Damien Mander is an Australian man on a mission. Since 2009, Damien has dedicated his life to protecting endangered African wildlife by taking on criminal syndicates who specialise in illegal poaching.
Formally a clearance diver with the Royal Australian Navy before serving with a Special Operations unit with the Australian Army and a Private Military Organisation in Iraq, Damien visited Africa in 2009 and found a new calling.
Witnessing first-hand the decimation that illegal poaching causes, he founded the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) attacking the problem through training, education and conservation.
The IAPF provide free, specialised, ‘anti-poaching’ training at the IAPF Victoria Falls Ranger Training Facility where up to 40 local rangers can be trained at one time. Not only does this create a new industry for locals, but combined with the IAPF’s education programs and conservation efforts, change can occur from the ground up. That is, the concept that wildlife is more valuable to Africa alive and protected than dead and extinct.
The Black Rhino is the flagship species for the IAPF as it’s the hardest animal to protect. The horn of a rhino, on some black markets, can be worth more than gold and cocaine and can fetch anything from $30 to $130 per gram.
Its prized value is mainly due to demand in Asian medicine despite the fact that medicinal benefits have not been scientifically validated and remain largely mythical. China has banned the use of rhino in traditional medicine and now the biggest Asian market is Vietnam, with its popularity also rising in the Middle East.
The value of the rhino horn on the black market means the stakes are high, especially for the rhino which is illegally poached every 15 hours in Africa. At that rate, it’s estimated these amazing animals will be extinct in the wild by 2031. The past 50 years has seen the Black Rhino’s population drop from an estimated 100,000 in 1960 to about 2,500 today.
The IAPF certainly have their work cut out for them, with poaching on the increase; in 2011 approximately 448 Black Rhinos were poached in Africa, up from 33 in 2010 and 122 in 2009.
Poaching is big business with big backing as Damien explains: ‘You’re talking about one of the largest criminal industries in the world – illegal trafficking of wildlife. It’s up there with drugs, human trafficking and weapons. You’re talking about some major criminal syndicates from around the world who are involved with this. In a day’s work, we’re going up again guys who are using helicopters, automatic weapons and military tactics. It’s rough.’
Because the IAPF is protecting animals, they lack the resources these syndicates can throw at poaching. To find out more about the IAPF or donate to their cause click here.