The Black Mamba is a venomous snake found in Africa with a fatally toxic venom that can kill an adult in a mere seven hours. It can strike from a considerable distance. It is highly dangerous. And it is not to be messed with.
So when the the preservationists at Transfrontier Africa needed fearless warriors to protect endangered animals from poachers that could drive endangered species into extinction, they solicited a brave group of women–aptly named The Black Mambas–and charged them with protecting the wildlife of Sub-Saharan Nature Reserves.
The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit is a seriously strong band of park rangers that are mostly female and recruited from a group of local high-school grads looking for employment. These women are put through intensive animal tracking education and combat training. Once trained, they take on armed poachers who gun down species like the South African Rhino, whose horns bring in big money for vendors around the world.
But these women aren’t just taking on poachers, they’re challenging the prevalent opinion that females aren’t tough enough to battle the tough environment of the African bush or stand up to the poachers’ military-grade weapons.
Leitah Mkhabela, a Black Mamba who has worked in the game guard for two years, told The Guardian,“Lots of people said ‘How can you work in the bush when you are a lady? But I can do anything I want.”
The Black Mambas have over 40,000 hectares of reserve to protect. And they aren’t armed. But despite these challenges, they’ve been able to reduce the number of snare poachers in their area by 90%.
The Black Mambas are looked up to by the young women in their village as heroes. They patrol the reserve grounds on foot and on Land Rovers with spotlights, hunting down those who threaten the rhinos, elephants, leopards and other wildlife. They endure sweltering temperatures and walk up to 15 miles per day to look for clues as small as a misplaced stone that might lead them to a group of poachers.
Though there are only 26 members of the Black Mamba ranger unit, they’ve done amazing work to stop the poachers who have killed more than 1,215 endangered rhinos in just one year. “If you see the poachers you tell them not to even try–tell them we are here and it is they who are in danger,” she says.
And that attitude has reaped major success. The United Nations Environmental Program has honored the unit with their highest prize–the Champions of the Earth Award. At the awards ceremony, the UN Environmental Program Executive Director told the audience “[The Black Mamba’s] many successes are a result of their impressive courage and determination to make a difference in their community. [They] are an inspiration not only locally, but across the world to all those working to eliminate the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade.”
But this is not a job without risks. The money to be made selling parts of endangered animals means that poachers are not going to stop their killing without a fight. Just last month 4 out of 10 guards were killed in a shootout in the Congo.
But the Black Mambas are undeterred.
In her profile on the Helping Rhinos site, Mkhabela says here hopes for the future are to, “Protect the Black Mambas and grow…more successful than we are now. We need more Black Mambas to protect our nature.”
You can follow these brave women on their Facebook page, and learn about each of their amazing stories–and sponsor a Mamba–on the Mamba’s member page. Now there’s more than just the snake to fear. Poachers best beware the bite of of one of these two-legged Mambas as well.