Australians are well known for making a difference abroad, especially in wildlife conservation. Following in the footsteps of the late Steve Irwin, former Australian Defence Force commando Damien Mander is on a crusade to preserve and protect the world’s most endangered animals.
In 2010 after retiring from the military, Mander sold up and moved to Africa where he established his International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) – dedicated to protecting rhinoceros and elephants across the continent.
The foundation trains paramilitary-style park rangers to keep AK-47- wielding poachers out of wildlife sanctuaries in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
The project has since evolved to include the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which can patrol greater distances and report back intelligence on poacher and wildlife movements from their thermal imaging cameras.
Designed and built by IAPF’s Simon Beart in Melbourne, the drones are believed to be a revolution in wildlife conservation tactics.
“Mark my words, conservation will be changed by drones. We’re entering the drone era,” Mander told a 60 Minutes report recently.
Along with a booming Chinese upper-class comes an insatiable appetite for ivory, according to Mander.
He said prices per kilogram of ivory (from tusks and horns) had risen in recent years, luring more poachers to the field.
For Mander, a former Special Forces sniper and Navy clearance diver, the mission is clear: protect the animals by forcing out poachers.
“If something’s not done this earth is going to chew us up and spit us out,” he said.
Many former soldiers as well as vets, doctors and specialists were drawn to Mander’s cause. IAPF’s board includes park ranger Roger Parry, medico Dr Parbodh Gogna, veterinarian Colin Trott, teacher Carmel Reznicsek, Army officer Brett Chaloner, construction company CEO Haus Miedler and environmentalist Namo Chuma.
Other key players include former South African soldier Johan Strauss, director of security Steven Dean, liaison officer Dr Sasha Jogi, singer-songwriter Jason Hartman, conservationist and program director James Slade, education committee’s Bronwyn Kelly an secretary Sally Bradshaw.
To learn more, visit www.iapf.org or see the full 60 Minutes report below. Special thanks to defence magazine Contact: Air Land and Sea, 60 Minutes’ Liam Bartlett and Herald Sun’s Mark Dunn for their coverage of this story.