We had a visit from Damien Mander, who heads the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF). The IAPF is an institution that focuses on ranger training, operations, and integrating modern technology and solutions (such as drones) for the purpose of anti-poaching. The IAPF is funded through public donations, grants and fundraising activities, and aims to provide free training for rangers.
We got an opportunity to ask Damien Mander, head of IAPF, a few questions about himself and what he does:
HESC: What brings you to HESC today?
Damien Mander: I was asked to visit The Centre by Ricki Kirschner, who I’ve previously worked with. It was also important to visit, meet the people involved and find out what was happening at the private nature reserves on Kruger’s Western Boundary. The greatest number of rhinos in the world are found between Hoedspruit, Malelane, the eastern borders of Kruger National Park and Mozambique. We are all involved in the same war.
HESC: You are originally from Australia. What made you decide to come to Africa?
DM: Initially I was just looking for adventure. I had heard about the poaching problems in Africa, and after spending some time with rangers and seeing how ill-equipped and trained they were, I decided that I could and wanted to make a difference.
HESC: What is your home town now?
DM: I currently live in White River, Mpumalanga (South Africa) but only get to spend about 25% of my time at home due to fundraising and operational commitments.
HESC: What’s your favourite animal and why?
DM: A squirrel, because no matter how bad a mood you’re in they will always make you laugh.
HESC: Do you think poaching methods have changed over the last 7 years?
Yes the poachers are more organised and advanced, creating a real guerrilla war. There is also a more desperate amount of people, which increases the amount of stress on a smaller population of animals.
HESC: Tell us more about what the course entails and the cost involved? Do you have different levels – like FGASA level 1 / 2 or 3?
DM: The International Anti-Poaching Foundation focuses on ranger training, operations, and integrating modern technology and solutions such as drones for anti-poaching. We are funded through public donations, grants, and fundraising activities; and provide ranger training free of charge.
The IAPF has operated in South Africa, Australia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, and is becoming increasingly well known for establishing crack anti-poaching units by putting locals through specialist tactical training programmes.
HESC: What would you say are the top 3 skills necessary to be a good anti-poaching ranger?
DM: A passion for nature, strong paramilitary training base, and ability and willingness to work in hostile environments for extended periods of time as part of a team.
HESC: What made you choose to spend time with our anti-poaching unit?
DM: I have been working in the area, between Hoedspruit and the Eastern Kruger Park boundary, and wanted to know what was happening at The Centre and what the needs are.
HESC: Do you think the use fo UAV’s or drones would be beneficial for HESC? Or would it work best for larger areas like Kapama Private Game Reserve?
DM: It will not be cost-effective for The Centre. And in larger areas a drone is only effective when there’s a ground unit to react to what the drone has spotted. However, it is advantageous over large areas as what would take days for a human team to cover, a drone can cover the area in an hour.
HESC: So do you spend actual time combatting poaching or are you now at a place where you only impart your knowledge and skills to others?
DM: As I sit on the boards of various NGOs and am heavily involved in a host of different projects, I only get to spend about one third of my time in the bush.
HESC: Where do you see a centre like HESC in the future?
DM: HESC is a vital part of the anti-poaching machine and all entities involved need to really start working closer together.
HESC: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
DM: 12 separate voluntary landings into Iraq.
HESC: What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?
DM: Making a decision to assist with anti-poaching efforts, and coming to the understanding that there is something bigger than yourself.
HESC: How do you spend your free time?
DM: What free time?