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With military experience and an uninhibited drive to protect the Earth from being destroyed by human expansion, Damien Mander is changing the poaching game in Africa.
Damien Mander has experienced his fair share of fighting. After his career as an Australian Royal Navy Clearance diver and twelve tours in Iraq as a Special Operations military sniper, he’s shifted his focus to another noble cause: fighting poachers in the African Bush. Although he’s fighting a new enemy, poachers are not the better of two evils. Mander dedicates day and night to the protection of the rhinos and elephants of the African bush. His job is no easy task to conquer. Mander equates his job to “trying to hold back the tide with your own bare hands.”
What should you know about this rhino hero? And how could you get involved? Here are five surprising facts about the man who’s evening the playing field against African poachers.
When you look at the prices of ivory and rhino horns on the black market, it’s no wonder that these species are facing possible extinction. On a list by Business Insider of the most valuable substances in the world in 2014, rhino horns earned the thirteenth place in the top fifteen. Some of the other valuable materials were platinum, plutonium and diamonds. It’s also important to mention that the top fifteen didn’t include gold, which sold for $5,000 a pound in 2014.
In particular, one gram of rhino horn is worth $55 – and a pound is worth a whopping $25,000. Why are rhino horns so valuable? In Vietnam, it is rumored to help cure everything from the simple fever to fatal illnesses like cancer. For some people, ground-up rhino horn is the best medicine money can buy.
As Mander shared in the beginning of his TED Talk, his first exposure to the harm caused by poachers occurred while he was in Zimbabwe with a park ranger named Orpheus. A pregnant buffalo had been injured by an eight-string wire snare and had fought so hard to get free, she broke her pelvis. As Orpheus shot the buffalo to put it out of its misery, Mander felt a shared sense of understanding between himself, the park ranger and the dying buffalo.
As a result, he says, “I feel a great sense of responsibility in speaking to [people] on behalf of those that never could. [The animals’] suffering is my grief, is my motivation.”
You may be wondering, “But what does the law have to say about poaching – or Mander’s protection?” Unfortunately, not much. There is almost no protection from local laws, according to reporter Liam Bartlett. Instead, the law seems to still reflect the ages of colonialism in which there were more than enough elephants to spare. For instance, people living in Mozambique who steal someone’s property will spend three days in jail. What happens if they poach a rhino or elephant? They’ll be locked up for barely three days.
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Because poaching is allowed to run rampant, some of the animals are facing extinction. However, there’s an even more heartbreaking scenario than immediately killing the animals. Mander says that poachers often lack the heavy artillery needed to kill a large animal in one shot. As a result, wounded animals are often left running through the wilderness until they eventually die. Besides causing more suffering for the animals, these wounded creatures are also dangerous for people who live nearby.
As poachers become more advanced and widespread, Mander has been forced to adapt in his response. The latest addition to his poachers response programs – which are currently being used by rangers in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique – is a FLIR thermal imaging camera. Not only will this camera help rangers identify poachers after dark, but it can also help them avoid the other dangers in the African bush: the animals themselves.
For Mander, this advanced technology is not only necessary to fight poaching, but also morally required. He says: “If it’s good enough for our soldiers on the battlefield, it should be good enough for the guys trying to protect the animals in the bush.” Following this same idea, Mander hopes to utilize drones in the future. While the technology would be expensive, it would cover the amount of land in two hours that a ground team could in a week. Only time will reveal if “conservation will be changed by drones,” as Mander believes.
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On top of his own efforts to protect African animals, Mander is also the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. According to its website, IAPF strives to “safeguard … high target species such as the elephant and rhino” and provide the “right training, equipment, management and support” for people to successfully stop the “hemorrhaging of these [natural] resources at the front-lines of the World Wildlife War.”
One of IAPF’s cornerstones is that it cannot succeed alone. Instead, it must partner with other agencies who focus on other aspects of conservation. Besides protecting the animals, IAPF wants to change the world’s entire perspective on natural resources. Every industry, business and society must prioritize protecting the planet over any personal profits or goals, according to the IAPF.
It might seem easy to look at Mander and see a superhero without a cape. Not only has he fought for his country, but he’s also fighting for the animals who can’t fight for themselves. Yet Mander says, “Looking back now, on everything I’ve done and the places I’ve been, in my heart, I’ve only performed one true act of bravery.And that was a simple choice of deciding ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But it was that one act which defines me completely and ensures there’ll never be separation between who I am and what I do.”
Have you ever seen injustice and walked past because it was the easier action to take? Mander was faced with that dilemma – but he chose the hard route. And you still can, too.