Women Leaders Fighting Poaching

Updated: Aug 5, 2018

by Elizabeth Jordan, Science Writer

"Community-led initiatives are crucial to combating the illegal wildlife trade, and the Black Mambas highlight the importance and effectiveness of local knowledge and commitment."

UNEP Director Achim Streiner

Traditional Model

Many traditional anti-poaching models have been predominantly male counter-insurgency in which a highly trained anti-poaching team takes down their target. This model has had some success, but the most successful conservation models encompass a variety of goals including education, and a willingness to work with local communities and understand and address their needs and concerns. This cooperation helps lead to the economic stability of a community, a vital step for long-term conservation.

New Model

In pursuit of this long-term and durable protection, many conservation models are transitioning toward a community-led, educational, female-led initiative. Local women are proving to be the most effective yet under-appreciated and under-utilized conservation resource in the fight against poaching.

Benefits of Women in Conservation

There are immeasurable benefits to having women in conservation. Women are highly skilled at gathering intelligence, which is the backbone of conservation and can save rangers months of surveillance. Economies grow most rapidly when women are employed, as reported by the UN. According to the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation Damien Mander, females rangers and conservationists appear less susceptible to corruption and are often better at de-escalating possibly armed conflict.

The Black Mambas

This fresh, modern model for conservation is embodied by The Black Mambas, the first all-female South African anti-poaching unit. Aptly named for the venomous snakes of east Africa savannah, other female anti-poaching teams such as the Akashinga are modeled after the Black Mamba pioneers.

With just over 30 members, The Black Mambas protect rhinos in Kruger National Park in the Balule Nature Reserve, ground zero for rhino poaching.

Joining the Black Mambas is no easy decision. Members consistently place their lives in danger, not only to poachers but to the wild animals that they are sworn to protect.

Black Mambas are armed only with pepper spray and handcuffs. Patrolling without firearms or weapons helps to avoid pre-emptive gunfire from illegal traffickers, according to the team. During patrol, the women perform surveillance, remove bushmeat snares, perform rhino monitoring, and watch for possible poaching and the illegal entry of poachers. If an arrest appears imminent, they call for the armed units to assist in the altercation.

A Community Effort

The Black Mamba’s conservation role in the community goes beyond field monitoring. Concerned for the ethically questionable ideology that animal trafficking has brought to the community, they are determined to act as mentors and a moral compass for the youth in their communities. They speak to up to 10 schools a week and started the Bush Babies program which educates 2,000 children and spreads environmental awareness to future generations. While promoting community involvement and education, they continue to act as role models for young children, and their goal is to uplift their society through education and awareness.

As a result of their rigorous and unstinting efforts, The Black Mambas are recipients of the UN Environmental Program Inspiration and Action Award and Champion of the Earth Award, the UN’s highest honor.

While the world recognizes the achievements of the Black Mambas, it’s essential that we remember the other women around globe who contributions to the conservation fight are not being appreciated or accepted. Protecting these animals is a human responsibility, no matter the warrior’s gender. Ensuring their survival will take the combined strength of us working together if it has any chance of success.


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