Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit

by Helping Rhinos USA
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Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Expand the Black Mambas Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
Social Science Researchers Making a Difference!
Social Science Researchers Making a Difference!

Greetings all,

Dr. James, the lead researcher at Helping Rhinos, was recently speaking with Craig Spencer, the founder and innovator who worked with the local women in Northern South Africa to create the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit. 

At the time, Craig surprised us by saying that the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit has been completely restructured – for the good – because of our research last year! Our research findings, based on 120 interviews in four different communities, were influential on their decision-making and management structure. We found that the community that had the Bush Babies Educational Program present it, teaching only the young school children, were much more supportive of conservation, of wildlife, and of protected areas than were the three other more-distant communities, which did not have the Bush Babies program present.

Craig and the Black Mambas decided what would be best would be to employ Mambas from the nearby communities around the protected area, and to have a Bush Babies program present in the local schools.

We are exceptionally proud of our entire research team who helped conduct this research, and of the Mamba Program and their manager Transfrontier Africa (TFA). The Mamba Program and TFA are a rare organization who are not only receptive to challenging scientifically-grounded information but are willing to act so decisively.

Hooray for the Mambas, for young child education programs, and for social science research!

However, hooray just as much for you all who helped to make this research program even happen!

Yours in conservation.

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Mambas and some of their young community members
Mambas and some of their young community members

When we are advocating and supporting the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit in South Africa, often we don't pay enough attention to the Mambas themselves. Most of these intrepid unarmed women are mothers, and if not that, they are sisters, daughters, friends, and community members. All of who they are and the roles that they play in making their communities better places shoudl be acknowledged.

Recently, the coordinators supporting the Mambas Program created a family day to celebrate the women and allow them to bring their familiy members on patrol with them. The  Mambas, their children, and young cousins enjoyed a drive around the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre near where the Mambas patrol. The kids saw all the animals that their moms and aunties are striving to protect - rhinos among them. 

The idea of this day out is to enable children to see where their mothers work and to allow them to spend more time together. The Mambas show their kids what they do, the reason for doing so, and allow them to better understand why they spend so much time away from home.

The idea was successful and will be continued by the Mamba support team. By engaging the children of the Mambas in this way, they are furthering the idea of behavioral change among theie home communities and help people realize the value of wildlife, protected areas, and conservation. 

Yours in conservation

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Belgian Malinois dog with an elite Mamba
Belgian Malinois dog with an elite Mamba

Thanks at least in part to all the donations that our supporters on GlobalGiving have provided, The Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit has been able to expand to another area!

The Mambas program has been brought into another area of the Balule Game Reserve nearby world-famous Kruger Park and has added an entirely new group of 6 Mambas to the fold! As such, the world's only all-women unarmed anti-poaching unit has expanded to cover the Makhushane region as well!

In addition, three of the Mambas have been trained on using Belgian Malinois as tracker and canine protection for the Mambas while on patrol. These dogs will bring an additional level of safety, security, and detection abilities to the Mambas while they are searching for evidence of poachers.

We are incredibly proud of all the work that the Mambas are doing, and are equally grateful to you all for all that you have helped these amazing women and men make happen. 

Yours in Conservation,

Happy canine, happy Mamba!
Happy canine, happy Mamba!
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Children change the world
Children change the world

We have been analyzing and interpreting the data that we collected for the Mambas over the last month, and have some new happy news to report. First, however, we wanted to thank you all for your continued support of the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit in South Africa, as all of the money that has been sent along since that time frame has been given directly to them! You are helping to change conservation in Africa in this way!

As long-time donors to this program know, we have been assessing the social impact of the Mamba program on the women who participate, on the people working in support of them, and on the communities where the Mambas live. We are still analyzing the data at present, but our initial results are exceptionally interesting, if a bit disappointing with respect to our main hypothesis.

We had hoped to find that the Mambas have changed their communities with respect to poaching, but that has not been borne out. There were a few interviewees that have been influenced by the Mambas, but over 90% of the 120 people interviewed didn’t even know of the Mambas when asked. Based on follow-up discussions with the Mambas, most do not feel comfortable talking about what they do in their home communities. It is not surprising then, that they are not making the social changes that we had hoped.

That all said, something that was a big surprise for all of us is that nearly all of the people who reported having heard of the Mambas were from one community. Nearly all of the people who live in the Maseke community seemed to not only know the Mambas, but most also said that they were influenced by them to be more supportive of conservation and to strongly condemn poaching. The reason that Maseke was so different from the other three communities we interviewed: children’s education! The Bush Babies Environmental Education program is not only run by a Mamba, but many patrolling Mambas come in full uniform to the classrooms to speak with the children. These children are so impressed, that they go home, tell their parents, and share the message. It was these parents who are most affected by the Mambas. Education can make conservation happen, particularly education of children who can then influence their parents!

Nonetheless, conservation and rural communities can clearly be a match made in heaven. It was clear that people in the communities looked to conservation for jobs, which people shared with us, even when it wasn’t particularly germane to the question. In areas like here where unemployment is over 50%, conservation jobs lead to increased support for conservation.

Another reason for positivity about conservation is that 98% of people interviewed categorically rejected the idea of hunting animals on the reserves, either for money or for food. Most felt deep pride that “our nature” was being preserved and that people were interested in coming so far to see the animals. And, of course, for the jobs.

We interviewed the Transfrontier Africa staff who support the Mamba program. We found that the staff are incredibly proud of the education and outreach work of the Mambas. However, all wanted to improve the early detection and enforcement efforts against poachers on the grounds. To a person, the staff of TA are acutely proud of how the women have transformed as individuals and as environmental leaders.

With respect to the Mambas themselves, our initial results clearly indicate that the program has fundamentally transformed how the Mambas view themselves, as well as what they think women can do for the better. The Mambas are typically the breadwinners in their households. They are the educators and conservation advocates, and they are becoming community leaders. These transformations will eventually change local cultures, even if our surveys revealed that they have not yet. These are Wonder Women come to life.

I am so proud that we are collectively working to support the Mambas. What we are doing will help the Mamba project expand to other locations. If we are able to help establish a chain of Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Units across Africa, it would be a crowning achievement in my several decades of conservation work. Please stay tuned, as we work with our collaborators to make this a reality!

Women really can change the world, and we are going to help them do that in Africa.

Our intrepid interview team
Our intrepid interview team
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2 Mambas, 2 Scientists, The Chief, & His Entourage
2 Mambas, 2 Scientists, The Chief, & His Entourage

A day ago, I had one of the highlights of my professional career, something that I have long read about in African adventure books: I had dinner and a game drive with an African Chief and his Royal Family. And, more importantly, it was a transformative experience in what has been a massively transformative work trip to South Africa.

Meeting the Chief and the many similar experiences, do not come about commonly and certainly not easily. I feel this came about because of our success in two core hallmarks of successful community based conservation: cultural respect and collaboration. For too long, conservation and community work in Africa has been done in a very western fashion. What works efficiently in business meetings in the West, where we speak directly and efficiently about the goal at hand, is often seen as rude and insensitive. I work hard to be as respectful of the local culture as possible, as a tall, white, Western man. However, how we look unfortunately determines how others interact with us, and I am often held accountable for the follies and misdeeds of my predecessors.

Therefore, before starting any of our community-based work, we needed to respectfully and gingerly secure permissions from the Chiefs of the two main areas in which we worked. Once this was accomplished, we needed to clear our work with the relevant Ndunas who act as the local administrators in the hereditary Chief’s Kingdom. Only then, could we actually head into the communities and ask if people would be willing to share their insight and knowledge with us.

In many traditional African communities, these permissions are not given to outsiders. For a few months before we arrived here in South Africa, I was terrified that we would not be allowed to talk with people in the local communities to assess the social impact of the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit on their neighbors in their home communities. Not receiving the permissions would have scuttled our work, and fear of it gave me many restless nights of worry.

Thankfully, I had put my fate in the skilled hands of the Mambas. Lewyn, Marble, and I worked to create and implement our plans for how to respectfully introduce our team to the two Chiefs in whose Kingdoms we hoped to work. Addressing the Chief is not done as though she or he is just another person. You must come bearing gifts, be deferent, and wear the appropriate, formal, and gender-defined clothing. If you do not secure permission, you are not allowed to work in their kingdoms.

