Former Australian Sniper Protects Wildlife from Poachers – Check this Out!
I stumbled upon a great Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) from Damien Mander, a naval special operations sniper for the Australian Defense Force, who turned his skills and life savings into helping protect endangered wildlife. He's Rambo in the flesh. It's really cool, and I enjoyed his story. You can also take a look at this photo album summarizing what he does.
My journey: I was a naval special operations sniper in the Australian Defense Force. In 2008 I completed my 12th tour of duty in Iraq as a so-called mercenary, and I felt that there had to be more to life than living out a game of Halo. After traveling around the world, I ended up in Africa. A trip to the bush left me face-to-face with the horrors the world’s wildlife is facing from poaching. I gave up everything my previous life had provided for me and started the IAPF.
IAPF’s mission is conservation through direct action. We aim to stop the hemorrhaging at the front lines of the world wildlife war. We do this by adopting a structured, military–like approach to conservation. This includes using correct levels of force to capture hardened poachers.
Since taking over security operations in Victoria Falls, not one rhino has been poached and the population of critically endangered black rhino has increased by 133% since 2010.
We now run operations covering more than 1 million acres and have supported 28 other initiatives. With your support, we can shift it up a few gears.
What is the typical mentality of a poacher, in your experience - hardened? Desperate? Greedy? Are they the typical bad guy that it's tough to empathize with or not?
Like any criminal, it depends on the person and the crime they commit. Some people are genuinely just trying survive. Others, it would be like robbing banks to put food on the table. Some of these commercial poachers are extremely wealthy, and more is just not enough.
We have actually retrained convicted poachers and once you can convince them that looking after wildlife is more beneficial than killing it, they make great rangers.
According to what you have experienced really how 'big' is the poaching threat?
The illegal trafficking of wildlife is one of the largest criminal industries in the world. Its up there with guns, drugs and human trafficking. The issue is, that when weighed against all the humanitarian causes out there, the plight of animals and the environment is barely heard. We are not asking for a complete switch and everyone to start totally supporting environmental issues. that would be unrealistic. All we want is balance, and for people to realise that when we f--k the planet, then, we are all pretty much f--ked. And that is our generations legacy.
First of all good for you! Those animals need people like you for protection. Is it legal for you to shoot at poachers just for shooting animals?
Zimbabwe has a shoot on site policy for armed poachers. South Africa and Mozambique are a little different. IAPF takes the approach of training rangers in the correct escalation in the use of force. Much like any western law enforcement model, it means the minimum amount of force is used to get the job done. It does not mean to say that if lethal force is needed, it cannot be used. Well trained rangers actually save human lives as well as wildlife.
I imagine that you present quite a formidable deterrent and that these people aren't looking for a gunfight, but nonetheless, they are operating illegally and you pose a threat to their freedom and livelihood...SO...Beyond the threat to protected animals, do these poachers typically display armed resistance against anti-poaching efforts? Do these a-holes shoot at you?
Rangers are often hunted by poachers. The stakes are that high. In Kruger National Park, they have had to deploy the South African Special Forces the problem is that bad. This is a war. People on both sides are being killed. Bullets travel in both directions and they are not biased. And the situation is not improving.
How many poachers have you killed so far?
In regards to killing poachers, I’m settled enough I think these these days to not be in the position of potentially shooting poachers. I’m a foreigner, in a far away place. We have too much work to do and I don’t have a spare 10 years to be sitting in jail counting notches on the stock of my rifle. There are laws and systems in place in Africa, and they don’t accommodate vigilantes who are chasing shits and giggles. Conservation is serious business and it requires a serious approach. Rangers do carry guns, sometimes they shoot, and sometimes they are shot. Dead bodies are not a ruler for success. Animals not being killed are the yardstick we use.
What happens to the poachers if/when you catch them? Do the poachers surrender to you Rangers, or do they fight you? Where do the poaches come from? Do they come from the country itself, or do you also see poachers from outside the country?
Depending on the crime the poacher has committed, they will be taken to a police station and charged under local laws.
