Black Mambas make moves against poachers

(South Africa) “The Black Mambas are winning the war on poaching,” insists Siphiwe Sithole. “We have absolutely zero tolerance for rhino poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The poachers will fall – but it will not be with guns and bullets.”

Sithole and Felicia Mogakane are members of South Africa’s Black Mambas, the world’s first all-female anti-poaching unit that has captured the public’s imagination. But it’s their success in reducing rhino deaths and breaking down the barriers between poor communities and elite wildlife reserves that is their most powerful weapon in the war on poaching, and has seen them pick up their second international conservation award.

The two women have travelled to London to receive the inaugural Innovation in Conservation award from UK charity Helping Rhinos. The award recognises projects “with an inspiring and innovative approach” that have shown positive results in protecting rhino populations.

Since forming in 2013, the Black Mambas have seen a 76% reduction in snaring and poaching incidents within their area of operation in Balule nature reserve in the country’s north-east. As well as the famous big five of rhino, lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard, the 40,000-hectare private reserve is home to zebra, antelope, wildebeest, cheetah, giraffe, hippos, crocodiles and hundreds of species of trees and birds.

In the six months before the Mambas were set up, 16 rhinos were lost in Balule, one of several private reserves bordering Kruger national park. In the 12 months after, fatalities were reduced to just three rhinos.

Thousands of snares to catch animals for bushmeat have been removed, 10 poacher camps destroyed, three bushmeat kitchens put out of action and six poachers arrested. Such is their success that South Africa’s national parks authority is looking at replicating the model, with plans for another team of six female rangers.

This story first appeared in The Guardian.