A group of women in Hoedspruit are at the forefront of fighting poaching of wildlife.
The Black Mambas was started in 2013 by Craig Spencer with only six ladies, but the number has increased to the 36 members it is today.
The Black Mambas anti-poaching unit is stationed on the Balule Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park. The reserve is home to the Big Five, and famous for its abundance of wildlife.
“It is dangerous work because we encounter dangerous people, but we love what we do.
“We make sure that we win the fight against poaching. Being part of this group makes me proud, the fact that I am able to do something for the animals, makes me feel important,” says Leitah Mkhabela, one of the Black Mambas.
In July 2015, the Black Mamba APU won the Best Conservation Practitioner category in the South African Rhino Conservation Awards, and later that year the Champions of the Earth Award from UNEP.
They go through a rigorous three-month instructional program, attending classes and undergoing fitness surveillance and survival training.
“We are trained before we can go out into the veld. The training is similar to that of soldiers, we are taught on how to defend ourselves and animal behaviour. We are also trained how to act when we come across dangerous animals,” she added.
They are also taught to be observant.
“One time we came across a charger, cigarettes and water bottles in the morning. It was apparent that someone had just left,” she added.
They follow a schedule and patrol in groups of two or three depending on the season.
“Now that it is winter, we start our day early by exercising as it is still dark to start patrolling. At 07:00 teams meet to exchange information,” said Mkhabela.
The morning patrol is three hours long and in the afternoon, five hours. From time to time they would sleep in the bush if there is an imminent threat of poachers.
“Poachers do not always enter silently, sometimes they try to enter through the gates of the reserve, claiming they have to do maintenance.
“We always do a thorough search of their cars and have caught poachers this way,” said Mkhabela.
The work of the Black Mambas is never-ending.
“Since lockdown started, the danger heightened before lockdown visitors made it harder for poachers.”
This article first appeared on Letaba Herald and has been republished with permission.