In 2013, a determined group of South African women decided to take on one of their country’s most dangerous criminal elements: poachers. They call themselves the Black Mambas. Their goal seemed lofty: protecting critically endangered black rhinos in an area of Kruger National Park that is roughly the size of Israel.
“Before we joined this group, people in the community and all over the world didn’t believe in us,” says Felicia Mogakane, one of the group’s members.
“They were all saying, what are they thinking? Women cannot do this, this is a man’s job. But we have proved them wrong.”
Indeed, the team – which currently boasts 26 members – reduced snaring in Balule Reseve by 76 percent over two years.
“Since we’ve started the Black Mambas anti-poaching project, there are no poachers in our reserve because we’re doing our job so well,” notes Mogakane.
Kruger National Park has been at the epicentre of South Africa’s rhino poaching crisis, which has seen hundreds of rhinos killed for horns that fetch around $60,000 per pound. According to the South African government, there are 12 active poacher groups in Kruger National Park at any given time.
The Black Mambas patrol the Balule Reserve borders, walking up to 12 miles a day as they seek out poachers, their tracks and snares. No rhino, they say, has been killed on their watch.
The rangers’ salaries, which are subsidized by SANParks, are mainly funded through donations. Though finding funds is always a challenge, they remain vigilant in their mission.
“We say this to the world: let the animals live,” says Mogakane. “They deserve to live. So we Black Mambas, we say zero-tolerance to rhino poaching and wildlife threats.”
Read more: The rhino under 24-hour armed guard