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|Type||Not-For-Profit (Australia), Registered Trust (Zimbabwe)|
|Motto||"To protect and preserve wildlife in volatile regions"|
|Type||Not-For-Profit (Australia), Registered Trust (Zimbabwe)|
|Motto||"To protect and preserve wildlife in volatile regions"|
The International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) is a non-profit organisation registered in Australia, predominately operating on the African continent. The group has a structured military-like approach to conservation, employing tactics and technology generally reserved for the modern-day battlefield.
Following service in Iraq spanning 12 tours of duty, former Australian naval clearance diver and special operations sniper Damien Mander headed for Africa with the intention of using his niche skills for conservation. What was initially to be a short adventure quickly turned into an obsession as Mander observed first-hand the harsh realities that front-line rangers and wildlife face on a daily basis. Liquidating his life savings and real estate portfolio accumulated from nine years of military service, Mander founded the IAPF in 2009. He was soon joined by his working colleague, wartime veteran and friend of 11 years, Steven Dean. The pair now operate the IAPF in Africa, spending most of the year on the ground protecting wildlife.
Across much of Africa anti-poaching tactics have remained largely unchanged for decades. Small groups of undertrained and poorly equipped rangers are sent out for days on end to conduct patrols in remote and dangerous locations. Modern-day poachers have evolved and routinely utilise military tactics and equipment to kill individual members of high-target species, such as elephants, rhinos and gorillas. Seeing this shortfall, the IAPF set out to fill the gap.
What initially started out as a training organisation quickly expanded into a community outreach, management, and research-orientated outfit, capable of running autonomously or alongside existing projects.
The organisation has a strong emphasis on public relations, and the media has responded well to the story of two transformed soldiers now dedicated to conservation and to encouraging a modern generation to stand up and have more empathy for animals and the environment. Mander is an outspoken animal activist who is not afraid to publicly voice his views on critical environmental issues, from poaching to increased human pressures on wilderness areas. In 2013, three separate nominations at The Humane Society of the United States' 28th annual Genesis Awards featured stories on the IAPF. These awards honour animal welfare issues in the media.
In 2010, the TV program 60 Minutes travelled to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to film IAPF operations. This showcased to a large audience the plight of the black rhinoceros, listed as critically endangered and under increasing threat as the price of their horns continues to rise steeply in Asia. In 2012, 60 Minutes filmed the IAPF using unmanned drones (UAVs) in Mozambique's Niassa National Reserve.
National Geographic Magazine shadowed the IAPF whilst writing its feature article "Rhino Wars." The article (which earned a first prize world press photo award for Brent Stirton) covered organised crime's role in poaching, the pros and cons if the rhino horn trade were legalised, and the militarised ranger training and operations that the IAPF delivers.
The IAPF is governed by a board of directors in Australia, a board of trustees in Zimbabwe, and an international advisory board. It is independently audited annually. Registered as a non-profit(ABN 57142987782), the majority of its funding comes from the Australian general public.
The IAPF has established two full-time operational centres. The first, combined with IAPF's headquarters, is based on the Stanley & Livingstone Private Game Reserve 13 km from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. On this Big Five game (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, rhinoceros) reserve is a training academy where rangers from Zimbabwe receive basic and intermediate training. The team also operates an anti-poaching unit, protecting the breeding program of black rhinos on the reserve. Whilst no rhinos have been killed under the IAPF's watch, the nearest population at Sinamatella in Hwange National Park (100km east) has tragically declined at the hands of poachers -- from 74 down to just four rhinos in the space of a mere six years. Despite the reserve sitting in a prime position for poaching (close to 4 international borders and surrounded by a population of 85,000 people – 60,000 of whom are unemployed) it experiences very few breaches these days. The last poachers captured in the reserve were apprehended carrying automatic weapons and received a collective 60-year jail sentence.
The IAPF operation comes under close and constant scrutiny from the Zimbabwean authorities, who focus on the hardline tactics associated with their training and operations. Mander maintains that whilst there is a shoot-on-sight policy for armed poachers in Zimbabwe, the IAPF's training focuses strongly on the correct escalation in the use of force. This ensures using the minimum amount of force required to get the job done.