Sometimes they surrender, sometimes they fight. Many have everything to lose, some nothing.
We have noticed that many poachers are crossing international borders to take down animals such as elephants and rhino. But, they are also locally based too. It is often a mixture, and sometimes their heritage does not recognise colonial borders that have separated them.
Damien, what you are doing is amazing! Have you found local governments to be supportive of your work, or are you met with resistance?
It ebbs and it flows. Some projects you have support with the departments you need, others it takes time. A decision in Africa can be so hard to get, and that is what makes it so valuable.
We were approached by Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority to take over and manage Chizarira National Park for 25 years in 2011. We purchased a lodge and concession adjoining Chiz and completed the feasibility study and management plans. We were really looking forward to a solid, long-standing project using a good network of people who had pledged their support, both financial and technical.
Then this article was released in March 2012: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/secret-sas-squadron-sent-to-spy-in-africa-20120312-1uwjs.html
Soon after it ran front pages in Zimbabwe and that really put a wet blanket on that project.
Things can come from left field. You just need to stay committed, and remember what you are there for.
How many beers do you have? Seriously, thank you for doing this. And after donating, what else can we do to help?
I have enough beers to keep me hydrated into the night. It's 1800 here on a Saturday evening in southern Africa.
Just being aware of the situation of poaching is great start. The environmental struggle across the world is going to require conscious choices from all of us in order to have a positive impact.
Do you think this militaristic conservation style should be applied to the whaling industry?
We must operate within the laws, but also push those boundaries within reason. A militaristic approach does not necessarily mean guns and cannons. It could mean better intelligence, well trained ranges/sailors, access to thermal imaging and night vision equipment, drones etc. So, in that respect, yes, it should be, but within the law.
How do I sign up, and will I carry a gun?
You can sign up at iapf.org. We get enquiries everyday from people from all walks of life. Some have varying levels of experience in the military or law enforcement and want to be involved with anti-poaching. Many people approach us wanting a paid position or even to freely volunteer their services to work in the bush.
The job of a ranger is a front-line role, but the front-lines of the African bush are vastly different to the streets of Baghdad, the tall buildings of New York or the beaches of Australia. One of the biggest threats a rangers faces is the wildlife they aim to protect. We have a duty of care for you when you are here. From poachers, wildlife and the wrong side of the law.
To be in the bush you must be accompanied by a professionally trained guide. You are not allowed to carry a firearm unless you have the relevant qualifications (in that particular country), a work permit and security clearance. This process can take up to 2 years depending on the country. If you do so without the relevant documents you are liable to prosecution and we would lose our ability to operate.
Hi, I tried to find out how large the contribution required to sign up is through your site but couldn't figure it out. Can you tell us more about that?
It works out to less than $100 a day, which is far less than any safari you would get in most of Southern Africa. The wages we pay our rangers comes from donations. A wage for a ranger in Southern Africa is between $100 and $500 per month depending on the position.
To have volunteers with us we need to have a professional guide, accommodation, transport, insurance, extra equipment and personnel to look after your stay. To recoup these costs and ensure your stay is productive we ask for a mandated donation at a set weekly rate. This ensures that we are not out of pocket and the stay actually benefits the cause. So many people just want to come out and do the fun job of running around in the bush. Running the IAPF is a tough job with lots of administration involved.
Some volunteers in the past have gone on to work with us, and we have found the volunteer program is the best way to screen people whilst contributing to their experience and the cause at the same time.
What do you see as the greatest threat to African wildlife?
The greatest threat to Africa wildlife I believe is human encroachment into wilderness areas. The United Nations Population Division projects Africa's number of human inhabitants will double to 2 billion by 2040. I have little confidence that we can mobilise the hearts and minds of a continent, with a common mindset of immediacy, that the long-term preservation of wildlife, is more beneficial than food on the table tonight. Couple this with a common lack of sufficient political will to save wildlife and we have a recipe for extreme challenge.
This problem is not isolated to Africa though, which I think we all understand.