CAPE TOWN: A South African anti-poaching group has won a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) top prize, Champions of the Earth, for its efforts to protect the endangered rhinos.
Black Mambas, a 26-member group, was awarded on Monday for the "rapid and impressive impact" it had made in combating poaching, Xinhua reported.
The group has been devoted to anti-poaching patrols and education for communities near areas that are home to wildlife, according to South Africa's Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.
"Community-led initiatives are crucial to combating the illegal trade in wildlife, and the Black Mambas highlights how effective local knowledge and commitment can be," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
The award will be handed to the group by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York on September 27.
Molewa said the South African government is working to create "economically viable models" to make local communities "less vulnerable to being recruited by poaching syndicates."
Groups like Black Mambas have provided support as "environmental monitors".
"The introduction of environmental monitors into areas facing high numbers of poaching incidents has played a demonstrable role in combating this crime through their work of educating communities in the area on the benefits of conservation and rhino protection," the official said.
Established in 2013, Black Mambas comprises 25 women and one man who are all from local communities close to national reserves in north-east South Africa.
Since they were deployed at the Balule Nature Reserve in the north Limpopo province, only four rhino have been poached.
The group has assisted in the arrest of six poachers, removed over 1,000 snares and broke down two bushmeat kitchens.
"The Black Mambas are a shining example of the promise of government, the private sector and communities to eradicating rhino poaching in South Africa," Molewa said.
As of August 27, South Africa has lost 749 rhinos to poaching this year.