A sensationalist article published by Australian reporter Raphael Epstein in early 2012 alleged that Australian SAS spies were operating in Zimbabwe. Whilst the article carried no proof of the allegation Epstein placed on his own country's servicemen, it ran front pages in a number of Zimbabwe's state-run newspapers. This coverage escalated state security attention on Mander. But he took it in stride, noting that it is all part of the job and does not make the IAPF's role of protecting wildlife any less required.
In South Africa, the IAPF has teamed up with anti-poaching veteran Johan (JC) Strauss, a former member of the South African Army. Strauss has been heavily involved with anti-poaching throughout his career, overseeing the training of 1,600 rangers prior to deploying to the front lines. Strauss, who was appointed the IAPF's Director of Global Training Operations, now runs Eco Academy in Hoedspruit, South Africa, where the IAPF is based. At Eco Academy, Mander and Strauss developed the Anti-Poaching Ranger qualification – the new national standard that aims to unify a fragmented industry.
Many benefits come from standardising the training of anti-poaching rangers, such as the potential for joint operations, allowing rotation, providing a career path, and developing a national certificate for rangers who have long deserved recognition.
The training materials making up the "Anti-Poaching Ranger Qualification" are scheduled for completion in late 2013. The organisations assisting the IAPF in compiling the manuals have co-ownership of the material. The project will make training and training materials more readily available, and at a much higher industry standard. This project fills a void in the conservation industry, and has been backed by individuals including Dr Ian Player, who is largely credited with saving the Southern White Rhinoceros from extinction, and Pelham Jones, Chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association.
When Mander was the Project Manager of the Iraq Special Training Academy in Baghdad and Dean was a senior instructor, they trained up to 700 paramilitary cadets at a time for redeployment. Using this experience, Mander and Dean set out to transform learning opportunities for rangers around the world by developing better education and training standards. The skills they learnt in Iraq were a start point for training in Zimbabwe, and they set about providing it free of charge for rangers. This evolved towards developing national qualifications and a much more professional and structured approach in delivery.
The IAPF's rangers are taught such skills as ambush, patrolling, arrest, crime scene preservation, and camouflage and concealment. Many of the skills are an adaptation of military courses, adjusted to suit the environment in which they are required, and with a deep underlying conservation tone. During training courses, even convicted poachers have been rehabilitated and sent out to work as rangers.
The illegal trafficking of wildlife is one of the largest criminal industries in the world alongside drugs, weapons, and human trafficking. As continued and increasing pressure is placed on wilderness areas, the IAPF endeavours to increase the level of defence it provides, evolving to stay ahead of its adversaries.
The organisation has grown from being a localised problem-solver to becoming a solution-provider. The lack of availability of unmanned drones and of superior training packages are two major shortfalls for most conservationists. These shortfalls have the full attention of the IAPF.
The IAPF is assisted by volunteers both on the ground and abroad. Termed the "Green Army," this growing group assists with day-to-day responsibilities. When deployed in Africa with the IAPF, volunteers come face to face with the African Big Five whilst also assisting with teaching, patrolling, and monitoring of wildlife.
The IAPF's key members have accumulated significant amounts of time in modern wartime theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and have been exposed to evolving tactics and technology. Mander and Dean, having seen UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones) technology deployed in Iraq, were convinced of its place in conservation. Whilst initial enquiries were made into attaining UAVs as early as 2009, the IAPF UAV program did not commence officially until 2012.
Mander has remarked of the UAV program: "Having real-time intelligence greatly increases operational capabilities when reacting to poachers." "A UAV can cover in a few hours what a ground team will cover in a week." "Conservationists must now be given the capacity to embrace the same technology that is made available to the military."
In mid-2012, international media became aware of the IAPF's use of non-weaponized unmanned drones for conservation. Mander, along with IAPF's Technical Development Director Simon Beart (a former Royal Navy helicopter technician), started to regularly portray to the world the use of UAVs in conservation, and their thoughts on their future use. Mander is quoted as asking, "Why could I have a UAV watching over me in Iraq, but these elephants here cannot have the same privilege?"
