Meet The Black Mambas, South Africa’s Majority-Female Anti-Poaching Unit


In the fight against poaching, a reserve in South Africa has a not-so-secret weapon- a mostly all-female anti-poaching unit known as Black Mamba.

The 26-member unit is unarmed and works with a team of 29 armed guards to prevent poachers from making a kill by patrolling the fence at the Balule Private Game Reserve.

Balule, part of the Kruger National Park, is home to rhinos, leopards, lions and elephants among other wildlife that live on the 40,000 hectare reserve.

The Black Mamba team protects all wildlife but the endangered rhinos are the most vulnerable as their horns can go for $35,000 per pound in the black market, according to The Dodo.

Last year the Guardian published that the number of rhinos killed in South Africa during 2014  jumped by a fifth, marking a new record for poaching. The article highlighted that some 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa and 827 of those were killed by poachers in Kruger Park with demand coming mostly from Asia where it is believed the horns have medicinal powers and where rhino horn is more valuable by weight than gold.

According to the Black Mamba’s website, the group have destroyed more than 12 poachers’ camps, arrested six poachers, and reduced snaring and poisoning activities by some 76 per cent since their founding in 2013.

The Black Mamba team is made up of local high school graduates who were put through a combat training and intensive tracking program and dressed in second-hand European military uniforms whose cost were covered by donations.

Credit: James Suter
Credit: James Suter

“We are not going to police the problem away,” Craig Spencer, head warden of Balule and the mastermind behind Black Mamba, told The Guardian. “This war will never be won with bullets.”

According to the United Nations, the Balule Reserve has not lost a single rhino in the last ten months meanwhile the neighboring reserve has lost 23 during the same time frame.

Their hard work is clearly paying off and the United Nations took notice awarding them the Champions of the Earth Award in the Inspiration and Action category.

“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,” Black Mamba member Leitah Mkhabela told the United Nations Environment Programme.

“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.”

Credit: Julia Gunther
Credit: Julia Gunther

For more information visit