I'm a former special operations sniper who uses my expertise in Africa to protect elephant and rhino from poachers. My name is Damien Mander, AMA.ank) AMA!
Jun 21st 2014 by damienmander • 40 Questions • 3707 Points
Last week an old buddy posted a photo album (http://imgur.com/a/20wzq) on reddit about my organization, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), and an AMA was requested- so I'm here to take your questions.
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.
I have gotten a private donor to match donations made over the next few days so that up to a total of $10k will be matched. This will help us support rangers at ground level along the South Africa/ Mozambique border who are fighting to protect the world’s largest remaining rhino population. AND You asked for us to accept bitcoin reddit, so we listened.
If you'd like to support the war against poaching, please click here: (http://www.donate.iapf.org/)
Go ahead and ask me anything! I’ll be here for as long as it takes to answer your questions, or until the beer runs out, whatever comes first!
Verification Tweet: https://twitter.com/DamienMander/status/480380064392286209
Edit: formatting/verification link
Im not going anywhere guys..just getting warmed up!! Please if you have a moment, please sign up to our newsletter: http://ymlp.com/xgbhshuwgmgq
Everybody, it has really been a pleasure talking to you all. After 6 hours, I need to get some sleep, as I'm heading off in the morning. I will update you on the amount of funding you have all helped raise through this AmA - then we can go and spend it together fighting rhino poaching.
If you would like to support, then please head to: http://www.donate.iapf.org
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?
G'day NJ: 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 fuck the planet, then, we are all pretty much fucked. And that is our generations legacy.
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.
Hi, I tried to find out how large the comtribution 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.
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? I
TL;DR: Do these assholes shoot at you?
Cheers mate. 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.
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 training rangers actually save human lives as well as wildlife. Cheers P
Hello, serious question here. Have been reading about your organisation and read there is also work for volunteers. Which specific skils are required to come and help with the 'green army'? for example i'm a 24 year old student from Belgium with no specific experience. If i would/could want to join , what would be my tasks?
McArty, cheers mate. Here is a link to everything about the Green Army, and the people from all over the world who join us on the ground in Africa fighting poachers. http://www.iapf.org/en/the-green-army
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.
Yo Damien. I did an AMA awhile back about doing anti-poaching work in Zambia. I spent some time in Victoria Falls/Livingstone as well, amazing place. I was a US army ranger and did quite a few patrols out in the bush looking for the same people you're going after. Do you need any more boots on the ground out there?
Awesome mate. I heard about the AMA, but I cant find it. Can you post the link please? Also, can you contact me through the website and we can talk. Cheers bud.
Could you tell us about one of your best encounters? (I.e, where you were at the time, what the mission was, how you found the poachers, what animals you saved in that moment). Thanks for the AMA! I too, believe that poaching is an underrated problem.
We were once trying to ambush some poachers at night who we knew were coming through the fence in an exact spot. We had already captured one of their crew earlier that day....and 'extracted' a lot of information. We knew the rest would be back and we knew they were heavily armed. Lying there, I was just staring at this one spot in the fence, which is totally amateurish. Situational awareness is paramount when on operations. But this one was in the bag man! Anyway, all hell broke loose when I looked over my shoulder to see a lioness and three adolescent cubs only 3 meters away hunting us! We fired a shot in the air, and basically crawled over the top of each other to get away. I climbed up a tree. When the dust settled, I could hear my rangers laughing. Turns out the branch I was on was only a foot of the ground. I still can’t convince my rangers that growing up with kangaroos and possums does not prepare you for Africa
Do you believe that drones will be a solution to the poaching problem or will the demand for horns drive the poachers to find new methods?