Seeing articles appear in the media and hearing the call to arms, a number of Australians and South Africans came forward. A late-2012 Sydney UAV conference cemented a team of world-class standards. The IAPF is moving towards the next phase of UAV operations, which consists of purchasing drones that are affordable, durable, and easy to operate from long range.
Despite these plans, the IAPF is aware that many are pinning their hopes on the use of the unmanned drones as a "silver bullet" solution. Mander maintains a healthy degree of caution: "Drones are not the answer, they are a tool in the box. It is how we utilise these tools that will allow us to change the way we do things." An entire department within the IAPF has been developed to test and write the manuals for ground operations, utilising UAV technology.
In addition to UAVs, the IAPF constantly explores new ways to modernise tactics and operations for anti-poaching.
The IAPF is often linked in the media and through its projects with rhino conservation. Mander has been quoted as saying, "The rhino is the hardest animal to protect. Poachers are willing to go to more lengths to kill a rhino than any other creature. If we aim to protect the rhino and succeed, we know that everything else in its ecosystem will be looked after."
Since 2008, rhino-poaching has increased significantly each year. A total of 633 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone in 2012. Rhinos are being hunted to extinction for their horns. As this animal, and thus its coveted body part, becomes increasingly rare, the market value increases, further aggravating the situation. Rhino horn has now become an ornamental object of status in Vietnam, where it has attained a street value of US$75,000 per kilogram. In other examples of Vietnam's desire for status-driven products, when the market has been saturated by these products, their price has dropped precipitously, resulting in plummeting demand. This strategy could work to reduce rhino poaching, given the current stockpiles of their horns (in South Africa there are 40 tons and in Zimbabwe five tons).
Mander and Dean have journeyed to Vietnam in order to understand the illegal wildlife trade from the Asian perspective, so that they could make up their own minds as to whether a legalised trade in rhino horn could be a solution. In an effort to understand the mindset of the consumer, Mander has made this observation: "I can't help but wonder whether, if my young son or daughter was dying, I myself wouldn't travel to the ends of the earth and beyond to try to save them, or at least give hope. When life is on the line, where do we stop?"
Mander's report on the journey, titled "Damned if you do and damned if you don't: legalizing the rhino horn trade," was widely published. It attracted the attention of such luminaries as world-renowned rhino conservationist Dr. Ian Player:
Damien Mander is an extraordinary man who was in the Special Forces in the Australian Army, and served in Iraq. He became interested in the rhino and came out to Zimbabwe where he has been working under the most difficult conditions. I think his report is outstanding, and certainly leaves no doubt in one's mind about the demand for rhino horn and the need for some clear thinking on the whole subject. My own view remains the same which is the position of the Wilderness Foundation and that there should be limited regulated trade in the horns that have been gathered through natural mortality.
With the release of that article, the IAPF joined the debate between conservation groups calling for a review of the 1976 CITES ban, outlawing a trade in rhino horn. Mander's point of view is that Asians cannot be re-educated away from a 2,500-year-old philosophy of traditional medicine, and one would be arrogant to think so. The situation is worsening, and conservationists working on the ground in Africa need logical solutions. "At present, the only proposal on the table that make a rhino worth more alive than dead is a legal trade in rhino horn," Mander is quoted as saying.
In 2010, the IAPF began negotiations with the Zimbabwe government to start work in Chizarira National Park, the country's fourth largest (1,910 km2) and most ecologically diverse national park. Approval to complete the feasibility study to resurrect the park was finally granted in 2011, and the study was completed in May 2012. The document outlines the enormous amount of work ahead -- the result of over 20 years of neglect due to the financial hardships faced by the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Despite the neglect, Chizarira is described as an enchanting place, lost in time and still remaining as one of Southern Africa's most spectacular protected areas. In anticipation of the project, Chizarira Lodge was donated to the IAPF to use as a headquarters, training facility and base for researchers.
The IAPF's Schools Committee in Australia has made inroads at the grassroots level. The secondary school geography curriculum teaches Australian children about poaching and the Africa savannah, and uses the rhino as a metaphor for Mother Nature and for the struggle we are facing environmentally as a global community.