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This Australian Sniper is Now Leading a Fight to Defend Endangered Wildlife From Slaughter

Damien Mander has saved huge populations of elephants and rhinos from being slaughtered.

Elias Marat

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Australian Sniper

(TMU) — Australian combat veteran Damien Mander had a world of options before him after he returned from his tour of the Middle East.

But the former special ops warfighter chose to devote his life to defending helpless wild animals from facing slaughter at the hands of illegal poachers.

Damien Mander had completed three years in Iraq where he trained and deployed paramilitary forces to the front lines of combat.

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The toughest journeys are the least pursued ones, but they are the most rewarding. A comfortable life is a dangerous life, and I highly advise against it. Out there, amongst it all, awaits an unbiased and blank canvas. A path that is yet to be carved. A life that is yet to be lived. A story waiting to be written. To walk a beaten track is to follow in familiar footsteps. At some point, if you want to search for something undiscovered, that safe, easy to follow path has to be abandoned. And then s*** gets real. Then life really starts. – – Many grey hairs ago… In a galaxy far, far away, September 11 changed the world for a lot of people. It changed the world for me. As a response, the Australian government formed Tactical Assault Group-East (TAG-E). A special operations, direct action and hostage recovery unit. After enduring the mental torture of selection, I came across to TAG-E from the Navy into Water Platoon. I’d been there only two days before being told I was being sent to sniper school. Talk about a fish (Navy Diver) out of water. The Army lads beat me into shape pretty quickly in what I’d say would be the most extreme learning curve I’ve ever encountered.- – Special operations gave me the qualifications I needed to head to Iraq as a private contractor. Iraq gave me the money, life lessons and desperation needed to set up the IAPF. IAPF gave me the purpose I needed to be all I could dream to be in life. – – We all have a path waiting to be carved. And no one will do it for us. If they try – run. Only you can cut your own path. Anything handed to you is a disservice. – – #ClearanceDiver #IAPF #AntiPoaching #Purpose #Vegan #PlantBased #Nature #Sniper #SpecialOperations #Dream #Animals

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Before that, he had served as a special operations sniper in the Australian Army’s Special Forces 2nd Commando Regiment, as well as a Navy Clearance Diver—the Royal Australian Navy equivalent to the U.S. Navy SEALs.

The 40-year-old could well have transitioned into a life of leisure since he had an impressive property portfolio back home.

Instead, Mander visited Africa for a six-month tour where he was exposed to the bloody world of illegal animal poaching in a journey through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The eye-opening experience changed his life forever and convinced the veteran to devote his life to protecting wild creatures with no means to protect themselves from those who would track, hunt, and slaughter them and their parts for any price.

He told LADBible:

After Iraq I was looking for the next adventure and [a trip to Africa] just seemed like it was going to be a six-month thing to do.

When I travelled around the continent, I was inspired by the work that the rangers were doing.

They have something really worthwhile fighting for: giving up everything, being away from their family for so long each year defending the natural world.

I had just come from Iraq where we were looking after dotted lines on a map and resources in the ground and it made me reflect on who I was as a person.

It was at that point when the animal-loving war vet decided to sell off all of his properties back home to fund his new passion project: International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) and a ranger training academy in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Just as he once trained militia forces in Iraq his foundation now teaches rangers how to covertly track poachers, remain cloaked and camouflaged, conduct ambushes, carry out arrests, and preserve crime scenes.

While the work clearly draws from Mander’s military skills as a fighter, one of the most essential tools was one he learned during his occupation duties in the war-torn Middle East: to win over the hearts and minds of an often-hostile local population, a problem his military “failed” to grasp during the war.

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Earlier this year, Matt Shapira's beautiful artwork and generosity helped raise many yearly salaries for new recruits! Matt's elephant painting on a vintage map made it all the way to Zimbabwe, thanks to Erin Haley. She attended a fundraising event in Colorado hosted by Next Wave Impact and was outbid on one of Matt’s paintings. Afterwards, she got in touch with us to ask if she could commission a painting with her donation. Matt agreed. When it was ready to be shipped, she decided to gift it to the rangers as a token of appreciation for doing one of the hardest jobs there is: saving the natural world. The painting will be hanging in the new ops center being built as we speak. One of our goals is to create a reality in which elephants are treated as carefully as one of these century year-old vintage maps. Elephants, like any species, should be allowed to live out their lives as they wish, to their fullest extent. IAPF is hard at work, making this a reality for more and more wildlife each day. Happy World Elephant Day! #IAPF #Akashinga #WorldElephantDay #talesleftunsaid #elephants #africanelephant #trunksup #elephantlovers #jointheherd #conservation #savetheelephants #saynotopoaching #elephantlove #wildlifeconservation #endwildlifecrime #thisisafrica #bekindtoelephants #saveelephants #worthmorealive #stoppoaching @roaming__elephant @africanveganonabudget @damien_mander @kellyhazelking

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Mander explained:

Beyond the guns and ammo are the lessons I learned in Iraq that have really been the biggest benefit to what we do.