This is from an article I had published in Africa Geographic Magazine:
1: We have joined the race to implement the technology into conservation that has revolutionized the way things are done on the regular battlefield. We are entering the Drone Age. In the past decade, a trillion-dollar mobile phone industry has made technology previously reserved for the military now accessible for civilian application. Riding on the coattails of this revolution, we do our best to gain momentum for the use of advanced technology in conservation. “Pilotless aircraft have changed fighting much as night-vision technology did in the 1980s and 1990s,” stated Col. John Burke, project manager for the Army’s UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) program back in 2006. “It’s very seldom that you see a revolution in warfare like this.”
The drones we are using are small in comparison to a Predator UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) that routinely patrols the skies anywhere the United States has an interest in. But it has a purpose. It’s a great example of what technology should be: smaller, lighter, easier to function, sophisticated, and cheaper. Gyroscopes, which measure rates of rotation; magnetometers, which act as digital compasses; pressure sensors, which measure atmospheric pressure to calculate altitude; accelerometers, to measure the force of gravity – all the capabilities of these technologies are now embedded in tiny chips that you can buy at an electrical store. Global Positioning Systems which cost tens of thousands of dollars in the 90s are now a thumbnail-size device and cost as little as $10.
Drones allow us to have eyes on the target, to see things out in front of us, and in places we don’t have the resources to get to. Previously we would walk around, waiting to bump into something. Now, we peek over the horizon. The drone can provide day or night aerial intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance. Real-time intelligence is everything in an operational environment. Having this far exceeds locating a two-day old footprint, or worse still, the mutilated carcass of an animal. Having the resources to follow up on intelligence is critical too. If we can cover with a drone in a few hours what a ground team covers in a week, why not extract some of the rangers from the field? They can then be trained as a specialist reaction unit and on constant standby to respond to real-time intelligence. Doubling your manpower in Africa doesn’t always solve the problem – it often increases it. The drone is a tool that can reduce deployed manpower in the field.
2: Drones deserve a very healthy degree of scepticism. They are not a silver bullet, rather a tool in the box for conservationists. It is how you use that tool that counts. Poachers will always evolve, and we must continue to do so also.
Heya Damien, I have a few questions, mainly about the poachers themselves:
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.
Hi Damien, I've been following your progress since last year and I have great appreciation for what you are doing. I spent about half of last year on the SA-Zim border working with an anti-poaching unit with an isolated number of white rhinos and elephants on 16,500 hectares just outside of Musina, ZA. I quit my fancy job in the states and went out there, and I got hooked. I am looking to get back out to Africa to get back to helping however I can (mostly served as driver for our unit and spotting via helicopter owned by the grounds), but will happily do whatever. Can you tell me if you know of any ways I can get more involved beyond just the standard means of donations? I am looking for a way to get myself back out there and be able to sustain for an extended period of time. I've got great admiration and envy for what you're doing there day to day. I've seen how brutal the situation really can be. It was heartbreaking arriving on neighboring farms to find a dead rhino with the horn so brutally torn from its head...
Thanks RRR. Mate, drop me an email through the website and I'm happy to discuss. Thanks for the dedication.
Canadian Armed Forces member here to start off with a Commonwealth high-five. I saw the original photos and information posted by your friend and it certainly piqued my interest.
In your experience, compared to military operations, how tactically-minded are the poachers? I imagine they are quite professional in their own right in such a high-stakes business.
For those of us with a military background and operational experience, what kind of opportunities exist within your organization? I know quite a few soldiers who are looking for new opportunities but want to continue making a real tangible difference in the world instead of grinding away for a few dollars to pay rent.
Hello brother! Sorry for the delay. Poachers, like many rangers are at one with the bush. They operate in dangerous, dense wildlife filled regions like a billionaire hedge fund suit functions on Wall St. They are at home. Tactics come naturally. Many are also ex military.
There are quite a few threads earlier on in regards to volunteering, and eventually working with IAPF. I hope that helps. Cheers man and stay safe.
What do you think of the whole horn farming thing where they hack off part of the horn to sell and wait for the rhino to regrow it? Is it as humane as they say and is it a viable alternative that will make give the poachers an economic reason to stop?