Amazingly, the super-talented and youthful Lewyn was able to secure permission from the woman Chief who led the Maseke people, on her own and suddenly! On a regular basis over the last month, Lewyn made the seemingly impossible happen, and this was only the greatest of that streak.

However, the Hluvukani Chief Mnisi was another story. We had heard that he was a notoriously difficult leader with whom to garner an audience, and his kingdom included three of the four communities with whom we needed to speak. We had instead prepared to speak with his lead administrator and a pair of Ndunas who granted us the preliminary approval for our work, pending approval by the Chief and the rest of his Nduna Council. What we were unprepared for was the sudden invitation to speak with Chief Mnisi ourselves, just as we were getting ready to depart.

We went into Chief Mnisi’s office and he was quite surprised to hear that 26 of the 36 Mambas (72%) were from his kingdom. He asked us to explain our project and the goals for it and then gave us permission to work in his kingdom. He then asked many questions about the Mambas and what they did. Then, he expressed interest in meeting the Black Mambas as a team. Coincidentally, the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit was to have a rare skills demonstration as a team in a few weeks. We invited him to come, and he immediately accepted. Understandably, this was both exciting and terrifying. It is not every day that you have Royalty visiting!

We received the subsequent permissions from the Ndunas in the four communities we worked (each of these experiences were separate stories in their own rights), and quickly completed all of our 120 individual interviews over the next two weeks. See my last blog for more about that process.

On the day of the Mamba skills demonstration and individual recognition event, typically called a Mamba Parade here, they were to drill and share their experiences with the audience. We hoped that the many days of preparation by the Mambas, and of our efforts in reaching out to Chief Mnisi would ensure that he would attend. Visits by chiefs rarely happen to relatively far locations, such as where the Mamba Parade was to occur.

Fortunately, he and the Royal Family showed up. Craig Spencer, the Director of the Mamba Program, gave an excellent introduction on the Mambas and extolled their many accomplishments. The Mambas were brilliant in demonstrating their many regimental skills. The Royal Family were clearly impressed with the entire exercise and asked many questions about the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit.

I was lucky enough to be requested to attend dinner with the Royal Family immediately afterwards, along with Lewyn and Marble. We then were to go on a game drive across the land that the Mambas so diligently patrol. As the only outsider, I felt quite honored to get to speak with Chief Mnisi and his family for so long. Together, we saw only the second black rhino that I was to see on my entire trip to Africa, and spend more time watching him than I had ever been able to see before. We slowly and carefully approached the rhino and he did not flee, but instead watched us curiously until he accepted our presence and allowed us to go about our business.

In all situations, it seems, that if we respect the proper protocols and cultural mores, we can have amazing experiences where good things result. I am a person who has loved animals his whole life and have prioritized animal encounters over anything else. However, getting to meet and interact with so many kind and welcoming people from the Tribal Communities here in South Africa has convinced me that what we are doing is right, and how we are doing it is crucial.

We can make an even greater difference for helping to conserve nature by also working to secure and conserve the cultures and well being of the people living nearby. Respecting local culture is central to all of what I do, and I hope that you will agree with its importance.

As I write this on the plane home, I am hugely grateful to our core research team of Liz, Chantal, and Romy for all their hard and patient work that has more than achieved all we hoped to accomplish. These women are rock stars of social science! Similarly, thanks to Lewyn, Marble, Felicia, Collet, and Precious – the Mambas who rose to the great challenge of our community surveys – and to Craig, Lisa, Warren, Leonie, and Pieter of Transfrontier Africa who made living and transportation possible. Thank you, yet again, to the kind community members in Maseke, Welverdiend, Hluvukani, and Acornhoek who agreed to share their thoughts and ideas – and of course to Chief Mnisi of the Hluvukani and to the Chief of the Maseke.

Last, I wanted to thank the wonderful Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit for providing us all inspiration and hope for the future of conservation. You are the change that I want to see in the world.

Thanks for reading about our work trip over these last five lengthy blog entries. It has been really helpful to organize and then share my thoughts with you!

The Chief (2nd from left) and the Rest of Us
The Chief (2nd from left) and the Rest of Us
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Helping Rhinos USA

Location: Escondido, CA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @HelpingRhinos
Project Leader:
James Danoff-Burg
Palm Desert, CA United States
$65,377 raised of $100,000 goal
879 donations
$34,623 to go
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