The ability to get the local population on side, get the hearts and minds, that’s more important than anything else and it’s something that we completely failed at in Iraq. We’re able to take those failures from Iraq and turn them into a positive.

So far his efforts have seen a 90 percent drop in rhino poaching activities in Kruger National Park—which lies along South Africa’s border with Mozambique—where the creatures are coveted by buyers and dealers for their valuable horns. Mander’s team was eventually able to drive out poachers entirely.

By 2016, rhino poaching had finally begun to drop for the first time in a decade. Mander said:

The rate of incursions of poachers into Kruger National Park, about 75 per cent of those were attributed as coming from Mozambique into Kruger and with the operations established on that side of the border, that dropped to around 30 per cent.

We got a lot of credit for that, got a lot of kudos.

Further north in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls all attacks on rhinos were put to a halt thanks to the IAPF. However, there was no shortage of friction between the Aussie adventurer and poor locals.

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FIELD REPORT: Recently the International Anti-Poaching Foundation’s (IAPF) Akashinga rangers intercepted a team of three suspected poachers entering Zimbabwe’s World Heritage Listed Mana Pools National Park armed with cyanide, axes and knives. Further information passed to the Akashinga team resulted in a joint operation with the Minerals Flora & Fauna Unit (MFFU) of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), netting the arrest of a fourth suspect who allegedly supplied the cyanide to the would be poachers. Cyanide is sometimes used to kill elephants and other wildlife without force as it is cheap and quiet to use. It is placed near watering holes, on oranges or rock salt where the unsuspecting animals will be baited. The suspect being implicated of supplying the cyanide works in Mberengwa’s mining industry. Miners use cyanide concentrate during the separation process of gold from bulk ores. It exists in two forms, gas and crystal (see small white ‘balloons’ confiscated in photo above). This inhumane method of poaching works quickly, as cyanide cuts off the oxygen supply. Cyanide use in poaching is an ongoing problem in Zimbabwe so these types of arrests are a significant ‘win’ for wildlife. Cyanide is easily obtained illegally, so monitoring and protecting these areas remains a vigilant task. The suspects will appear in Kariba Magistrates Court. Thank you to all those involved in this operation. To support our continued work, please follow link in bio. #IAPF #Akashinga #antipoaching #rangers #wildlife #conservation #zimparks #racingextinction #savetheelephants #elephants #womenempowerment #womenwholead #africa #socialmovements #illegalwildlifetrade #stopivorytrade

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For Mander, the problems of prolonged conflict had begun to reveal themselves and it was necessary to change the strategic approach. He explained:

We had helicopters, drones, canine attack teams, military grade hardware [but] we had this ongoing conflict with the local population and while we might have won that battle overall, what we were doing was not sustainable.

We were saving rhinos and we were having a war with the local population on a continent that is going to have two billion people on it by 2040.

To get the support of the locals Mander decided to begin integrating female rangers into his team. Many of them are themselves victims of predatory attacks such as serious sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender violence in their communities.

The all-female units are now the most elite force within the foundation with 120 rangers having already carried out 140 arrests.

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Throwback Thursday alert! Remember when these amazing LEADRangers graduated? Here they are, celebrating right after the ceremony. We’re immensely proud that all participants persevered through to completion of the course. This is commendable, as there was a stringent selection process prior to attending—and the standards and pace remain high the whole time. After the graduation ceremony, they each returned to their own units across the continent as qualified instructors and leaders, ready to work with and train their fellow rangers with new lifesaving skills so they can more effectively end poaching and degradation of wild lands. Visit the link in our bio to learn more about their training, graduation, and a recap of what they've accomplished with their time at our LEADRanger facility. LEADRanger empowers the next generation of frontline conservation leaders⁣⁣. It is a collaborative initiative of @int.anti.poaching.foundation, the @thingreenlinefoundation, and @rangercampus⁣⁣. @lead_ranger @rangerboris @dominiquenoome ___________________ #IAPF #Akashinga #LEADRanger #TBT #throwbackthursday #standwithrangers #leadership #antipoaching #rangers #wildlife #conservation #racingextinction #elephants #wildlifeconservation #inspiration #animallove #protect #leadbyexample ⁣⁣#theresnoiinteam #wildlifeprotection ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣#lawenforcement⁣⁣ #humanrights⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣#savetheelephants #thisisafrica #illegalwildlifetrade #saynotoivory #defender #endwildlifecrime #myafrica #endangeredspecies

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Mander has a sharp message and basic appeal to the humanity of the poachers. He said:

We are one of millions of species on this planet but we’re the only one that determines what level of suffering and destruction is acceptable for all others.

