Biodiversity conservation through empowering young women, community upliftment and education

Transfrontier Africa
Published: 05 October 2021
Last edited: 05 October 2021
remove_red_eye 443 Views


The Black Mambas was the brainchild of the Olifants West Reserve and aimed at combating the rhino poaching threat. The aim is to develop a multi-generational model that would empower and uplift communities to develop environmental patriotism within the tribal villages. Olifants West therefore trained a team of young women from the local community and branded this the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit and soon after the Bushbabies Environmental Education program. At the start of the rhino poaching crisis it became evident that militarized anti-poaching techniques were not the solution to ending the poaching crisis and creating allies in the local communities. Through deploying unarmed women as a first line defense in wildlife security, the community has become directly involved in the protecting their natural heritage. The Bushbabies program aims to improve the working conditions of teachers and create stimulating learning environments. It focuses on education, animal welfare, provides meals and deals with environmental issues


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Grassland ecosystems
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Food security
Gender mainstreaming
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Invasive alien species
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Peace and human security
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Traditional knowledge
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Species Monitoring and Research
Invasive Species Management/Removal
Species Conservation Planning
Risk communication, community engagement and behaviour change
Loss of Biodiversity
Invasive species
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 9: Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 18: Traditional knowledge


Balule Nature Reserver Olifants West Gate, R40, Maruleng NU, Limpopo 1382, South Africa | Ekuthuleni Conservancy


The Black Mambas have a direct impact through the eradication of bushmeat poaching through the removal of snares and destruction of bush meat kitchens. Rhino poaching has reduced in areas of deployment. Through visual policing and early detection, the area becomes undesirable to enter due to high risk of detection. Due to these interventions Olifants West became an undesirable area to poach. The unit also monitors endangered species and invasive species to provide data for conservation management

Rural communities can become vulnerable to infiltration of syndicates that recruit locals to poach. This leads to an increase of crime and creates a false economy within the community. To make communities resilient to this, education and social and economic upliftment are critical. Through the Black Mamba and Bushbabies project, the community experiences the benefit of protecting wildlife instead of exploiting it and thus protect their natural heritage and create a more stable social and economic environment


  • Balule Nature Reserve (Greater Kruger)
  • 4 local communities bordering the reserve
  • Rural women hired from the 4 communities and their families
  • Children of the communities through program at the schools and after school programs such as the scouts programs

How do the building blocks interact?

Community involvement and wildlife conservation go hand in hand. A strong empathetic community on the border of the protected area creates opportunities for long term protection of flora and fauna within the reserve whilst providing better living circumstances for rural communities. Local people and traditional knowledge should be utilized in nature conservation in order for it to sustain and provide a long term solution. 


The Black Mamba Project has had a great impact on the protection of wildlife. In areas of deployment, bush meat poaching has reduced by 89% and rhino poaching incursions by 62%. The women are role models within their communities as well as on an international level. The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit is the first all-female unit and created a stage to provide opportunities for rural women to become rangers on an international level. During the pandemic the Black Mambas identified 90 families who were hit hard by the pandemic, and through the help of landowners from Olifants West Nature Reserve, monthly food packages are delivered by the Black Mambas and Bushbabies Program to these families. The Bushbabies Education Program has currently extended to 10 local schools and has reached over 2500 children at this stage. A community centre was recently created to host environmental related activities for children and young adults. The community has seen the value of both programs and benefited on a socio-economic level. The reserve has benefited through the protection for flora and fauna provided through the projects and the behavioural changes within the community. Although these projects are considered long term investments, short term impacts have already been clearly visible since the start of the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit in 2013.


Transfrontier Africa

Since 2013, the Black Mambas and Bushbabies Education Program have had an impact on the local community. Stories of inspiring individuals have shown the importance to include local rural communities in the conservation of protected areas.


One of those stories is that of ranger Leitah, who during patrol with her team came across a lioness with cubs. As they tried to move away from the lioness, she charged to protect their cubs. The Mambas are unarmed, so will have to rely on their skills to protect themselves from dangerous wildlife. As they made it safely to the trees they managed to call for assistance to be rescued. Leitah recalls she was terrified but then she mentioned later “I am a breadwinner, who else is going to take care of my family and who is going to be the voice for the animals?” The next day she was back on patrol, learning from the experience

Another example of the power of the project came when one of our sergeants passed away. She was a great inspiration within the Black Mambas as well as her community. During her funeral the Black Mambas were put in the front as a sign of respect. The community spoke during the funeral about how important it was for her to be part of the Black Mambas and the passion she had towards protecting wildlife. The community said how inspired they were about her dedication to wildlife conservation and thanked the Black Mamba Unit for the opportunities given to the women

Also the children of the community have raised their voice about the importance of Bushbabies program. The school planned to discontinue the program after the first year as they did not see the importance of it. The children did not accept this and wrote letters the principal telling him how much they loved the program and loved learning about wildlife and nature and that they wanted to keep the program. Proudly, the program is still going at this school 8 years later


The Mamba and Bushbabies program will always try to uplift the community. The community has been impacted by Covid and jobs have been lost. Both programs rely a lot on funders to be able to help, which through covid times have been a struggle. Luckily funding has been made available to hire another 6 women to become rangers and make them breadwinners of their families. With the right funding we will be able to create more jobs to recover from the pandemic and thrive in the future. Funding for both programs is mainly provided through grants and partners/funders

Contributed by

ops_40411's picture

Leonie Hofstra Transfrontier Africa

Other contributors

Rettet das Nashorn
Wildlife Warriors Australia Zoo
Helping Rhinos
Pondoro Lodge