Pretoria, 7 September 2015 – The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit, a South African and majority-women ranger group, has been announced as one of the winners of the United Nation’s top environmental accolade, the Champions of the Earth award.
With this award, in the Inspiration and Action category, UNEP is recognizing the rapid and impressive impact The Black Mambas have made in combatting poaching and the courage required to accomplish it.
“Community-led initiatives are crucial to combatting the illegal trade in wildlife, and the Black Mambas highlight how effective local knowledge and commitment can be,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“Their many successes over the last few years serve as inspiration for the coming global challenge of ensuring sustainable development, particularly for goal 15 on preserving ecosystems, and show that we all can make a difference with sufficient courage and determination.”
The unit has ensured that not a single rhino has been poached on the land they protect in over ten months. In the neighbouring reserve, 23 rhinos have been killed over the same period.
Since being founded in 2013, the 26-member unit has also helped arrest six poachers, reduced snaring by 76 per cent, removed over 1000 snares and put 5 poachers’ camps and 2 bush meat kitchens put out of action.
The area that they protect, the Balule Nature Reserve, is home to an abundance of wildlife – including not only rhino but leopards, lions, elephants, cheetahs, and hippos. It is part of the Greater Kruger National Park, a network of over 2 million hectares of protected areas that is home to the thousands of birds, impalas, giraffes, wildebeest, buffalos, antelopes, hyenas, crocodiles, fish and zebras.
Protecting the rhino is vital in South Africa, where 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014 alone. This is an increase of over 9,000 per cent from 2007 and symptomatic of a devastating epidemic that has pushed the rhino closer to the edge of extinction.
“The Black Mamba APU represents an action driven solution to the layered problem of poaching. By reconnecting communities and wildlife in such an economic, practical and passionate way they are inspiring us all to achieve more,” said Mr. Steiner.
As Leitah Mkhabela, a member of the Black Mamba rangers explains: “I am not afraid, I know what I am doing and I know why I am doing it. If you see the poachers you tell them not to try, tell them we are here and it is they who are in danger.”
“Animals deserve to live; they have a right to live. Do your part. When demand ends, the killing will end. Say yes to life. Say no to rhino horn and ivory.”
The rangers protect the rhino by both patrolling and acting as an example. For two weeks at a time they patrol the park walking up to 20km a day, checking its fences and seeking out poachers, their trails, camps and snares. They know their ground so well that even a moved stone alerts them to poachers.
During their time off, they also use their local networks to identify potential poachers and take appropriate action to discourage them. One ranger specifically targets the children in the communities, seeking to connect them with the parks’ wildlife, soil and water.
In their communities they contribute to the local discussion about the connection between money, criminal gangs and poaching. They understand how the extreme poverty that surrounds the park and the seemingly insatiable demand from Asia combine to produce the current surge in poaching. They encourage, by example, positive engagement with the parks and discourage new members of the community from being recruited to the poachers’ network.
Their difficult, intense and dangerous work both within and outside the park fundamentally undermines the international poaching syndicates that threaten to wipe out wild populations of rhino and elephant in the wild.
This award, to be presented in New York on the 27 September 2015, is in acknowledgment of this fierce, practical courage.
About Champions of the Earth
The annual Champions of the Earth award is the highest environmental accolade that the United Nations can confer upon outstanding individuals and organizations. Previous laureates of this inclusive award range from leaders of nations to grassroots activists – all visionaries whose leadership and actions drive the world ever closer to its aspirations of environmental sustainability and a life of dignity for all. To date, the Champions of the Earth has recognized 67 laureates in the categories of policy, science, business and civil society.
The other winners this year are H.E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh (Policy Leadership); the National Geographic Society (Science and Innovation); Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever (Entrepreneurial Vision); and Brazilian cosmetics firm Natura (Entrepreneurial Vision).
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