Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

All-female park ranger team honoured

All-female park ranger team honoured Black Bean Productions
09 Sep
2015
An all-female ranger group, the Black Mambas, are determined to eliminate the threat of poaching from the Balule Private Game Reserve in South Africa

In one of the most intensely poached locations on the planet, a typical day for a Black Mamba officer starts with an early march towards the fenced perimeter of the Balule reserve. In a world where just a kilogram of rhino horn can fetch up to £16,000 on the black market, a breach in the fencing could be an indication of the worst – the trail of a poacher.

However, the Mambas are so familiar with the boundaries of the park that such a breach would never escape their notice. Trained by a local charity, the Black Mamba APU (Anti-Poaching Unit) combats the poaching epidemic in East Africa while upending traditional gender roles in the region.

The 26-strong group, while unarmed, acts as a formidable police presence during regular night vigils. Although conservation remains a male-dominated profession in South Africa, each of the female Black Mambas is a fully-registered security guard with the power of arrest. ‘I am not afraid,’ says Leitah Mkhabela, a member of the Black Mamba rangers. ‘I know what I am doing and I know why I am doing it. If you see the poachers you tell them not to try, tell them we are here and it is they who are in danger.’ 

blackmamba(Image: Black Bean Productions)Since it was founded in 2013, the Black Mamba APU has helped in the arrest of six poachers, removed over 1,000 snares and has seen snaring reduced by more than 75 per cent. Because of their work, five poachers’ camps and two bush meat kitchens have been detected and put out of action. As a result, the unit has ensured that not a single rhino has been killed within their jurisdiction in over ten months. By way of contrast, during the same timespan, 23 rhinos have been killed in a neighbouring reserve. 

For the APU’s sensitivity to the environment, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has awarded the Black Mamba APU the Champions of the Earth Award. It fulfils Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

‘Community-led initiatives are crucial to combating the illegal wildlife trade,’ says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UNEP, ‘and the Black Mambas highlight the importance and effectiveness of local knowledge and commitment. Their many successes are a result of their impressive courage and determination to make a difference in their community. 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.’

blackmamba2
(Image: Black Bean Productions)

Rhino poaching has increased by a staggering 12,000 per cent since 2004, with as many as 1,215 of the animals killed in just South Africa last year. Fuelled by the infrastructure of globalisation, the horn market has exploded in Vietnam and China where it is touted for (unproven) medicinal benefits.

In the communities surrounding Balule, rife unemployment and low living standards leads poachers to be celebrated as Robin Hood-types. There is a stark conflict of interest between the community and the park. To improve the situation, the Black Mamba officers use their downtime in their home communities to deter children from the poaching lifestyle and, by example, encourage them to protect the park.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

With guaranteed sunshine, bright blue skies and not a hint…

Oceans

A review of coral-saving methods is helping communities decide which…

Polar

A seven-year study of Patagonia’s ice sheets has revealed the…

Climate

The environmental impact of Bitcoin is higher than its virtual…

Geophoto

With a camera in everyone’s pocket, the once rarified world…

Climate

The idea of the Earth as a self-regulating, living organism…

Oceans

A temporary fishing ban has been imposed by the European…

Wildlife

A look at the contribution of hippos to the savannah…

Wildlife

The new app encourages young children to connect with the…

Energy

A type of panel has been invented that can generate…

Tectonics

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were…

Climate

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management pledges to achieve net…

Tectonics

Earthquakes from time immemorial have attracted the attention of the…

Tectonics

A planned kayaking expedition in Nepal took on a whole…

Tectonics

Scientists from Bristol University are working in conjunction with EDF…

Tectonics

In the 1930s, Charles Richter developed a simple scale for…

Tectonics

Researchers at Colombia University have answered a question that has…