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 Griscom, Bonnie Pfeifer Evans, Delia von Neuschatz, Christine Mack and Laura Nicklas. Town&Country Magazine was the media sponsor for the event.
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.
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.
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.
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: