The last rhino in the world may have been born today.”

– Damien Mander –

On May 15, a group of concerned citizens gathered at a private home in The Plains for a presentation about wildlife crime, specifically the poaching of rhino and elephants in South Africa. They listened attentively to Damien Mander, who opened his talk with the chilling statement: “The last rhino in the world may have been born today.”

Mander’s the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Federation, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization that equips and trains “boots on the ground” in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He’s in the U.S. to raise awareness and funds so that IAPF can continue its mission.

A former Australian Navy clearance diver and Special Operations sniper, Mander completed 12 tours of duty in Iraq. While traveling in Africa, he witnessed firsthand the illegal slaughter of wildlife and knew what his next mission would be. He gained valuable knowledge working as an anti-poaching volunteer in Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe, wrote training courses, and decided to liquidate his Australian assets to start IAPF in 2009.

IAPF’s mission is wildlife conservation through direct action: training locals as anti-poaching rangers, conducting anti-poaching operations, putting technology to use in the bush to thwart poachers, and more. But it takes a lot of money to equip and pay rangers, let alone finance heavy-duty vehicles and surveillance tools such as helicopters and UAVs (drones) with thermal and night vision technology. Mander couldn’t do everything and run IAPF, to boot.

Enter Jason Paterniti, whose own non-profit helps fund conservation projects. In March, he also stepped up as pro bono chief executive officer of the IAPF. This frees Mander for talks and fund-raising when he isn’t in the bush.

“There’s a misconception that all rangers are armed,” said Paterniti. “They aren’t. They’re usually poorly equipped to deal with organized crime syndicates armed with semi-automatic weapons. Our rangers are not armed to defend themselves. However, we do train and cooperate closely with the Mozambique police and military, who are armed and tasked with the country’s law enforcement mandate. We can only pay our rangers $3400 U.S. dollars per year. It’s a difficult and dangerous job we ask these men to do.”

One very important IAPF project, in agreement with the Mozambique government, involves the Greater Lebombo Conservancy. GLC is the most critical area for rhino conservation as it provides poachers from Mozambique access to Kruger National Park (South Africa), home to the largest concentration of rhino in the world. Mozambique not only borders Zimbabwe and South Africa, it has 1,550-plus miles of coastline on the Indian Ocean – a smuggler’s paradise.

“Our strategy is to deny poachers freedom of movement and access into the parks and conservancies,” said Paterniti. “Our goal is to reduce the rate of poaching so that it’s below the net population growth rate. We’re starting to see positive results in this war. For the first time since 2008-09, Kruger National Park is reporting a 23% reduction in poaching so far this year. If we can stay ahead of that curve, we can ensure there’s enough rhino around in 10 years time.”

Big ifs, but canine patrols, helicopters, and predictive analytics programs originally designed to help the U.S. military protect our servicemen in Iraq are helping to safeguard the wildlife. Arrests are being made and long term prison sentences handed out, but funds are vitally needed to keep the momentum going. When rangers are trained and paid regularly – imagine the economy where $300 to 400 per annum is a living wage! — local people are less likely to be bought by poachers to report on where to find wildlife.

“We’re very lucky to have amazing people on IAPF’s advisory board, such as Jane Goodall,” said Paterniti. “Jane would prefer to be in Africa, but she’s more effective giving lectures and fund-raising to continue her work. In this war, Damien’s also more effective for us when he’s on the road, but it’s the last thing he really wants. He’s a soldier and would rather be in the bush.”

If you aren’t disturbed by the real threat of extinction for rhino and elephant, big cats and all of Africa’s wildlife, you should be. In fact, you should be really angry. The wanton slaughter of these animals to use their horns for medicine and their ivory tusks for trinkets is fueled by greed and ego. It’s funding terrorism while destroying animals in the most senselessly wanton and cruel ways possible.

Jane Goodall, Dame of the British Empire, gets the final say: “In 200 years, people will look back on this particular period and say to themselves: how did those people destroy their only home? How did those people just allow all these amazing creatures to vanish? But it would be very little use in me or anybody else exerting all this energy to save the wild places if people are not being educated to be better stewards than we’ve been.”

Please visit IAPF.org to learn how you can be part of the solution.