By Bryan Schatz
Between multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Damien Mander spent eight years in the Middle East as a sniper in the Australian Special Forces. Now, from the raw wilderness setting of Zimbabwe, he runs an organization called the International Anti Poaching Foundation (IAPF) with hopes of saving the world’s remaining rhinos from systematic slaughter.
According to National Geographic article, “Rhino Wars,” rhino horn fetches anywhere between $33 and $133 per gram, and is usually sold to Asian markets for its perceived medicinal properties. In the years since 2006, the rhino war of southern Africa has bared witness to the killing of over a thousand rhinos. But poachers have also had their share of losses: 200 were arrested and 22 were gunned down in 2011 alone.
We caught up with Damien recently over Skype to find out what is happening on the frontlines, and how people can get involved.
Can you tell me about IAPF and how it began?
It’s a non-profit organization that I founded with the money I earned after three years in Iraq. We started off small. Now we’ve got two training academies, we’re in the process of taking over land management with Zimbabwe parks, we’re in the process of taking over the fourth largest national park in the country, we’re training rangers, we’ve written the national standards in South Africa for anti-poaching and we’ve developed excellent working relationships with some longstanding and highly respected NGOs.
You were previously a sniper in the Australian Special Forces, how did you transition from that life to one of protecting an endangered species?
I first arrived in Africa at the beginning of 2009. I tried to get involved with anti-poaching – more as an adventure for my own scrapbook really than anything else – in a number of countries: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia. Of all places I ended up in Zimbabwe. I got over here and saw what was going on, and that was it. I put everything into founding the Anti-Poaching Foundation. I suppose it was one of those moments of clarity where you realize there’s a bit more to life than scratching your own back. More....