We sit here talking about different species going extinct but the reality is if we don’t look after this one beautiful backyard we’ve been given it’s not the elephant or the rhino that’s going extinct; it’ll be us.

We need to decide if we want to be part of the future and if we do, we need to make changes.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

Animals

7 Arrested In Florida For Trafficking Flying Squirrels

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At least seven people are facing numerous criminal charges after they were caught trafficking flying squirrels. According to investigators, their operation was worth an estimated $1 million.

In a statement on Monday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that the suspects have been charged with racketeering, money laundering, scheming to defraud, and other organized criminal laws involving “an elaborate organized enterprise to smuggle Florida’s wildlife to interstate and international buyers.”

The agency says that in January of 2019, they received a complaint from a concerned citizen about flying squirrels being illegally trapped in a rural part of Marion County. Flying squirrels are considered a protected wild animal in Florida, but they are illegally sold internationally because their rarity fetches such high prices.

After receiving the initial complaints, the FWC began a 19-month investigation where they tracked the hunters and monitored their international operation. The investigators found that once the poachers captured the squirrels, they sold the animals to a wildlife dealer in Bushnell and were laundered through the licensed business of the dealer, who claimed they were captive-bred, which would have made them legal to sell.

The poachers set out an estimated 10,000 squirrel traps throughout central Florida and investigators tracked as many as 3,600 flying squirrels being captured by the group in less than three years.

It is not clear how the agency estimated the operation to be worth $1 million, because the dealer involved in the scheme only received an estimated $213,800 in gross sales in the three years that he was being monitored.

The wildlife dealer was selling the animals to buyers from South Korea who traveled to the United States specifically for the squirrels. The buyers would then take the animals to Chicago, where they were sent to Asia by a wildlife exporter who was unaware of the plot. The investigation into the flying squirrels revealed that the same group was trafficking a variety of other poached animals, including protected freshwater turtles and alligators. There were also dealers and traffickers in Florida and Georgia dealing with the group. However, the operation was meticulous and careful, and many of the people involved with the scheme did not even know each other.

Maj. Grant Burton, FWC Investigation’s section leader, said that the poachers were a danger to the state’s wildlife.

“Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida’s precious natural resources from abuse. The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. These poachers could have severely damaged Florida’s wildlife populations,” said Maj. Burton.

The life expectancy of flying squirrels in the wild is about six years, but flying squirrels can live up to fifteen years in zoos. The mortality rate in young flying squirrels is high because of predators and diseases. Predators of flying squirrels include tree snakes, raccoons, owls, martens, fishers, coyotes, bobcats, and feral cats. In the Pacific Northwest of North America, the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) is a common predator of flying squirrels. Obviously, poachers also represent a serious threat to the species.

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More than 5,000 baby seals wash up on Namibia beach in unprecedented die-off

Elias Marat

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Thousands of dead seal pups have washed ashore on the coast of Namibia, raising grave concerns from conservationist groups.

Locals were in shock after an estimated 5,000 premature cape fur seal pups washed up along the coast of Pelican Point peninsula, turning the popular tourist destination known for its thriving schools of dolphins and seal colonies into a pup graveyard.

Cape fur seals are often referred to as the “dogs of the ocean,” owing to their playful nature and abundant energy. However, the seals are known to desert their young or suffer miscarriages when food supplies are scarce.

The unprecedented die-off of the 5,000 Cape fur seals is now being probed by the country’s fisheries ministry, reports Bloomberg.

Nearly all were born prematurely before quickly dying, according to marine biologist Naude Dreyer of  Ocean Conservation Namibia.

“When the pregnant female feels she does not have enough reserves, she can abort,” he explained. “A few premature deaths is a natural event, but thousands of premature dead pups is extremely rare.”

Dreyer noticed the masses of dead seal pups while flying his drone over the Pelican Point seal colony on Oct. 5.

“This is the situation at Pelican Point, Namibia,” his non-profit group wrote in a Facebook post. “All the little red circles mark dead seal pups. A rough estimate brings the numbers to more than 5,000 at our seal colony alone. This is tragic, as it makes up a large portion of the new pup arrivals expected in late November.”

This is the situation at Pelican Point. All the little red circles mark dead seal pups. A rough estimate brings the…

Posted by Ocean Conservation Namibia on Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The seals are commonly found across the southern Atlantic coastlines of the African continent, spanning Namibia and South Africa to the southern tip of Angola.

