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Black Mambas: World's first all-female anti-poaching unit fights to save South African wildlife

On one side, veterans of British military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other, a group of young African women.

Not much common ground, you might think, beyond the patch of earth I’m watching them march across.

But here on the edge of the Kruger National Park, they’re on the same side - allies in the fight to save South Africa’s threatened wildlife.

Elephants are targeted by poachers for their ivory tusks. Credit: ITV News

We joined them on one of the first projects run by the British charity, Veterans4Wildlife.

It aims to harness military skills in the cause of conservation.

For three weeks Captain Aimee Nash, now a reservist with the Royal Military Police, and ex-Sergeant Alisdair Donaldson, formerly of the Royal Army Medical Corp, passed on their know-how to Africa’s only all-female anti-poaching unit.

A rhino can be seen through the trees. Credit: ITV News

The Black Mambas are drawn from the local community around the Balule Game Reserve.

They’re an unarmed force who patrol the park looking for evidence of poachers, of which there are, sadly, plenty.

Eight rhinos were killed in four weeks around last Christmas.

The Black Mambas are unarmed. Credit: ITV News

The course was about leadership, first aid, and patrolling skills. At the end, all 12 mambas gained sergeant’s stripes.

"The skill set of the military is similar. Working as a team, problem solving,’’ says Craig Spence, founder of the Black Mambas.

‘"The biggest thing for me was how easy it was for the trainers to integrate with the mambas. It didn’t even take a day.’’

He calls the Black Mambas the "bobbies on the beat’’ who find the evidence to guide armed rangers.

Captain Aimee Nash hailed the women as 'inspirational'. Credit: ITV News

They also play a role in their communities, spreading the message that the wildlife in these parks can benefit everyone by providing work and money for local people rather than the quick riches promised to a few by poaching.

As the Brits know, some wars aren’t won by fighting.

"It’s about winning hearts and minds,’’ says Capt Nash.

That’s as tough here as ever it was in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the lessons aren’t all one-way.

Capt Nash lost a good friend in Afghanistan.

‘’These woman have been inspiration,’’ she says.

"Actually this [fight against the poachers] is itself a conflict. And what they have to deal with, day to day, is very tough. And to be able to share that common bond has been precious.’’