The Black Mamba’s Anti Poaching Unit (APU)

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In South Africa, I had recently (in May 2023) the privilege to teach a courageous anti- poaching unit (APU) on various subjects. Those subjects included the management of heatstroke, dehydration, choking, burns and others.

This APU is, at large, a female led anti-poaching group, operating in one of the poorest areas of the Limpopo area in the Balule Nature Reserve. Courageous young black women are at the forefront – almost 24 hours a day and in different shifts. Those daring women are both often the children of nature and poverty, often caring for their loved ones at home.. They (the Mambas) come from the local communities near the Greater Kruger area, protecting wildlife in the regions of the Olifants West Nature Reserve, and the buffer zone in the Greater Kruger area. Every “Black Mamba” on the ground and in the fields of the nature reserves, spends 21 days a month patrolling those areas. They are well trained and start each day, military type style, with a parade – and then issued with orders before patrols leave on their missions. Each of the BM’s are skilled in observing, monitoring and combat, – but they work unarmed: their presence is very clear and can reduce crimes against nature. And it did.

This Reserve is part of the Kruger National Park. The Park has no fences, which helps the free movement of various wildlife, including “the big 5 animals”in South Africa.

Needless to say that this Reserve is an area of outstanding natural beauty where animals have free movement, which is a great advantage for all wildlife.

Many tourists do visit Kruger National Park, which is a very worthwhile activity. But not everyone is aware that the protection of animals is a job on its own. That Rangers are “on and off” on the go to keep an eye on things – and anti poaching units like the “Black Mamba’s” are ongoing busy to keep animals safe in their natural habitat, and disrupt people with criminal intentions. Even Paul Kruger National Park is not free of poachers.

The biggest threats are indeed the activities of poachers, who operate within those natural habitats in an effort to get valuable horns and other attributes from targeted animals. They prepare “their catch” carefully by putting traps and snares on the ground and big animals like elephants and rhinos often die a gruesome slow death as a result of this: thirsty , dehydrated and bleeding slowly to death in an unforgiving area, targeted then by hyena’s. Being robbed thereafter from their horns, by poachers; and the remaining attributes being sold for big money. It’s an illegal & gruesome activity but because the profits are so large. on this business, – criminals are well trained to do those activities for both the benefit of themselves and “their bosses”, at large behind the scenes. It’s not impossible that those “big bosses” have political connections, providing some protection.

The Black Mamba’s disrupt the activities of those poachers by patrolling the natural habitat of the animals on a very frequent base. They carry no guns and they definitely have a job with a more than usual risk. They are at risk for attacks from animals, – but they ( the ladies “on the ground”) are fairly “street wise” within the domains of where they operate, the natural wilderness. One of the members of this anti poaching unit told me that one night they were chased up by a large group of elephants, for them more frightening than lions, – interestingly. But disrupting the activities of determined poachers is really a very risky business because these guys carry guns and will use them to kill, – if you come too close. And definitely this happened over the years.

Rangers and members of the Black Mamba’s have been killed in the past, sometimes by animals but also by poachers. So it’s for the Black Mamba’s important “tuning in” on the safest way to manage unpredictability of their various daily patrols. One of the things important for them is their own safety, including dealing with relentless heat (at times) and risks associated with this ->like overheating, heatstroke and dehydration. But also other things are important such as dealing with burns, choking and others. Up to scratch background support from their employing organisations, is vital.

Because I was working at the time via the Tshemba Foundation for Tintswalo Hospital and some outer clinics, I got the invitation to teach “The Black Mamba’s” on a couple of medical subjects. I am still grateful to Inez (from Tshemba) for this invitation. It became really “an eye opener”.

The teaching session happened in a very interactive (fun) way and I did hear many of their stories. What struck me was that their first aid equipment was poor or absent, at large. So, I did donate a first symbolic first aid kit for “the photo”. And subsequently being back in Australia, I did donate a large amount of money on first aid protection for all anti- poachers in “the field”, for all people working “on the ground” – and fulfilling their missions whilst doing their patrols with more safety. It’s really important to protect those valuable people – because they contribute to conservation of animals being in danger of human activities. Whilst BM’s  innovative organisational approach to wildlife conservation is admirable, cutting corners on the safety of all those young black women would not be the best reflection on the BM leadership, – in case fatalities would occur. I had to give this feedback to the CEO – because up until the weekend of the 12th of August, really nothing was done on implementing various measures with this provided & specific donation. One should be mindful that “Black Mamba’s” as an NPO would not exist without these women on the ground. The last despite the fact that “The Black Mamba APU” was awarded the Champions of the Earth Award, in 2015, by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). And also despite the fact that in the period between 2013 and 2022, the Black Mamba APU has won 10 International awards, for innovative approach to wildlife conservation. It’s therefore that the “women on the ground” need to be properly protected as a priority of the organisation.

Hence the message: “Protect your workers on the ground without unnecessary delays – and without reflecting that many things have been done already, whilst the facts speak differently, – through your own employees.”

In the end, finally, – and after months of “keeping on it”, including a very last warning to extend my concern to Al jazeera news, – the following reassurance was provided:

  1. Up-date all 1st aid kits
  2. Re-train all mambas on 1st aid and RAMP (Ranger Advanced Medical Program) and Stop The Bleed
  3. If there is still some money leftover: Patrol vehicles – fix doors (that fly open around corners), bench-seats re-upholstered (currently un-cushioned planks), improved lights (LED light-bars) to help with elephant encounters.

When we as humans don’t conserve nature, nature will not conserve us. It’s in general a topic getting far more pressing and important in the future. It’s not a matter of “important and not urgent” – but it’s a matter of both urgent and important in the broader sense, because we as a people are slowly but certainly in the process of destructing our natural habitat, which in the end is a large part of our own protection as human beings. But upgrading safety aspects for the actual people who are doing the work, is important and urgent as well, when safety aspects are deficient

I did support “The Black Mamba’s” in South Africa – who had the 2nd of August their 10 years anniversary – and I will continue to do so, provided the money arrives where it is intends to be, in my case the vital protection of the people “on the ground”. It was my observation that it takes a while, though, before you get full confirmation that firstly the moneys have arrived – and secondly that the moneys are used for that specific purpose, – and the “Black Mamba’s top management” has been ambiguous in providing essential information in a timely manner – and prefer to keep “secret garden information” to themselves. However a hidden “cut corner strategy” on essential safety for young black women, working “on the ground” amidst various dangers, is ethical not correct. Neither is it correct not allowing people to reflect concerns within the organisation to outsiders when they are not heard inside the organisation. For a military style based NPO this is not unusual. “Speaking out” is considered as an offence by a person against their Division, in this case the BM’s as an organisation. And disciplinary action can be expected, even when the concerns are totally justified.

Not that this applies to the “Black Mamba’s” but there are definitely organisations using their “ people on the ground “ as “ show horses” to get the moneys coming – but not rarely moneys in some cases are used in fairly “mysterious” ways, lacking transparency. At BM’s credit, – it should be noted they are transparent in this domain.

Lack of financial transparency and accountability practices are not rarely repugnant – because human greed is the seed for far too many injustices, including the harm caused to our natural habitat itself. All NPO’s and other charitable organisations need to strive for full transparency and accountability, besides working as a “Big firm capability – with small firm personality”. The last accepting “freedom of speech” on matters which do matter in the organisation itself. And on the last I am not 100% sure within the BM’s

The conservation war is a human war—with human casualties, and the casualties need to be minimized through decisive action in favor of proper protection. It’s vital.


“Big firm capability – and small friendly & open firm personality”

The International Ranger Federation reports that 269 rangers were killed across Africa between 2012 and 2018, the majority of them by poachers.

Financial BM support with a view to help “the anti-poaching unit on the ground”, will facilitate their safety. But make sure you make a clear agreement on how your moneys will be spend and it is within reason to expect courtesy and an embracing response, which not always happens. The “Black Mamba’s” is a great organisation, bit rigid perhaps, but good in its intentions. So I plead to the general public to be generous with donations because (“The Black Mamba’s”) Transfrontier Africa NPC – only relies on fundraising, grants, and donations to support the project. For the last reason it’s vital to be honest and transparent to their donor’s, – being open-minded for feedback as well. Since last year, “The Black Mamba Alliance” (a group of companies), guaranteed the salaries of The Black Mambas, including and its other project The Bush Babies Environmental Education Program. All in all a great endeavor for various conservation domains in South Africa. It’s only some 8 years ago the that  the Black Mamba APU won the Best Conservation Practitioner category in the South African Rhino Conservation Awards, including slightly later in the same “the Champions of the Earth Award from UNEP.” And education to the new generation is vital important as well.

Furthermore and finally: In our own domain of our personal life – it’s good to raise the question what life asks us to do in favor of protecting life, rather than destroying it.

This planet asks each time and in each generation for the required action to do something in favor of life, and all lives, – even when wise distinctions are difficult to make at times. It is what it is and the response lies in: “ What are we going to do about it?”

Each time a person stands up to improve the lot of others, it sends forth a ripple of hope to embrace frontiers not being seen as yet and the question is: “Why not?”

And in saying this, I feel like a little “Black Mamba” , – “on the ground” and “in the field” – and I take pride in this, because (in this case) I relate most with those courageous black women, who carry out their task “to conserve nature”, – regardless the risks involved. And the last is the reason, in the end, that I had to keep BM leadership accountable in case there would be casualties if no proper (improved) protection & safety infrastructure being in place. You can’t cut corners on safety in this domain for those people, it would simply not be fair.

I don’t think the BM leadership is really keen to see me anymore because, perhaps, I became too much of a challenge for them. They could, however, have prevented this challenge with a different approach: 1.more forthcoming to acknowledge they received the donation (you don’t need to ask for this time after time) – and 2. more truthful about existing safety realities ( because what was reflected to be in place – was not in place!)

But anyhow, for various BM’s – including the “BM’s on the ground”, my tiny impact on their leadership to pay significantly more attention to primary safety and protection for BM’s “in the open dangers” -was differently perceived, fortunately .They did value my specific input on those very expired safety aspects, – even though they all (!) prefer to be anonymous.

It is what it is.

I am sure the ZAR 62000,- will be well spend: 1.up to date 1st aid safety gear in line with all required needs and 2. ongoing education on practicing all sorts of potential scenarios – with always up to date certified skills.

All this could mean the difference between life and death – in critical encounters, for mambas working in dangerous situations as described. And the last is more important than an ambiguous show, if this was or has been the case.

Paul Alexander Wolf.

The Black Mambas

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