The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit, a South African and majority-women ranger group, has been announced as one of the winners of the United Nation’s top environmental accolade, the Champions of the Earth award.
With this award, in the Inspiration and Action category, UNEP is recognizing the rapid and impressive impact The Black Mamba Unit has made in combatting poaching and the courage required to accomplish it.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Community-led initiatives are crucial to combatting the illegal wildlife trade 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.”
“While their work contributes most toward ecosystem preservation and halting biodiversity loss, Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals, it also exemplifies the action-driven solutions needed to achieve all of the SDGs. With every rhino saved the Black Mambas demonstrate that action on a local level is critical to achieving global sustainability and equity.”
Since being founded in 2013, the 26-member unit has also helped arrest six poachers, reduced snaring by 76 per cent, removed over 1,000 snares and put 5 poachers’ camps and 2 bush meat kitchens out of action.
The area that they protect, the Balule Private Game Reserve, is home to an abundance of wildlife – including not only rhino but leopards, lions, elephants, cheetahs and hippos. It is part of the Greater Kruger National Park, a network of over 2 million hectares of protected areas that is home to thousands of birds, impalas, giraffes, wildebeest, buffalos, antelopes, hyenas, crocodiles, fish and zebras.
Protecting the rhino is vital in South Africa, where 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014 alone. This is an increase of over 12,000 percent since 2004 and symptomatic of a devastating epidemic that has pushed the rhino closer to the edge of extinction.
Leitah Mkhabela, a member of the Black Mamba rangers, said: “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.”
“Animals deserve to live they have a right to live. Do your part. When demand ends, the killing will end. Say yes to life. Say no to illegal rhino horn and elephant ivory.”
For three weeks at a time, the rangers patrol the park – walking up to 20km a day, checking its fences and seeking out poachers, their trails, camps and snares. They know their ground so well that even a moved stone alerts them to poachers.
During their time off, they also use their local networks to identify potential poachers and take appropriate action to discourage them. One ranger specifically targets the children in the communities, seeking to connect them with the parks’ wildlife, soil and water.
In their communities, they contribute to the local discussion about the connection between money, criminal gangs and poaching. They understand how the extreme poverty that surrounds the park and demand from Asia combine to produce the current surge in poaching. They encourage, by example, positive engagement with the parks and discourage new members of the community from being recruited to the poachers’ network.
Their difficult, intense and dangerous work both within and outside the park fundamentally undermines the international poaching syndicates that threaten to wipe out populations of rhino and elephant in the wild.
The award, to be presented in New York on the 27 September 2015, is in acknowledgment of this fierce, practical courage.