By Dominick Mezzapesa - Wildlife Planet News
Drones, men, bees, night vision and thermal optics have nothing on a group of women in South Africa who are more effective at protecting wildlife in Kruger National Park than all those other alternatives.
They're call themselves the Black Mambas and they fight off rhino poachers better than everyone and the kicker is they accomplish this without using any weapons.
The Black Mambas have one goal and that is to make South Africa's Kruger National Park one of the most uncomfortable places for wildlife poachers.
They are a well trained, well oiled machine and the second they detect poachers in the area, they swoop in and chase them off in what's called a "disrupt," preventing them from getting close to the rhino, elephant or any wildlife that the poachers are after.
Leitah Mkhabela, one of the Black Mambas, has heard numerous times that what she does is 'men's work' but instead of getting angry or offended, she takes it as a challenge, in fact, she said "I was happy about it, I proved them wrong."
The park saw a need for the Black Mambas after they lost 19 rhinos in just a few months. "The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit was first founded in 2013," Amy Clark, Director of Transfrontier Africa, said "Snaring dropped 97 percent in the first year in this region. The first 13 months of operation, we didn't lose a single rhino throughout the reserve; even till today, 2016, it's dropped by 56 percent."
Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa, is one of Africa’s largest game reserves, it contains thousands of wild animals that includes the Big 5: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffaloes, so to join the Black mamba's you'll have to make it through a rigorous basic training that quickly weeds out those who won't cut it.
During the four week training period, they have to learn arrest procedures, how to spot tracks and vehicles. One of those weeks is devoted entirely to dealing with an elephant or lion encounter while on patrol. When the four weeks are up, the women must then complete a two week paramilitary course.
For Mkhabela, the rigorous training is one of the reasons she joined the Mambas. In a country and region that typically label women as weak and subservient to men this group of women is helping to change men's views.
The group's success has helped redefine gender roles in their community, where jobs for women are sometimes limited due to gender bias. "This job teaches me how to take care of money, it teaches me how to behave when a woman is working for herself," Mkhabela said. "It made me grow up. A lot of ways this job has changed me," she added.
Self-confidence is perhaps the most valuable lessons the Mambas learn from being a part of this group. All the Mambas are between the ages of 20 and 30 and then they're all from the local communities and villages surrounding the Reserve.
When most of these women arrive they are typically shy from living in a mans world where woman are expected to obey and not speak out or even give their opinion, unless asked.
After surviving basic training and then working the field, their confidence levels absolutely skyrocket, with the realization that any limits placed on what a woman could achieve has only been placed there, not by men, but by themselves.
The group even visits classrooms where they teach kids about what they do in the field. Lewyn Maefala is the Environmental Education Officer for the Black Mambas and said that because young kids are often afraid of animals, part of her curriculum focuses on how the animals need our help. In classrooms, she often says, "They [the animals] have a very important job and we need you guys to help us to save them."
Lewyn described one moment that was particularly rewarding for her as an educator with the Mambas, "There was one child, she was the one who said in front of everyone, 'When I grow up, I want to be like you because you teach us to look after our environment."
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