BALULE NATURE RESERVE, SOUTH AFRICA
DKR Films (USA) & Adorni Films (Brazil)
April 2018 - American Documentary Film Festival, California
BEHIND THE SCENES
WALKING THE FENCE
As part of the Black Mambas' daily patrol, the women pair off and head out into the open bush, following the reserve's boundary fences, in search of any break-ins, tracks or snares, all the tell-tale signs of poachers in the area.
On our second day of filming, we geared up with our cameras and headed out in the early morning with two of the women. They told us they'd make it 'easy' and just walk the straight road along the reserve's western border fence. This being peak summer, under the blazing African sun, I knew nothing was going to be easy. Laden with all our gear, the Mambas dressed head-to-toe in full military uniform, we began laboring in the soaring, sweltering temperatures.
We crossed vast, open stretches along the fence line, with no trees to shelter us. It became impossibly hot, forcing us wherever possible to take whatever break we could. 3.5 hours later, we'd reached the end of the road, only to turn back around and make the return journey, now under the worsening midday sun.
Returning to camp later that day, I'd never felt more exhausted, more a slave to the sun. Understanding soon after that these women do this every single day, unprotected out in the wild bush, with the constant threat of lions, leopards, snakes and every other dangerous creatures...gave me an entirely new appreciation for the work they do, and the sacrifices they make to protect their wildlife.
Dir. Bruce Donnelly taking a break with the Mambas
FULL MOON PATROL
Watching the full moon rise over the reserve, one might think is a wondrous spectacle, but for The Black Mambas, these nights are a curse, marked on their calendars as the most threatening time of all, when ALL the Mambas are on duty and on high-alert.
Under cover of darkness, poachers seize the opportunity to break into the reserve, taking shelter in the bush until the moon rises, giving them the advantage of natural light. For the Mambas, tracking poachers at night is that much harder, especially when having 155 square miles to cover. Their tracks are impossible to find, and the unfortunate success rate for poachers is high.
We are in some ways fortunate to be with the Mambas over the period of a full moon, heading out in their patrol vehicle, as the sun begins to set behind the western ridge. The landscape is beautiful, but there is an ominous feeling in the air. We watch as clouds gather and move across the sky, hoping they obscure the light of the moon.
We rattle and bump along the dirt roads leading us deeper into the bush. Night has fallen, and the glow of the moon appears over the horizon. We arrive at a ridge, high above the park, waiting in complete silence, listening out across the reserve. A light rain begins to fall and the roar of a lion is heard nearby. We quickly realize our place out in the wild, and begin a long night's watch.