Female rangers in South Africa are now patrolling in Zoo Berlin T-shirts

The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit was founded in 2013 in order to protect animals in the Balule Nature Reserve. The team has grown rapidly since then, enabling the rangers to cover an ever-greater area. According to the reserve authorities, the black mamba snake is “fast, poisonous and very aggressive when attacked” – and that could also describe the passionate women who work to protect magnificent African animals from poachers.

Some nature reserve employees have sold information to poachers about where they can find rhinoceroses, resulting in the deaths of many of these critically endangered beasts. Until recently, protecting the rhinos and other animals was men’s work. That has now changed.

Black Mamba is the first anti-poaching unit (APU) where women make up the majority of the teams. Balule’s Head Warden Craig Spencer had the idea to deploy teams of women against the poachers – simply because women are less corrupt and more reliable. Spencer believes that women are more likely to respect important issues like species protection, work ethics and confidentiality. Currently, 26 Black Mamba team members and 23 other armed wardens patrol Balule and its border with the world-famous Kruger National Park.

This is an area at severe risk of poaching. Rhinos are killed for their horns, and many other animals are butchered and sold as “bush-meat”. Poachers set illegal traps that catch antelopes and threatened species such as wild dogs and cheetahs. In 2013, the Black Mamba rangers managed to reduce the number of snares and the amount of poisonous bait in their territory by 76 percent.

To fulfil their primary objective of protecting wild animals, the Black Mambas educate local communities along the border between Balule and Kruger about the animals that live there and the problem of poaching. They hope to instil the people with love and respect for the animals and enable them to see and experience the benefits of conserving their own natural heritage. The Black Mamba team know that the battle against poaching cannot be won with weapons – instead they must educate and work closely with local populations.

The APU works with sniffer dogs that are trained to track down rhino horns, ivory, and guns. The dogs assist Craig Spencer and other officials, such as the head of a section of the Kruger National Park, in checking vehicles that leave and enter the park. They also search surrounding villages for slaughtered “game” and weapons. Training dogs to perform these tasks is a demanding undertaking.

And this is where German expertise is helping out, as Germany is known for its high-level training of sniffer dogs. The Black Mamba dogs are trained at a German dog academy in cooperation with local police. “We decided to train sniffer dogs rather than guard dogs, as guard dogs are much more likely to come in the line of fire,” explains Perdita Lübbe-Scheuermann, owner of the training academy and founder of the project Rettet das Nashorn (Save the Rhino).

We are proud to announce that there is now a little more German involvement in these commendable anti-poaching efforts. Since May 2017, the Black Mambas have been on patrol dressed in Zoo Berlin T-shirts. This development is all thanks to the zoo’s rhinoceros keeper Carsten Schwend, who has a good network of contacts with other rhino friends. When new Zoo Berlin uniforms were distributed among staff, many of the T-shirts with the old design were still in near-mint condition. Simply throwing them out would have been terribly wasteful. So instead, Schwend contacted his friend Perdita Lübbe-Scheuermann, who put him in touch with the Black Mambas. The delivery of the new T-shirts was met with great pleasure, as you can see in the video below.

Another four-legged member of the APU is currently in training. For further information about the Black Mambas click here.

Photos: Lee-Ann Olwage

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