An ex-Australian special forces sniper has changed career to dedicate his life to capturing illegal poachers killing some of the world’s most endangered animals.
Damien Mander spent three years in Iraq training the country’s paramilitary for front line action, before finding his new calling while travelling through Africa in 2009.
Rather than returning to a comfortable life back home, the 40-year-old was inspired by the horrific poaching practices he saw on the continent to launch the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) a decade ago.
Ex-Australian special forces sniper Damien Mander (pictured in his military days) has changed career to dedicate his life to fighting against illegal poachers
Damien Mander spent three years in Iraq training the country’s paramilitary for front line action (pictured in northern Baghdad in 2006)
Mr Mander liquidated his personal assets to form the organisation and has since worked tirelessly to train communities how to counter the scourge of poachers.
He teaches rangers in Zimbabwe to secretly track poachers – who hunt animals with the aim of selling their body parts – before then arresting them.
He told Lad Bible one of his first ports of call once he had trained his team was in the Kruger National Park in Mozambique.
After a maintained offensive in the area, Mr Mander said he saw a 90 per cent drop in rhino poaching.
The efforts safeguarded a third of the world’s rhino population from co-ordinated poaching syndicates.
The former Australian Navy diver and sniper told the blog Rich Roll an encounter with a wild buffalo fatally injured by poachers inspired him to get involved.
The Australian was inspired by the horrific poaching practices he saw on the African continent to launch the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) a decade ago. The team from the organisation are pictured treating a critically endangered rhino
Mr Mander started the Akashinga training program in 2017, an all-women unit committed to wiping out poachers
While he first gave rangers in threatened areas basic anti-poacher training, in 2017 the IAPF changed tack and took advantage of Mr Mander’s military expertise.
He started the Akashinga training program in 2017, an all-women unit committed to wiping out poachers.
Rather than opening fire, the poachers are trained to arrest poachers without pulling the trigger.
Trainees are also taught to invest in their communities by using soft power to combat poaching, and to de-escalate conflict rather than create it.
The 120-strong female unit has now made 140 arrests, with the group set to swell in its number to 280 by the end of 2020.
‘The women have chosen conversation over conflict,’ he said. ‘(They) become the bridge the increasingly militarised industry of conservation had to build into community as as a long term solution.’
The brave Aussie (right) teaches rangers in Zimbabwe to secretly track poachers before arresting them
He said in an Instagram post last year the force, which has a full-time training team in Zimbabwe, was vital to breaking gender barriers and transforming the anti-poaching industry.
‘With women stuck on admin desks, fence patrols and gate guard duties in so many conservation workplaces, they never get access to the opportunity to grow,’ he said.
‘So for us we literally had to start (the women’s only unit) from ground zero.’
The training of new recruits to the anti-poaching forces is brutal and unforgiving, emulating the tough military training Mr Mander himself went through.
Poachers are pictured last January after being allegedly caught illegally hunting by Mr Mander’s organisation on the Zambian-Zimbabwean border
In 2016 Mr Mander shared a photo of a rhino slain during a poacher raid in Mozambique, promising to make sure its killer did their 12 years in prison
Mr Mander said those fighting for selection are trained in the ‘four pillars of misery’: being hungry, tired, cold and wet.
In an empassioned message to poachers, the ex-military hero said humans had a position of power they should use with care.
‘We are one of millions of species on this planet but we’re the only one that determines what level of suffering and destruction is acceptable for all others,’ he said.
‘We need to decide if we want to be part of the future and if we do, we need to make changes.’
In an empassioned message to poachers, the ex-military hero said humans had a position of power they should use with care