At the end of 2015, on the whole African continent, there were under 5 500 black rhino and about 20 000 white rhino left. Over a decade, humans have managed to wipe out over 7 000 African rhino. During 2016, 1 054 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone. That works out to almost three rhinos per day.
History of Poaching
The current crisis has been driven by demand. Since 2008, rhino horn has ‘flourished’ as an ‘in demand’ item on the Asian markets. Seen as a status symbol and for its (totally unproven) 'medicinal' value, poachers realised they could make big money from this dirty business of killing. Between 2008 and 2015 rhino poaching in SA increased exponentially, from 83 rhinos killed in 2008 to 1175 in 2015.
The figures looked slightly more assuring in 2016, when a dip in the numbers showed. 1054 rhinos were killed. It's still 1054 too many. Increasing protection efforts seem to be paying off, and this is where our heroes come in: the anti-poaching teams that protect not only the rhinos, but other game too.
The Black Mambas
This majority-female – a first in SA – anti-poaching unit was founded by Transfrontier Africa NPC in 2013 to protect the Olifants West section of Balule, which forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park. It didn’t take long before they were asked to expand their realm to protect all the boundaries of Balule, an area of 52,400 ha, which joins the 2 800 000 ha of Kruger!
Made up of 32 women and two men from the area, the Black Mambas protect the rhinos on the ground. These women (and men) are role models for girls and women in their community and provide a voice for conservation and its benefits over the false economy around poaching that has infiltrated the community.
Essentially, each member of the Black Mambas spends 21 days a month patrolling through the bush, unarmed, either on foot or by jeep. The concept behind it, is that by being visible, the poachers move off. And it’s working.
In 2015, there was a 10-month period during which not one rhino was killed in the area.
These women are skilled, trained and on the ball. Three months of training, including theory, rigorous fitness training, learning surveillance practices and survival tactics for in case you get stranded in the bush, prepare them for the job.
Each day begins with a parade and issuing of orders, army-style, and then they head off into the bush.
‘Visual policing’ is one of the main strategies of the Black Mambas. Each morning at first light groups head out (unarmed, on foot!) to patrol the boundaries. At last light, vehicle patrols are conducted. Known points of entry and popular waterholes for the rhinos are observed and signs of poisoning looked out for.
Snares are removed before animals get trapped and, according to reports, the incidents of snaring has decreased by 76%. This not only saves the animals from being snared but also, in the long run, stops people from setting snares as there is no longer any reward.
Road blocks and routine searches of both visitors and workers in the area are conducted to weed out any illegal or suspect items. No stone is left unturned by these anti-poaching heroes.
The Objectives of the Black Mambas in the Community
While the protection of the rhinos and other wildlife stands firmly front and centre, this incredible group of people offer the area much more.
The creation of strong bonds within the communities who live in and around Greater Kruger and the promotion of and a pro-environmental ethos, with a focus on social upliftment, will do a lot to ensure ongoing conservation.
A subsidiary of the Black Mambas is their Bush Babies programme. This is a wonderful project that currently involves ten schools in the area surrounding the Greater Kruger Park. During weekly visits to the schools, the children are taught the importance of conservation and protecting their environment for long-term sustainability of the area.
Visits by members of the Black Mambas – many of them mothers themselves – teach the kids about poaching, its detrimental effects and how they work to stop it. Inspiring stuff.
How to Help
Basic salaries are paid through the Extended Public Works Program, but all other costs, of which there are many, are absorbed by Transfrontier Africa. They rely heavily on funding and donations to cover these costs, that include training, uniforms, equipment, food, vehicles, fuel and the Bush Babies programme. To help, get hold of them on one of their Social Media channels:
To donate, you can go straight their Donations Page.
It’s a cause well worth supporting to save these guys: