A former Special Forces member has opened up about his career as an anti-poacher and shared his story of how he ended up saving the lives of animals that were about to be hunted down illegally.
After serving in Iraq where he trained troops for several years, Damien Mander, who previously served in the Special Forces as a sniper, decided to trade his return to his native Australia for an adventurous life in Africa.
Instead of going back home and continuing walking down the military path, Mr. Mander became an anti-poaching activist after seeing the horrifying consequences of illegal hunting firsthand.
“After Iraq I was looking for the next adventure and [Africa trip] just seemed like it was going to be a six-month thing to do. When I traveled around the continent, I was inspired by the work that the rangers were doing,” he admitted in an interview with LADbible.
“They have something really worthwhile fighting for: giving up everything, being away from their family for so long each year defending the natural world.
“I had just come from Iraq where we were looking after dotted lines on a map and resources in the ground and it made me reflect on who I was as a person.”
Following months spent in countries including Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Botswana, Mander became passionate about protecting the animals from callous poachers.
And so, the soldier sold all of his properties and moved to Africa with one goal in mind – protecting the wildlife.
After collecting enough money, Mander launched a non-profit organization called the International Anti-Poaching Foundation as well as a training academy for rangers located in Zimbabwe.
Thanks to his extensive combat experience, Damien was able to teach the staff about everything from patrolling to tracking to ambushing the poachers.
“Beyond the guns and ammo are the lessons I learned in Iraq that have really been the biggest benefit to what we do,” he told LADbible.
“The ability to get the local population on side, get the hearts and minds, that’s more important than anything else and it’s something that we completely failed at in Iraq. We’re able to take those failures from Iraq and turn them into a positive.”
After building up his team and turning his focus to areas and species most affected by poaching, Mander quickly realized that all of his efforts, while they paid off and were praised by the governments, weren’t well-accepted among local populations.
“We had helicopters, drones, canine attack teams, military-grade hardware [but] we had this ongoing conflict with the local population and while we might have won that battle overall, what we were doing was not sustainable,” he expressed.
Thinking of other ways to counter poaching, Mander came up with the idea of involving women in their preservation plans.
And so, the former soldier began training female rangers of which many were victims of domestic abuse and sexual assaults. Soon enough, he was surprised by just how fast they were learning and how well they were performing.
“The data we’ve got, we’ve been able to see 80 per cent reduction in elephant poaching across this region of the Zambezi Valley and, again, we can’t take full credit for that but the amount of arrests we’re making and work we’re doing in the communities is attributed towards that impact,” Damien told LADbible.
Mr. Mander and the International Anti-Poaching Foundation now continue working towards the common goal and recruiting additional rangers while raising awareness among local communities.
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