The associations attached to anti-poaching units are generally of military-trained, large-caliber-rifle-carrying, men of the bush. In terms of the military-trained aspect, you would be correct. As for the rest, let me offer you a compelling alternative; an all-women’s, unarmed squad that is transforming the persona of the anti-poaching person; enter The Black Mambas.
Who are the Black Mambas?
The Black Mambas are a hardcore, all-women’s anti-poaching unit that is making waves as they make a difference. Comprised of women from local communities, the Black Mambas are a unit that is redefining the meaning of ‘anti-poaching. From daily boundary patrols, disruptive patrols, roadblocks, gathering intel, and various other on-the-ground tactics, to educating their communities and serving as role models, the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit is a godsend to the preservation of wildlife in the Balule area.
Photographs © Christoff Els
Conversation with two remarkable Women
Sitting outside their dome tent on three collapsible camping chairs, an authentic Pridelands experience, Nkatego Mzimba, Bongani Masingi and I remark upon an elephant that has defeated a nearby marula tree,
“it seems so unnecessary given how green the bush is at the moment”.
The conversation bounces organically around bush-related topics before it comes to rest on the reason for our rendezvous, the transition from the life of a hardcore anti-poaching woman to the more academic life of a field guide student.
For Sergeant Nkatego Mzimba, the opportunity to be doing her guiding qualification is the realization of a lifelong dream. She recalls her love of nature and the bush being born while she was in high school. She had been a part of an eco-club that afforded her the opportunity to go on an excursion to the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve,
“After I got back from the excursion to the Timbavati I told myself, I want to work in a reserve, either as a tour guide or a ranger or anything in the bush because I just love nature. Being a guide is my dream and being a Black Mamba is a platform that can help me to reach my dream.”
Photographs © Victoria Craddock
While each story is unique, Bongani Masingi shares a similar sentiment about her early love of the bush and the path her life has taken;
“Before the Black Mambas, I did small jobs as a cashier at a cash loan office and as a tutor at the local school. The chance to go to the Black Mamba trials was an opportunity that presented itself. Growing up I always liked nature, it made me peaceful but I didn’t expect this (gesturing to the wilderness around her as if to imply ‘life in the bush’) but it makes sense to me. I feel fuelled by passion and that always opens doors. I find it working in the bush very fulfilling.”
Photographs © Christoff Els
The opportunity to train as a field guide with EcoTraining is one that neither of these two ladies takes for granted, however, they are refreshingly honest about the new challenges they face.
“Anti-poaching was semi-military training, it was incredibly physical, I even hurt my back on the monkey bar exercises. Field guide training is not physical for me, but it takes a large amount of mental focus. For me, the field guide training requires more persistence but I believe I can do it because I’m military trained and so I know I have the determination I need to achieve anything I focus on. Doing the academic work for FGASA means I have to be very self-motivated and that comes from within so I’m learning a lot about myself through this process.”
shares Bongani, age 29, with a smile on her face. I believe in her determination, her eyes are bright and her posture is confident.
Nkatego gives a little giggle and proceeds to add,
“I find this more challenging. I have been with the Mambas since 2014 but I never learned what ‘geology’ is and what birds I am hearing. I find it very difficult to learn everything but I know that it is my dream so I will be able to do it because I am committed.”
She nods her head once as if to reinforce her resolute commitment to her training.
By this point, the conversation has relaxed into casual discourse and the patter between three women in the industry turns to a more taboo topic, the stereotypical perception that anti-poaching should be a man’s job. Bongani, having raised the topic states,
“I just feel disappointed that it’s known as a man’s job, I have done things I’m sure some men here have not.”
Nkatego, as if consoling and simultaneously encouraging her colleague, turns to Bongani and replies
“Men feel intimidated because we can do what we do unarmed. We excel even without guns and we are proud of that. If a man is intimidated it means you are doing a good job.”
One can only smile at the resilience and authenticity of these high-caliber women. If women like Nkatego and Bongani are the anti-poaching rangers, the community role models, and the future field guides, our industry is filled with fervent hope and a bright prototype of the partnership between conservation and empowerment might yield.
The Black Mambas and their Journey with EcoTraining
EcoTraining interviews two remarkable women of the Black Mambas; Nkatego Mzimba, and Bongani Masingi. They share with us their expectations and experience while being on course with EcoTraining.
Would you like to support the Black Mambas? You are welcome to visit their website and make a donation: https://www.blackmambas.org/donate.html
About the Author:
Victoria Craddock a past apprentice Field Guide student of EcoTraining and freelance Blogger.