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Rhino poaching in the Balule Nature Reserve in Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Black Mambas are a mostly-female task force of unarmed nonviolent local park rangers, successful in reducing rhino poaching amidst a climate of hostility and violence between classes, races, and genders.


South Africa hosts 80% of the entire world’s rhinos, or 13,000 individuals [2, 12]. However, this makes the region also one of the world’s biggest black spots for poaching [12]. Starting from the late ‘00s, rhino poaching increased from 13 killings in 2007 to 1,028 killings in 2017, or about 3 rhinos every day [4]. Official figures in South Africa reported 594 rhino poached in 2019, down from the 769 rhino killed for their horns in 2018. These killings occur in protected national reserves like Kruger, which border hundreds of thousans of villages that poachers use as pathways to infiltrate the parks [2]. Although the origins of rhino poaching were motivated by poor families seeking bushmeat to have something to eat, this now includes many with luxury cars and large houses coming in to feed the exploding multimillion dollar demand for rhino horn exported to black market consumers in China and Vietnam [1, 2]. Moreover, people in the surrounding villages not only do not benefit from the crimes, but also suffer from incoming violence and increased loss of access to land. This makes joining the suspected 12 poaching gangs operating in Kruger at any given time attractive to especially young men who, coming from regions with over 85% unemployment, may find it more profitable to hunt rhinos than protect them [2, 3].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Rhino poaching in the Balule Nature Reserve in Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Limpopo
Location of conflict:Balule Nature Reserve
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Specific commodities:Live Animals
Rhino horns
Ecosystem Services
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Poachers typically enter and exit the park late at night starting from 11:00pm during full moons, when their torches are less visible. They use anything from small knives to chainsaws to remove horns, which are ground and sold to black market dealers in China and Vietnam [8]. Ground horn is not only used for traditional medicine and as a recreational drug but is also a status symbol among the growing middle class. International criminal syndicates are known to charge $75,000-$85,000 per kilo for an illegal substance that is worth more than gold and cocaine but is no different from human fingernails [2, 11].

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Project area:50,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/1970
Relevant government actors:Greater Kruger National Park
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Black Mambas (
Transfrontier Africa (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Park rangers
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
Property damage/arson
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Boycotts of companies-products
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Violent targeting of activists
Fostering a culture of peace
Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:The Balule Park and the Black Mambas advocate for the inherent beauty of animals and economically for eco-tourism rather than selling them and their parts for money.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The Black Mambas have made huge strides in reducing poaching and improving the status and relations between people of all genders/classes/races among local and global communities. More female-led conservation groups are being established following their model.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] ACME Journal for Critical Geographies. Fatal Masculinities: A Queer Look at Green Violence (Burnett & Milani 2017)
[click to view]

[2] The Guardian. The all-female patrol stopping South Africa's rhino poachers (Aldred 2016)
[click to view]

[3] CNN. They're called the Black Mambas, and they're a poachers worst nightmare (Gunther 2015)
[click to view]

[4] CN Traveler. Meet the Black Mambas, South Africa's Fierce Female Anti-Poaching Unit (Holland 2018)
[click to view]

[5] The Telegraph. Meet the Black Mambas: South Africa's all-female anti-poaching paramilitary team (Bell 2017)
[click to view]

[6] National Geographic. These Badass Women Are Taking on Poachers—and Winning (Goyanes 2017)
[click to view]

[7] Geographical. All-female park ranger team honoured (Cole 2015)
[click to view]

[8] Cycling for Rangers. The Black Mambas (Bromfield 2017)
[click to view]

[9] The New York Times. ‘Wild Animals Belong to All of Us’ (Ellin 2019)
[click to view]

[13] Sunday Times. Girl power to the rescue of Kruger's threatened rhino (Keeton 2014)
[click to view]

[15] Wild. Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Patrol: Not saints, not warriors, just strong women (2017)
[click to view]

[11] The Australian. Women on the poachers’ trail (Clayfield 2019)
[click to view]

[12] DW. 'Black Mambas' on South African rhino patrol (Hahn 2015)
[click to view]

[10] Vuk’uzenzele. Black Mambas strike poachers (2019)
[click to view]

[14] Positive News. Big game, high stakes: on patrol with an all-women anti-poaching unit (Ross 2017)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[Documentary] The Rhino Guardians (Sadgrove 2017)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update16/06/2020
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