I actually went to Vietnam and lived with a traditional healer so i could get an insight into the Asian market and their mindset. I wrote this report which goes over the whole take on trade/no trade.
Wow I remember seeing this from last week. Thanks for this AMA! I thought the drone idea was incredible! Was that your idea or someone else's?
We are simply trying to give those that defend nature a fair chance.
Many answers for this war sit in military warehouses around the world collecting dust. The conservation industry struggles along, trying to replicate technology that was superseded decades ago. The right budgets, training, technology and systems can protect what remains – if only they could be accessed.
Soldiers are respected for putting the security of their home nations ahead of their personal safety. Yet, when we advocate a strong-armed defense of nature, somehow we are often deemed too militant. Rangers are dying. Animals are dying. Can we afford to ignore the important contributions that military tactics and technologies can bring to conservation, when those same components are being employed by criminals and poachers to destroy nature?
Drones are not a new thing. They have been accessible to the military for decades.
Right now animals are being killed all over the world every second. Since this conversation started 8 elephants would have been murdered for their ivory.
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.
I imagine your'e enjoying a nice Saturday evening braai and a few well earned Castle lagers? You are doing good work here mate!
Yep, back off to Mozambique in the morning.
I can't really tell you how much I appreciate what you're doing and it gives me hope that there are people out there willing to help make a change but to my question...what do you think the best way is for non-special forces trained people to make a serious, direct impact on poaching? I sometimes dream of moving to Africa and destroying poachers, but as a regular guy I don't think that would work out the way it does in my poacher-slaying fantasies. :(
Thanks mate, it is the positive comments that keep you motivated when sometimes so much is stacked against you.
It is a really hard field to crack over here actually, and why so many people end up going home. A good way to get a taste is to find a wildlife course, or come and join our Green Army program in Zimbabwe.
Hey Damien, huge fan here. What advice would you have for a high school student who wants to get involved in your line of work?
Study the situation as much as you can. Learn all angles and see where you are going to be best suited. Go and get an education that will be suitable for dealing with the part of the problem you have isolated.
For me, it was a matter of putting the cart before the horse. I had military skills, which were useful later in life in the conservation industry.
I watched Ratsta Mouse with my one year old son this evening. I love that show!
Second to that would be landing in Iraq for the first time.
I saw a report on the poaching situation in Africa recently, and it included some horrific video of poachers chopping a Rhino's horn off with an ax, leaving the the animal brutally mutilated, bloodied, and alive. Seeing that animal wake up with a gaping hole in it's head, trembling in pain, is seared in my memory.
Within that report, there was mention of farms in Africa as well as the South Pacific, where Rhino's are kept in captivity so they can be tranquilized, their horns sawed off, and then they are free to roam the farm in safety while the horns grow back. This is to help meet the massive demand for Rhino horn and hopefully make poaching less profitable. What is your opinion of this practice?
You can get some more background information into this in the 60 Minutes feature of IAPF:
Also, my opinion on taking horns off rhinos, and perhaps saving them in the process:
And a picture of us dehorning a rhino:
Its sad, but better than finding them in a pool of blood.
Your TED talk is one of my favorites ever, and I appreciate the light you bring to this important topic. Where do you stand on trade and why?
Thank-you CTG. That TEDx talk is here for the rest of the guys tuned in: http://www.iapf.org/en/2014-02-11-14-55-44/tedx-sydney-2013
My position on trade is here: http://www.iapf.org/en/ourwork/what-we-support/south-africa/vietnam
Hi, I saw the post last week about your organisation. Thanks for the great job you've done, and keep on doing it. In regards of your volunteer program, can a guy with a job can take 2 weeks of holiday to come and help you ? Or does it require more time ?
Thanks ! And sorry for my english, sometimes I'm bad at it
For sure. The average stay is between 2-4 weeks. Some stay for months. It is designed to let people from around the world come and have an active part in combatting wildlife crime.
