With Erica Salvemini

The Rising Lioness: a thought provoking and soul inspiring series where host Erica Salvemini and animal advocacy guests discuss topics aimed at understanding the significance of the relationship between empathy, animal rights, our peaceful co-existence with the Animal Kingdom and humanity’s role in sustaining our existence.


Thank you to Chris Corley for donating Zero Gravity for The Rising Lioness theme. 

The Black Mambas 10 Years and Winning

The Rising Lioness hosted by Erica Salvemini

Audio Production by Alex Sanfiz


Fearless, Incorruptible and Uncompromising. These are only some of the words used to describe the indomitable women known as the Black Mambas, the World's 1st ALL WOMEN anti-poaching initiative founded by Transfrontier Africa to upskill local communities and protect wildlife resources in South Africa.


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At this most critical time in our world for wildlife conservation, Erica Salvemini, host of The Rising Lioness Podcast on All About Animals Radio, had the privilege of interviewing Craig Spencer, Founder, Director and CEO of Transfrontier Africa and the Black Mambas APU, as well as Leitah Mkhabela, Sergeant, Ambassador, Media Liaison Officer and Supervisor to the Black Mambas.


In this deeply refreshing, passionate and authentic chat, Erica, Craig and Leitah speak soulfully about finding the ethos of humanity. The common thread in this episode is that real conservation comes from the heart.


Craig and Leitah speak openly about women being the ideal choice for this work, stating they ‘take no shortcuts and show up without ego.’ The women that are the Black Mambas have been taking on poachers for 10 years and winning because of their uncompromising convictions!


Outfitted with military fatigues and put through a rigorous instructional program - which includes classes, fitness and survival training - Craig and Leitah share the inside scoop on how these female wildlife warriors are trained to put their lives on the line all in preparation to guard South Africa’s most treasured and endangered species. Leithah shares the philosophical reasoning behind the Black Mambas being unarmed saying, “It’s because we cherish Life.” They made the conscious decision 10 years ago to create change through education and knowledge, NOT bullets.


These powerful women are breaking barriers in the typically male dominated conservation field, while also improving their communities. The Black Mambas tap into their divine innate gifts of nurturing and gentle strength to also create transformational change in their community. They do this by involving and motivating the locals through the environmental education program called The Bush Babies, also founded by the spiritually conscious force behind it all, Craig Spencer.


You can donate on the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit website and/or take part in their Lockdown Fundraising Event and follow their progress on the Black Mambas Facebook Page.



Craig started his career in Conservation in the government structures in the Western Cape Province where he initiated the Marine Anti-Poaching initiative to curb abalone poaching in the southern coastal regions. Whilst working in the Cape, he initiated several poverty-relief initiatives and was the manager of the Buffer Zone of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. In 2007 Craig started his own NGO Transfrontier Africa which is based in the Balule Nature Reserve which, in turn, is part of Associated Private Nature Reserves in the Greater Kruger Area. The initiated Balule Research Facility that partners with several local and international research institutions. Craig had been the Head Warden of Balule Nature Reserve and served as Head Warden of the Association of Private Nature Reserves until August 2018.


In 2013 Craig founded The Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit. The Black Mamba initiative currently employs 36 women from the local tribal communities and was recognized as the “Best Rhino Conservation Practitioner” in Johannesburg in 2015 (Game Rangers Association of Southern Africa), as well as the UNEP “Champions of the Earth” in 2015. He is also the founder of The Bush Babies Environmental Education Program which aims to educate children from the local schools adjacent to Greater Kruger and their families about environment, animals and help them grow into environmentally conscious adults and citizens of South Africa.

In June 2019 Craig started a new intake of the Black Mambas planning to employ 10 Mambas and 6 Environmental Educators to further advance Rhino conservation and community upliftment projects.  In 2022 Craig employed 6 more women rangers to form a special division, Crime Prevention Unit.


In 2020 The Black Mambas project acquired a land where The Black Mambas established their headquarter and which will be used for training, permaculture and other projects to ensure our rangers and community officers sustainable work and life.

The Awards Craig and The Black Mambas have received since 2013:


  • 2022: SES (Scientific Exploration Society) Pioneers with Purpose Award
  • 2022: IUCN, Highly Commended Ranger Team Award
  • 2021: IUCN, Highly Commended Ranger (Nkateko Mzimba) Award
  • 2020: The Sierra Club, The Earth Care Award
  • 2020: The Paradise International Foundation, Ranger of the Year Award
  • 2019: International Institute for Peace through Tourism in conjunction with the Resilience Council, Change Maker in Tourism Award (Craig Spencer)
  • Resilient Efforts Through Cultural Diversity Award (The Black Mambas)
  • 2017: The Eco-Warrior Silver Award
  • 2015: UN Champion of the Earth Award
  • 2015: Rhino Conservation Award
  • Best Conservation Practitioner of the Year



Leitah Mkhabela became interested in Nature Conservation when she was a student. During her school years she attended Timbavati Foundation Eco Club where she learned how to protect the environment and wild animals.


Leitah started her career as a Black Mamba in 2014. During her training Leitah obtained her Firearm certificate and underwent Emergency Care Specialist Training. Further Leitah took her Senior Command Course in 2017 and the same year was appointed as a Sergeant and Media Liaison Officer.


Hard work in the field, personal and leadership qualities eventually led to her appointment as the Black Mambas’ Supervisor. Her responsibilities include running the Operations Room, daily administration work for the Black Mambas, educating local communities that are adjacent to the Game Reserve regarding protecting and conserving natural resources.


On a regular basis Leitah hosts national and international groups from Lodges and presents the Black Mambas project to them to raise awareness. As the Media Liaison, Leitah engages with media teams and press representatives during briefing meetings, and filming on sites. Also, Leitah conducts Zoom and Whatsapp interviews with journalists and writers.


At the end of 2022 Leitah was selected as one of the Black Mambas Ambassadors by Transfrontier Africa NPC.

Outside work, Leitah helps those in need in her Community by donating food and clothes to them. She does her charity work through the group called Hluvukani Active Generation Group.

















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