“Normally cape fur seals would give birth from mid-November until early December,” Dr. Tess Gridley told Africa News.  “That’s the height of pupping that we would normally expect but what has been happening this year is there has been an increase in abortions that was first seen starting in August and really sort of peaked just last week in October.”

However, female cape fur seals are increasingly appearing emaciated and starving, raising alarm among conservationists about the long-term health of the typically thriving seal population.

 “There are about 1.7 million cape fur seals in total and about a million of those are actually in Namibia so in terms of the overall number of animals, they are quite resilient to these effects,” Gridley explained.

“But one issue that we do think might happen in the future is you will see a dip in reproduction potentially going forward particularly now for those animals that have unfortunately died,” she continued. “They are not going to be recruited into the population, so you might see a localized effect at the Pelican Point colony and also we are trying to monitor to see whether there is a wider scale impact that might affect other colonies as well.”

An absence of fish in the region and the spread of disease and toxins in the water are among the possible reasons behind the die-off. 

“The seals look a bit thin and it could likely be caused by a lack of food,” Dreyer said. “Other seal colonies at other beaches look much better and they do not record the same amount of premature pups.”

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Hyper-realistic robot dolphins may soon end captivity at theme parks and aquariums for good

Elias Marat

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A life-sized robotic dolphin could help finally put an end to animal captivity in marine parks and aquariums for good by replacing real-life animals.

U.S.-based animatronics company Edge Innovations has designed a revolutionary mechanical mammal that appears nearly as playful as the real thing, and the company hopes that the robot will soon be used in aquatic theme parks and Hollywood films in place of actual living animals.

So far, the robot can nod, swim in aquariums, and interact closely with humans. Developers claim that the mechanical creature is nearly identical to the cetacean, and could even coexist with robotic versions of predators like great white sharks or even the massive reptiles that Jurassic-era seas teemed with millions of years ago.

However, the huge difference here is that despite the large price tag of $26 million, this robotic dolphin is a truly cruelty-free alternative to the capture and confinement of live animals for the sake of entertainment at amusement parks and aquatic zoos – and it will likely prove cheaper than the real thing, too.

The robot dolphin weighs in at 550 pounds and has medical-grade silicone skin, and offers a viable alternative to the once-profitable industry of capturing, breeding, and training live animals.

“It’s surprising there are 3,000 dolphins currently in captivity to generate several billion dollars just for dolphin experiences,” Edge Industry CEO and founder Walt Conti told Reuters.

“There’s obviously an appetite to love and learn about dolphins and so we want to use that appetite and offer different ways to fall in love with the dolphin.”

In recent decades, animal rights activists and casual animal lovers alike have turned their back on marine parks that are seen as subjecting dolphins and other intelligent, self-aware creatures to inhumane acts just for the sake of human amusement.

Feature films like Free Willy (1993) and the documentary Blackfish (2013) have helped educate viewers about the miserable living conditions faced by orcas and other cetaceans that have been deprived of their nature life and thrust into small enclosures at amusement parks like SeaWorld.

Increased outrage over the plight of cetaceans, or aquatic mammals, have led to countries like Canada and around 20 European countries to effectively placing a ban on whales, dolphins, and porpoises being bred, imported and exported, captured or or held in captivity for entertainment purposes.

Edge Industry hopes that with its extensive experience developing animatronics for major Hollywood features – including Free Willy, Deep Blue Sea, The Abyss, and other films – the robotic replacement can soon win over those who prefer a humane alternative to viewing creatures who naturally belong in the wild.

The company has worked closely with marine biologists to replicate the physiology of dolphins and nail their natural movements.

“Everyone wants to know if using an animatronic dolphin is different to using a real dolphin. The truth is in many ways they’re the same,” Holzberg said.

“If you want to design a show that uses real dolphins you have to capture real dolphins, train them and get them to do that show,” he continued. “With creating robots you have to do exactly the same thing. The difference is you don’t have to have breeding programs, worry about safety with human beings.”

Edge Industry has seen demand for its creations decrease as major film studios opted for computer-generated images rather than practical effects and animatronics. However, the company is now focusing on developing attractions for theme parks, and its robot dolphins will soon roll out at marine parks being built in China.

“The idea of this pilot is really to create a Sesame Street under water,” Holzberg said. “Those characters taught a generation how to feel about different kinds of aspects of humankind in ways that hadn’t been imagined before. And that’s what we dream of with this project.”

Animal rights activists have greeted this new development that could spell an end to animal captivity at marine theme parks.

“There is an end in sight to cruel ‘swim with dolphins’ programs, for which young dolphins are traumatically abducted from their ocean homes and frantic mothers, sometimes illegally,” said Katherine Sullivan of PETA.

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