The Black Mambas Mean Business

By Marissa Nelson

Rhino poaching is the biggest contributing factor to the near-extinction of these native South African species. Unlike the common practice of arming park rangers to go hunt the men hunting rhinos, Balule Nature Reserve is taking a different approach.

The Black Mambas are a group of women who are passionate about protecting their homeland for future generations and they’re fighting back without bullets. They patrol the entire reserve in uniform, armed only with walkie-talkies and a collective mission.

The protocol is to warn off poachers with their authoritative appearance. And as simple as it sounds, it is surprisingly effective! Most poachers understand what is on the other end of the walkie-talkie: arrest, fines, no work, or worse. So they often opt to ditch their weapon and flee rather than risk being caught. Balule’s anti-poaching model is a three-tiered pyramid starting with the Black Mambas acting as the eyes and ears of the reserve on the first line of defense. The second line consists of armed guards acting as tactical response to concentrate on hotspots. The third line, and last resort, is strategical deployment which is only used when the safety of the reserve and its inhabitants is in crucial danger. Because the poachers are aware of this system, the very sight of a Black Mamba is enough to scare them away. Balule has been able to reduce their Rhino loss by 70% since 2016 with the presence of the Black Mambas. It certainly helps that they have won top U.N. awards such as the Champion of the Earth Award in 2015 and the Eco-Warrior Award in 2017. This has attracted national attention to their anti- poaching mission, granting them heroine status in their own community and around the world.

The Black Mambas are also dedicated to educating the younger generations about the importance of nature and how to protect it. Their education program, the Black Mambas Bush Babies, has been implemented in primary schools around Kruger National Park to teach ecology and conservation. These amazing women empower kids and young girls to take charge of their home and have the confidence to stand against what is wrong and unjust. Balule also does not want to fight fire with fire because they don’t want to leave villages full of orphans and widows while creating anger and tension between communities.

This non-violent approach to anti-poaching is inspiring and will hopefully continue to be successful and spread to other reserves. However, the solution to poaching altogether is still unknown. The demand coming from China and Vietnam for ivory and rhino horn is the driving force of a very corrupt and interconnected trade. Different tactical proposals have been tested such as reducing the price of rhino horns, which seemed to help reduce ivory poaching. But, it is still easy for big wigs to bribe officials to allow horns to be transported overseas. The bottom line is that the value of rhino horns needs to be diminished, which is hard to do when the horn has been used both as traditional medicine and status ornaments for hundreds of years.

The instillation of the Black Mambas is an innovative, new approach to combat poaching. It will be difficult to end the war on poaching, but this approach is a great start to reducing the amount of poaching-related deaths. If the presence of this powerful group of strong women has already had this much effect on Balule, maybe it can pave the way for Kruger National Park to utilize the Black Mambas all over the South African National Parks.

Natalie Miller