Damien Mander advocates for those who cannot speak. The former Padua College student is 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 that he’s devoted his life to since returning from a dozen tours of duty in Iraq and struggling to rediscover his place in society.
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 a structured approach to conservation and employing significant tactics and technology to defend wildlife from poachers within protected areas, the IAPF was established in 2009 and forms 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, it protects community assets, creates jobs, promotes training and education and reduces habitat destruction.
It was in August 2017 that IAPF set out to recruit and train members for Akashinga, the first all-female anti-poaching unit in the world. Based in Zimbabwe, Akashinga employs marginalised women from rural communities who are educated and trained by IAPF to be rangers and biodiversity managers to protect large areas previously reserved for and financed by trophy hunting. The group made 191 arrests during its first two and a half years and helped reduce elephant poaching in Zimbabwe’s Lower and Middle Zambezi Valley by 80 per cent. Akashinga now patrols seven parks totalling almost 650,000ha and is in the process of training 240 more women for full-time positions as it grows towards 1000 rangers and a portfolio of 20 parks by 2025.
This year’s highlight so far has been the world premiere of Akashinga: The Brave Ones at the EarthxFilm Festival, where it picked up two awards. Directed by Maria Wilhelm, the National Geographic short film was produced by three-time Academy Award-winning director James Cameron, who posted on social media: “Akashinga puts a spotlight on the International Anti-Poaching Foundation and the courageous women on the front lines of the battle for Africa’s wildlife, under greater threat now than ever before.”
To find out more about the work of Akashinga and the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, visit www.iapf.org