Mander, 33, is the first to admit that the transition from commando to
environmentalist is an unusual career move. The founder of the
International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) says, “I spent my life
being programmed to do one thing and that was to be in places like Iraq.
I thought conservationists were hippies with dreadlocks. It’s a strange
transition, but it’s a good one as I love what I am doing.”
TEDxSydney, Mander passionately describes his work with IAPF, using
unmanned drones to track poachers and protect the native wildlife.
spent six years in the military after joining the Royal Australian Navy
in 1999 as a clearance diver, going on to become a sniper in the
counter-terrorism unit, Tactical Assault Group East (Tag East).
another three years spent in Iraq working for private security
companies, Mander headed to Africa, travelling through Botswana, Namibia
and Zambia. It was meant to be a six-month adventure but what he saw
convinced him to make the fight against poaching his life’s work.
sold his investment properties in Australia, and used the money to
launch IAPF, which is dedicated to training, equipping and educating
those on the frontline and in affected communities to help decelerate
“Animals are defenceless,” he says. “Why can’t an
animal go for a drink of water or have something to eat without getting
its head blown off for a couple of tusks?”
As well as
educating local schoolchildren on conservation, training academies have
been set up at Victoria Falls Zimbabwe and in South Africa where they
are putting rangers through tactical response programs.
looked at all the training courses for rangers and found the education
available just wasn’t adequate for these guys to go out and deal with
the poaching threat,” he says. “And that’s why you’ve got places where
security companies and the army are deployed to do the job of the
Mander now spends about nine months a year in Africa
making regular trips back to Australia where he works on administration,
fundraising and raising awareness. On his most recent trip home in the
summer of 2012 he married Maria Udalov, a Siberian who had come to
Australia to study hospitality. She has since moved to Africa with
Mander and, fortunately, she loves it.
In Niassa Reserve,
Mozambique, a 42,000 square kilometre wilderness and the third largest
reserve in Africa, IAPF has been using unmanned drones to track poachers
since August 2012.
Mander got the idea from Iraq, where he
had drones flying overhead to protect him and envisioned a future where
the wildlife would have a watchful eye overhead to protect them.
Simon Beart, a former Royal Navy helicopter technician, heard about the
idea he contacted Mander to say he could build the drones. Mander sent
him a polite reply and forgot about it, saying that 95 per cent of
people who offer to help don’t follow through. But another email from
Beart soon followed, saying he was a week away from getting two drones
They now have three drones and a team in Australia
is working on building a fourth with endurance levels of six to eight
hours across a 400 kilometre range. The drones can cover in a few hours
what a ground team would take a week to patrol, feeding back live
intelligence to operators. They also allow rangers to monitor a much
greater area while reducing their own exposure to armed and dangerous
“We’ve had a fair amount of contact with poachers,
the stakes are pretty high especially in South Africa where you have the
Rhino Wars raging,” says Mander. “Rhino horns are selling in Asia for
up to US$75,000 a kilogram, so they’re worth more than gold and cocaine
and people are willing to put their life on the line for that. But in
actual fact the most dangerous thing out there is the animals that we
are trying to protect.”
He’s had plenty of close calls but the
more time he spends in Africa the more he’s learning when to run and
when to climb a tree.
Mander says: “When a lion charges you’ve
got to stand there but when an elephant charges you run, throwing your
clothes away so they can’t pick up your scent. When a buffalo charges
you’ve just got to get out of the way really quickly and keep running –
up a tree if you can. When a rhino charges you’ve got to stand there
until the last minute because they have very poor eyesight but very good
He expects to be doing this job for the rest of his life, as poaching is never going to end.
a bit like asking, ‘What date are we going to wind up the drugs trade
or the human trafficking trade or the weapons trade?’, because the
illegal trafficking of wildlife is right up there. It’s just something
that we have to convince people is worth fighting for, and not only
poaching but also looking after the environment. You have to keep
convincing people that looking after the environment is going to help us
maintain some sort of balance, and that if we lose these wilderness
areas and these national parks, then we lose species.”
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