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The Balule Rhino Conservation Model has three main components:
The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) act as Environmental Monitors. The APU is primarily made up of women that undertake foot-patrols, observations, vehicle checks, road blocks and intelligence gathering from their communities, as well as educating their peers on wildlife conservation. The unarmed Black Mambas that operate in Balule support the ProTracked Armed Response team by providing intelligence concerning poaching and incursion.
The main objective of the Black Mamba Initiative is to protect wildlife through creating strong bonds with local communities. All Black Mamba recruits are from local, previously disadvantaged communities and go through a 6 week training programme prior to deployment with an existing unit to further their training through work experience. The initiative is described as a social upliftment program that aims to address unemployment and assist with skills development in South Africa.
In addition, the Black Mambas are dispatched to around 10 local schools as part of an awareness and educational programme called the Bushbabies programme. The intention is to provide a better understanding of wildlife conservation to the next generation.
Salaries are provided for those employed in anti-poaching efforts.
Anti-poaching forces receive rations during onsite rotations as well as uniform and personal care items. Members of the anti-poaching teams additionally benefit from training and certification, and visibility in media and publications.
Through this initiative the Black Mambas have gained access to a field of work and means of income that they formerly had no access to. The benefit of this is that their experience and knowledge transects into their families because they are mothers, sisters, cousins, aunties, etc. and as such they can multiply the environmental awareness of the communities around them. The Black Mambas are the eyes and ears of the reserve, they find signs of intrusion, as well as detect snares, poacher camps and illegal harvesting of resources. Their observations are crucial to the armed response team who follow up on their reports.
The Black Mambas initiative is a multi-stakeholder initiative led by Transfrontier Africa and Rhino Mercy in collaboration with governmental entities (i.e. Kruger2Canyons, Ministry of Tourism and Environment), tourism entities (lodge owners and management), private owners, Anti-Poaching Units (APUs) and Armed Response, as well as ProTrack APU, and the Joint Operation Centre. The inclusion of all these stakeholder has been vital to its success.
It is foreseen to expand the initiative to other conservation areas (i.e. Timbavati Nature Reserve) but the spatial conditions will have to be thoroughly assessed, as this initiative is not a “one-fit-all” solution to poaching threats. While the focus is on the Black Mambas, the initiative has been multi-stakeholder and no single player can successfully run this program - any efforts elsewhere will require multi-stakeholder engagement. Furthermore, this initiative is heavily reliant on donor funding and this is a constant constraint to what measures can be afforded.
The Black Mambas have been internationally recognized and received the UNEP Champion of the Earth Award 2015 and the South African Best Rhino Conservation Practitioner Award 2015, and have represented the program at international events such as the CITES COP17 in Johannesburg.
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