?

The Black Mambas chose to be an all-women team to challenge gender stereotypes and show that women can excel in traditionally male-dominated fields. They believe their nurturing qualities and determination make them effective protectors of wildlife.

Why is the work of the Black Mambas important?

The Black Mambas play a crucial role in preserving wildlife, attracting tourists to the area, and boosting the local economy. Their efforts ensure that future generations can experience the beauty of rhinos and other wildlife firsthand.

How successful have the Black Mambas been?

The Black Mambas have been highly successful in combating poaching. From initially finding up to 70 to 80 snares a day, they have significantly reduced the number to only one on fortunate occasions through their dedication and presence.

How did the Covid-19 pandemic impact their work?

The pandemic posed challenges as many locals lost their jobs in the tourism industry, putting them at risk of turning to poaching. To address this, the Black Mambas provided food parcels to communities and educated children on farming and self-sustainability, supporting the community during difficult times.

More about anti-poaching

  • National Geographic Traveller (UK): Link
  • Black Mambas Official Website: Link
  • Olifants West Nature Reserve: Link
  • Greater Kruger National Park: Link

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