Some East Asian cultures believe rhino horns possess medical properties that help with everything from hangover cures to illnesses such as cancer, and the horns can fetch an estimated $20,000 per pound. Experts say that could explain why the annual number of rhinos poached in South Africa has risen from 17 to 1,000 in just 10 years, and many of the formerly quiet habitats of rhinos are now a warzone. But in 2009, a strong advocate joined in the global battle against illegal poachers: Damien Mander.
After serving six years in the Australian military as a special forces sniper and 12 tours in Iraq as a private contractor, Damien had seen enough bloodshed. He told bioGraphic, “Everything in my life up to that point was more or less about me. I didn't join the military to serve my country. I didn't go to Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people. I did both of those things for adventure.”
He was no longer sure what to do with his life until, while in South Africa, he saw what was happening to the rhinos.
So in 2009, he founded the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), a non-profit organization assisting Africa’s wildlife rangers with military-style training and resources such as weapons, aircraft, drones, and K-9 units.
Some critics view the tactics as too aggressive, and only a short-term solution. Those skeptics say the poaching is a symptom of a much larger economic and political problem. Mander is unapologetic. He believes the poachers are not poor farmers, but rather part of a criminal organization. His methods are getting results, and areas are seeing a dramatic decline in poaching.
“Whether they are dealing with child prostitution, guns, drugs, human-trafficking – this is just another way for them to make money,” he told Chicago Tonight.
Perhaps peaceful protests and campaigns will protect the Rhinos of tomorrow as they aim to change thousands of years of culture, but it is Damien and the IAPF that are protecting the Rhinos today.
Watch the video to see how the IAPF is taking the war to the poachers.