Empowers Africa: Honoring the Black Mambas

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Empowers Africa’s annual gala dinner at The Explorers Club.

The treasure-filled Explorers Club was the venue for Empowers Africa’s annual gala dinner last Thursday night honoring three members from the Black Mamba APU, Africa’s only female-majority anti-poaching unit.  With auction items like prints from James Suter and trips from Africa’s top operators such as Singita, Asilia Africa and Wilderness Safaris, the gala raised nearly $200,000 for human empowerment and wildlife protection programs.

Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Richard Wiese, Host and Producer of ABC series Born to Explore. The auctioneer was Patricia Glass, Senior Vice President at Morgan Stanley. Guests included Michael Corbat, Chief Executive Officer of Citigroup, and event Co-chairs Nina GriscomBonnie Pfeifer EvansDelia von NeuschatzChristine Mack and Laura NicklasTown&Country Magazine was the media sponsor for the event.

Armed only with pepper spray and handcuffs, the Black Mambas conduct anti-poaching patrols around the clock, walking 20KM or about 12 miles per day. Since the unit’s formation in 2013, poaching has decreased considerably in the Balule Nature Reserve located on the western edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa Photos: James Suter
The Mambas serve as the eyes and ears of the armed tactical response units made up of former soldiers who patrol Balule reserve.

Comprising 36 members, up from just 6 in 2013, the Black Mamba APU protects South Africa’s Balule Nature Reserve, a 50,000-hectare private concession that is home to the black and white rhinoceros who interact freely as part of the Greater Kruger National Park meta-population of rhino.

Recruited from local communities, the Black Mambas combat not only the pervasive poaching of rhinos for their horns, but also that of other animals for “bush meat.”  These rangers, covering 20 km or about 12 miles a day armed only with pepper spray and handcuffs, are the eyes and ears of the armed tactical response units made up of former soldiers who are on constant patrol in the reserve.  “Poachers have big guns, but we are not afraid,” says one of the Mambas, Leitah Mkhebela.  “We are fighting for our animals and showing people that women can be beautiful and strong.”

And effective.  Within just one year, the Black Mambas reduced snaring by 86% and local rhino poaching to zero.  Since their deployment in 2013, these rangers have destroyed 19 poacher camps in all.

The Mambas find and remove in excess of 30 snares per day. In just one year, the Mambas have reduced snaring by 86%.
The Mambas also strive to combat anti-poaching through educational initiatives that aim to raise awareness among school-age children of the importance of conserving the environment and of animal welfare.
Despite anti-poaching efforts across southern Africa, the unrelenting slaughter of rhinos to meet the Chinese and Vietnamese demand for powdered horn continues. Traded by international gangs for $6,000 per kilo for use in “traditional medicine,” powdered horn is now the world’s most valuable commodity as an average rhino will produce 4 kilos of powder. Consequently, rhinos are poached at the rate of 3 per day in South Africa with the total number of rhinos poached in that country totaling 1063 in 2016. Yet rhino horn is made out of keratin, the same substance as human hair and finger nails and has no proven medicinal benefits.

Anti-poaching patrols are not the only weapons in the Black Mambas’ arsenal, however.  “This war on poaching is bigger than guns and bullets,” declares Nomutu Magakene, one of the rangers.  Through their Bush Babies Environmental Education Program conducted in local primary schools, the Mambas – mothers themselves – seek to foster awareness among school-age children of their natural environment and the importance of conserving the environment for future generations.  “Awareness is the main objective,” explains Amy Clark, Operations Manager.

Two of the evening’s three honorees, Leitah Mkhabela and Nkateko Mzimba, rangers from the Black Mamba APU in South Africa, the only majority female anti-poaching unit.
The evening’s third honoree, Craig Spencer, Head Warden of Balule Nature Reserve and founder of Black Mamba APU: “I’m now seen as this sheriff of Nottingham protecting Sherwood Forest called the Kruger Park and the poacher is seen as Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. It should be the other way around!”

The Black Mamba APU is one of more than 35 organizations in 15 Sub-Saharan countries supported by Empowers Africa, a non-profit foundation which funds programs that improve access to education, healthcare and business opportunities.  The charity also supports initiatives that protect wildlife and land conservation.  “People are going to take care of their animals and their land if they are directly benefiting from it,” says founder Krista Krieger, of the organization’s comprehensive approach.

Nomuntu Magakene embodies this tactic beautifully:  “As a Black Mamba, I feel proud in the community when I’m wearing my uniform.  And people, when they look up at me, they see a hero.”  100% of the funds raised by Empowers Africa go to grant recipients.  To find out how you can help, click here.

Leitah Mkhabela, Lauren Day Roberts, Nkateko Mzimba and Krista Krieger, Executive Director & Trustee of Empowers Africa.


Auctioneer Patricia Glass with the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Richard Wiese, Host and Producer of ABC series Born to Explore.
Kelly Vitko, Tom Tochterman, co-founder of the Black Mambas, and Nick Murtha.
Nina Griscom and Michael Gross.
Tom Roughan, Christiana Roughan, Richard Wiese and Nicci Wiese.
Leitah Mkhebela, Seth Hendon, Sally Koonin and Nkateko Mzimba.
Flo Fulton Miller, Louis Dessin and Christine Mack.
L. to r.: Katherine Juracich and Brian Corbat.; Delia and Kevin von Neuschatz.
David Juracich, Fernando Gentil, Michael Corbat and Karl Krieger.
Sue Devittt, Liz Rose and Laura Nicklas.
Tamara Eaton, Darren Manelski, Kevin von Neuschatz and Nina Reeves.
Lucia Hwong Gordon, Bonnie Pfeifer Evans and Lauren Day Roberts.
Lauren Day Roberts and Randi Schatz.
Krista Krieger, Ellie Libby, Roy Judelson, Nancy Pearson and Mary Judelson.
Laura Nicklas, Patricia Glass and Krista Krieger.
L. to r.: Charlotte Mourlot and Liz Rose.; Jordan Palmer.
Catherine Howell and Martha McGuinness.
Matt Grossman and Aryn Grossman.
Aisha Haque, Tara Liddle, Mary Judelson, Nancy Sambuco and Lucia Hwong Gordon.
Dana Macy and Eric Macy.
Robert Wesley, Lexi Rosenbaum and John Lee.
Hugh Knetzger, Zita de Zagon and Michael Corbat.
Mark Homann, Paula Franklin, Elizabeth Gordon and John Banovich.
Evelyn Lasry, David Lasry, Aisha Haque, Farnaz Vossoughiam and John Vaske.
Leitah Mkhabela, Klara Glowczewska and Nkateko Mzimba.
Vincent Heintz and Kathryn Heintz.

Silent auction items included prints by wildlife photographer and guide, James Suter:

Live auction items included a gorilla trekking expedition in Rwanda with stays at Kigali Serena Hotel in Kigali and Bisate Lodge in Volcanoes National Park:

The 5-star Kigali Serena Hotel.

Comprising 6 forest villas, the soon-to-open Bisate Lodge, adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, offers a luxurious base for mountain gorilla trekking.
Rwandan mountain gorillas.

Photos by Annie Watt

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