The UN Recognizes The Female-Led ‘Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit’ For Their Conservation Efforts

When Cecil the Lion was lured out of a protected game reserve, shot, skinned and beheaded by Walter Palmer back in July, the world turned its gaze on the grim realities of poaching. For a week, our feeds were flooded with horrifying images that left us hamstrung between outrage and hopelessness…until attentions turned elsewhere and most people carried on with their lives.

In Palmer, the endangered-animals-in-Africa story had a great, white-toothed, remorseless villain. But it didn’t really have any heroes.

Enter the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit. On September 8, this majority-female unit of South African rangers was presented the Champions of the Earth Award in the Inspiration and Action category by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The Black Mambas are the heroes we need. They’re boots on the ground, in the bush, removing snares (over 1000 since their inception in 2013), and leading the charge to put illegal poachers where they belong: in jail.

The deadly black mamba snake is named for its inky-colored mouth. Should one strike you, you have a very scarce chance of surviving. That’s what the The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit is all about. They’re sinking their collective teeth into sh*tty people doing sh*tty things to wild animals. Like the snake, this team is fast moving, and capable of striking at a considerable range. In just two years, they’ve reduced snaring by 76 percent, helped to arrest six poachers, and halted action in five poaching camps. This is huge — particularly in a region in which we’re seeing the rapid disappearance of not just lions, but also rhinoceros, leopards, elephants, and hippos. In 2014, 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said:

The Black Mambas highlight the importance and effectiveness of local knowledge and commitment. Their many successes are a result of their impressive courage and determination to make a difference in their community. The Black Mambas are an inspiration not only locally, but across the world to all those working to eliminate the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade.

The success of The Black Mambas speaks loudly to the power of community and grassroots movements. Upset about something? Sure, post it on Facebook so that we can all be aware of what’s going on in the world. There is value in that. But then make something happen. Act.

Here’s hoping that these fierce defenders of the natural world will continue to inspire people around the globe while helping preserve precious animal species in South Africa.