In South Africa, rhino populations have fluctuated for years, and though many have recently celebrated the increase in rhino numbers, they have just as quickly mourned the loss of thousands of rhinos as a result of a surge in poaching activity.

The Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa is a private wildlife reserve that shares an open border within Kruger National Park. Kruger, currently home to 9-12,000 white rhinos and 580-650 black rhinos (along with thousands of other species), has seen an influx in poaching activity in recent years with at least three rhinos poached daily for their horns. The poaching crisis occurring in Kruger has, naturally, had an effect on the animals within Balule Nature Reserve, too.


Two years ago the head warden of The Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa sought to address the poaching crisis by bringing together individuals from local communities to form a group that could effectively protect the rhino and the other species in and around the reserve. In doing so, the groups could not only protect the species but educate other locals on the importance of preservation, many of which were hesitant to engage with foreign park officials and quick to succumb to the profit that could be earned from poaching. Today, they’re known as the Black Mambas.


The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit

In 2013, the Black Mambas were founded as an anti-poaching unit. They’re are unique to other anti-poaching units as they’re comprised mostly of women, many of which were recruited right out of high school. These women are trailblazers in a field often dominated by men. To become a part of the Black Mambas, one must complete six weeks of intensive tracking and combat training alongside an existing deployed unit. The Black Mambas’ rigorous training, along with the help of trained dogs, aerial support and the groups rapid response have allowed them to be incredibly successful in their anti-poaching efforts.




In a field of work and position of power that is often delegated to men, the women of the Black Mambas APU take great pride in the work that they do. All passionate about their native heritage and wildlife, many of the women are mothers and insist that protecting and preserving their home and the animals in it is crucial to their way of life. They stress that they want their children, and grandchildren, to be able to enjoy endangered species like the rhino for generations to come.

In an interview with the New York Times, a 26-year-old member, Lukie explains,“The next generation must know the rhinos and elephants in life.If poaching is allowed, they will only see these animals in a picture.”

It is this understanding of the grave reality facing many of Africa’s most prized species and their unrelenting drive to protect these animals that can be accredited with the Black Mambas’ success, but their positive influence on their community extends far beyond this.

Empowering Women and Spreading Conservation

Critics initially questioned how successful a group of rangers made up primarily of women could be, but they were quickly proven wrong. The women’s strength, compassion and attention to detail have allowed their unit to flourish. Since the group’s deployment in 2013, the women of the Black Mambas have effectively eliminated 12 poaching camps, three bush meat kitchens and have seen a 76 percent decline in snaring and poisoning activities. The group is also responsible for the early detection of numerous poaching rebels in the area. Though the Mambas are often unarmed during patrols, Leitah Mkhabela described the courage of the women, “I am not afraid, 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.”


Many women apart of the unit are breadwinners for their family, working tirelessly not only to protect wildlife within the greater Kruger National Park but also to feed their families. It is this sacrifice that has protected so many rhinos from being poached. In September, the Black Mambas were winners of the United Nation’s top environmental award, The Champions of the Earth.  

Apart from protecting some of the most vulnerable animals in the world, the Black Mambas’ unit also aims to create long lasting bonds within their communities. The women of the Black Mambas recognize the importance of liberating locals that inhabit the areas surrounding the national parks, to show them how crucial conservation of endangered animals are to the entire region and in doing so, poachers have a difficult time finding recruits in local communities. 

Thus far, it seems to be working: In the past 10 months, the reserve patrolled by the Black Mambas has not lost a single rhino.


How Can You Help?

Although The Black Mambas are supported by the Environmental Monitor Program, they count on donations to further their anti-poaching measures. The women of the unit are often in the bush for 20-21 days out of the month and always in need of food rations and quality uniforms. A donation to The Black Mambas can ensure they have the most up to date equipment including radios and cameras to continue their efforts protecting the rhinos in and around Kruger National Park.

While we can’t all play such an influential role in protecting species on the frontlines like the Black Mambas, we can all make a difference to help endangered species in our everyday actions. To learn more about how you can protect animals through your consumption habits, check out these resources:



All image source: Julia Gunther