Wildlife warrior takes the fight to poachers By Kate Sears

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Damien Mander has just arrived in his hometown of Mornington after being overseas. No, it wasn’t for a relaxing holiday. He’s been advocating for those who cannot speak.

Damien’s the founder of the not-for-profit International Anti-Poaching Foundation, an organisation dedicated to protecting some of the planet’s most endangered species. It’s a mission the former Padua College student has devoted his life to since returning from a dozen tours of duty in Iraq and struggling to rediscover his place in society.

“For a lot of guys the war doesn't really start until the bullets stop and you must figure out how you reintegrate back into society,” Damien says. “There's no job for a sniper (advertised) in the local newspaper when you get back home. I'd heard about anti-poaching years before in a barroom chat and decided to come over for some adventure in Africa. The adventure was destroyed when I saw what was happening to animals, and the brave warriors who had given up everything in their lives to protect them.”

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At that moment, he had an epiphany. Damien realised there was more to life than looking for the next adventure and that the important things in life are not things, they are actions. Subsequently, he liquidated a property portfolio and started the IAPF.

Damien saw a gap in the anti-poaching tactics employed across most of Africa - tactics that had remained largely unaltered for decades. Small groups of under-trained and poorly equipped rangers were sent out for days at a time to conduct patrols in dangerous and remote areas. With modern-day poachers refining their methods, upgrading their equipment and regularly adapting military tactics to kill high-target species, the threat grew. Elephants, rhinos and gorillas were suffering and in the crossfire the brave rangers were also killed.

With a structured approach to conservation and employing significant tactics and technology to defend wildlife from poachers within protected areas, the IAPF has formed the first and last line of defence for Africa’s wildlife. The foundation also works alongside partners that focus on community development and engagement, research, biodiversity management and wildlife rescue. Their initiative not only fights wildlife crime, but in addition it protects community assets, creates jobs, promotes training and education and reduces habitat destruction. 

This begs the questions, what’s Damien’s work day like? “My day to day varies. I spend a lot of time in the bush on programs, scoping new innovative projects and I travel a lot lecturing about the work we do and the war we fight.”

Damien reflects that one of the IAPF’s actions that has had the greatest impact was when it was playing a major role in securing the Kruger National Park’s border with Mozambique. Those actions helped drive a local downturn in rhino poaching numbers, which for the first time in a decade led to an international decrease in rhino poaching. In Zimbabwe, the IAPF-supported rangers have maintained 100 per cent protection of the rhino population that they have safeguarded for more than seven years.

The IAPF has recently deployed its first all-female anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe, and our support is urgently needed to make sure all the rangers have uniforms, boots, training and communication equipment. Let’s support those who risk their lives every day to protect endangered species. To help fight wildlife crime, visit iapf.org