The unit christened the black mambas draws its name from the sub-Saharan Africa most venomous snake black mamba. The snake’s one bite can kill a person in a few hours.
According to Valeria van der Westhuizen, communications manager for the Mambas, the name, she says represents the “the strength of the mambas, and their quick reactions.”
This anti-poaching unit was founded in 2013 and comprise of 14 women largely from the Phalaborwa community that resides near the park. Prior to the group’s formation, poaching for rhino horn and bush meat in the reserve was rampant, with poachers—many who came from the local communities—fetching up to US$26,000 for one horn.
“The reason for the nearby communities’ involvement was that they didn’t feel the wildlife belonged to them, as most had never had a chance to even see the animals. Poaching was a way to make a lot of money, quickly.” Leitah Mkhabela, the supervisor Mamba said.
Each mamba is tasked with educating the community on the importance of conservation as well as gather information from locals about poachers.
“The community needs to benefit from the reserves that are near,” said Mkhabela, highlighting a wider ongoing discussion across Africa on protected areas. “If the game reserves can benefit the local communities by providing freshwater sources or giving bursaries for higher education, we are going to see a decrease in rhino and bush meat poaching.”
Through the Bush Babies Environmental Education Program, the Mambas take members, especially children, from the communities to the reserve to see the wild animals. “There are some people who live just 10 km from the reserve, but have never seen a rhino, lion or elephant in their life,” said Mkhabela.
Other than educating the local communities, the Black Mambas track 126 km of the park’s border every day, looking for snare traps, inspecting the electric border fence and searching cars.
Cecilia Njenga, head of UN Environment Programme South Africa said the Black Mambas highlighted the importance and effectiveness of local knowledge and commitment, crucial to combatting the illegal wildlife trade.
“The Black Mambas are an inspiration not only locally, but across the world to all those working to eliminate the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade,” said Njenga. “We recognize the rapid and impressive impact they have made, and the courage required to accomplish it.”
In 2015, the Black Mambas were bestowed with UN Environment’s Champion of the Earth lifetime achievement award.
Mkhabela says that there are another 10 women currently in training to become Mambas and she hopes the project will expand and receive more funding.