All-Female Militia who Hunt African Rhino Poachers*
By Jack Mulvany
The seemingly unquenchable demand for rhino horn as a folk medicine, especially in East Asia, has put the African rhino on top of the hit list of poachers, placing one of the planet’s most magnificent animals on the endangered species list. And perhaps even more odious than the slaughter of rhinos for so-called “medicinal” reasons is the killing of elephants for little more than a tusk trophy, a trinket to dangle obscenely over some fireplace.
Government agencies and international organizations like CITES and the African Wildlife Foundation are all doing their bit to protect the rhino and the elephant populations. But despite their best efforts, the rhino population of Africa has dropped by 96 per cent in the past 50 years, due almost exclusively to the greed of the poachers and the ignorance of those who purchase their kill.
Sometimes, however, it seems that the good guys are fighting a losing battle, but things may be about to change in favour of the rhinos and the elephants. A home-grown band of tough and well-trained rangers is combing the badlands of Balule Nature Reserve, one of the many private reserves in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. They’re formidable, they’re tenacious, and they mean business. Oh, by the way, they are all women. They are the Black Mambas.
Although the Black Mambas may be unarmed, they have the disposition of a rabid badger, and their bite is no less lethal than that of Africa’s most feared snake, the other Black Mamba.
After being recruited, the Mambas undergo weeks of intensive training in tracking and combat techniques, and in addition to their normal reconnaissance and reporting activities, they mingle with the locals, who in turn act as many more sets of eyes and ears. Working in a world that has traditionally been dominated by men, the 26-strong team of female trailblazers keeps a 24-7 vigil on tens of thousands of acres of wildlife country. Wearing second-hand army uniforms, they travel around in jeeps that have been outfitted with searchlights. They put up road blocks, and search for contraband and snares; and when they suspect a hint of trouble, they call in the rangers with the guns. But the greatest contribution of the Black Mambas is the fact that they are all locals. They know the area like the backs of their own hands – every tree, every rocky outcrop and every watering hole – and more importantly, they know all the local residents.
According to Craig Spencer, the reserve’s chief game warden, Balule has lost only three rhinos since the program began, while neighbouring reserves continue to suffer from massive slaughter.
“Everyone was laughing when they started the project,” says Russell Baker, a manager at Balule Reserve, “but now they want the Black Mambas everywhere.”
The 26-strong team of female trailblazers keeps a 24-7 vigil on tens of thousands of acres of wildlife country. Wearing second-hand army uniforms, they travel around in jeeps that have been outfitted with searchlights.