Hi Damien, regarding your rangers, how do you normally recruit volunteers and what can you tell us about the training programme?
Other than funds, what are the biggest obstacles you're having to face and is there anything more the international community can do to offer help & support?
Incredible job you're doing mate, keep up the good work.
Thanks to the UK: Volunteers for the Green army simply apply, and then come out and join us. The pack outlines some of the work that is carried out by volunteers.
As for our rangers, they learn many different skills. A course can be made up of the following:
- Concepts and Principles of Nature Conservation
- Basic Ecology
- Introduction to Wildlife Management
- Conservation Education
- Protected Area Laws and Regulations
- Anti-Poaching Capabilities and Limitations
- Court Procedures
- Physical Training
- Drill and Discipline
- Ethics and Values
- OPSEC-Operational Security
- First Aid
- Evacuation Procedures
- Firearms and Ballistics
- Hand Signals
- Statement and Reports
- Scene of Crime
- Arresting Procedures
- Continuum of Force
- Urban Operations & Close Quarter Battle
- Field Craft
- Orienteering and Navigation
- Mission Planning and Orders
- Ambush and Counter Ambush
- Contact Drills
- Observation & Listening Posts
- Temporary Bases
- Quick Reaction Force / Raids
- Night Operations
- Vehicle Check Points (VCP’s)
- Intelligence Gathering & Informer Networks
- Psychological Operations (PSYOPS)
- Off-Road Driving
- Watercraft Familiarization and Use
- Aerial Support and Collaboration (Fixed & Rotary Wing/ Manned & Unmanned)
- Equipment Maintenance
- Joint Operations
- Crisis Management
- COIN-Counter Insurgence
- Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations
- Support of Domestic Animals: Canine and Horse Mounted
I contribute to numerous rescue organizations and rehabilitaion facilities in South Africa hoping to protect chimpanzees and Gorillas.
Do you do any work of that type? I believe the chimpanzees will get past this, but I don't feel the same luck will befall the lowland mountain gorillas, and poaching is what's killing them.
Do you follow that at all?
and so many huge kudos to you, i do puny rescue work locally for cats, and I wish so badly I had the finances to pull up stakes and move to south africa and work at the Jane Goodall Institute. Or even go to nyaru menteng and work on conservation efforts with the orangutans who are also near extinction, and even though poaching to steal babies to sell (for over $30,000) is a big drive, the palm oil plantations are the biggest enemy.
I'm curious if you do any work for the great apes.
I spoke at the UN Great Apes Survival Summit in Jackson Hole last year: http://www.iapf.org/en/2014-02-11-14-55-44/un-great-apes-survival-summit
And Dr Jane Goodall site on our Advisory Board.
Thank-you for what you do protecting animals back home. If you didn't do that, who would? Please keep going.
Do you have a cousin named Calvin by any chance? A guy I met was telling me a semi believable story strikingly similar to yours.
My last name used to be Klein and I had an identical twin. That could be him. Prick, was always trying to look like me...
Hi Damien! This will probably seem like a silly question, but in your pictures, you guys are right next to the rhinos. Don't they ever get aggressive?
They can change at a moments notice. Some of the rhinos get habituated to humans in a limited way, because we guard them so closely. Similar to the gorillas in the Congo.
Hi Damien, thank you for the work that you and others do. I have a direct question. Have you ever approached any security industry companies for funding or equipment? You could possibly sell them on the PR value. I know they have particular business models, but as I said, it might be worth the approach, even for free second hand equipment.
Hello, we have worked with a number of companies and actually in discussions with a USA company and it sounds promising.
I just watched your TED talk and visited the website. We may be able to help. I run a US based Tactical Gear distributor and integrator of military and LE gear. Please have a look at our website and let me know if you are interested in some help. I am interested in hearing what your specific needs are and opening a dialogue.
Jon B. Becker CEO and President Aardvark"