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Chat: Damien Mander

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Interviewer: 60 Minutes presents a live interview with Damien Mander.

Interviewer: Damien, thank you for talking to us tonight, in our live online chat room.

Damien Mander: Thanks very much, particularly to Nick and the boys for coming all the way out to Zimbabwe and taking a risk and putting our story on the world stage. I still maintain awareness is the number one way to win this war, so I'd like to thank them all very much.

Nikki asks: Damien what kind of Military training do you have?

Damien Mander: I was initially Clearance Diver in the Royal Australian Navy before transferring to 4 RAR, to a unit known as TAG. Where I went to water platoon to sniper platoon. After that I left for Iraq where I worked in close protector for Australian diplomas then training Iraq special police.

Marcey asks: What is the International Anti-Poaching Foundation’s mission?

Damien Mander: Our mission is to protect and preserve wild life in volatile regions.

Mark asks: What made you set up the International Anti Poaching Foundation?

Damien Mander: I went to Africa with the intention of offering my services to where they could be of value, and it wasn't until I got over there and got a first hand look that there wasn't anywhere I wanted to be for the rest of my life. And I wanted to be on the front line offering all my services and experiences to protecting the wild life over there and educating communities about sustainable methods instead of poaching.

Stela asks: How are you funded?

Damien Mander: We've received at this stage about $3k in personal sponsorship, rest of funding by myself, worked 3 years in Iraq so I managed to make some money to purchase houses whilst I was over there (and now sold everything) and am using the money there and the military and put everything into what I'm doing now. Each year I organise a Music Festival to raise enough money to get us going. N ext festival will be on Australia Day weekend on 2011.

noneybur asks: I have had a look at the website for IAPF. When people donate money to the foundation what does the money go to?

Damien Mander: At the moment we've been using the money to run a small training academy in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, so the money goes into training rangers, equip rangers and put them back out in the front line everyday. The rangers we train are in operational areas, so they are responsible for the animals in their area and essential custodians of millions of hectares of land, throughout the entire region. Also it should be mentioned that 52% of the population lives on less than $2, so even smaller donation goes a long way, these guys are in the field, they are spending up to 14 days each time, food budget for a month is $20. So feeding a ranger for the time they are in the bush, but during training too is only $20. Monthly wage is as little as $100 and it's not a bad wage over there, all relative.

chefash86 asks: Hi Damien. Does the Australian or African government help you out?

Damien Mander: We do operate as a 3rd party entity in Africa, which means our money is managed by us. We do have collaboration with the government, hence why we can carry on like we do, but that means we can operate and manage ourselves. We don't have any financial assistance from the Australian government at the moment, and are applying for DGR status with the Australian government. But we are registered as an Australian non-profit organisation, and have been granted tax exemption.

GoGetEmDM asks: What sort of money do you need on a monthly basis to keep operating?

Damien Mander: Basically we are able to do as much work as our funding permits, having no regular donations, it's just down to me budging my savings. At the moment I am spending on vehicles, equipment or tactical vests, food for the guys and some of those are large expenses. But to operate it can be around $25,000 a month. In the scope is going to require much more, I am hoping to train around 5000 rangers, that need training and reequipping. We're talking about the 3rd largest criminal industry in the world, but no 1 being drug trade and 2 being human trafficking trade, these are well funded, but rarely do we see a government putting in the money that's requires to deal with the day to day problems we face in protecting wild life.

kmill asks: Damien, your a great guy and what your doing is truly great. I would just like to know, does the sawing of the rhinos horn affect how it lives for the rest of it life? for example, killing food, pain etc.

Damien Mander: The Rhino will feel no pain because it's the same as clipping a toe nail or cutting hair, and it will grow back. So every 3 years we have to recut that rhino horn. They feel no pain what so ever. Rhinos do use the horn to defend their young, particular the black rhino use it to push through the think scrub. But when you look at the alternatives as to whether you do cut that horn off or not, for now until we have better funding for better training and equipment for our people, these sort of solutions as radical as they may seem, are the only ways we are going to give these rhinos a level of protection.

Claire_B asks: How do you know that the rhino's don't feel pain when you take off their horns (BTW - its seriously impressive what you're doing :)

Damien Mander: Cheers, the team that we use during the de-horning, we had 3 vets on the ground, as well as conservation experts that have been involved with this type of projects for a number of decades. Dr Chris Foggin was on the ground with us, and he has a specific measurement that he uses to show where the end of the nerve are so we cut well above that, so it's just like getting a hair cut or clipping your names.

noneybur asks: Damien what do you do with the horns that you cut off?

Damien Mander: The horns are handed to natural parks, where they are held in a vault. And obviously the trafficking of Rhino horns are highly illegal so those horns are not sold off.

KomodoDragon asks: Damien. The job you are doing is much more than amazing. Have you ever come across serious hostility while doing your work, yet?

Damien Mander: Yes, we do face hostility often, and one of our main components of our training is use of force, which means our rangers only have to use the minimum force to get the job done. So this means that we are re-training rangers in a ethical way, there is a shoot on site policy but we train our rangers to make arrest without using the shoot on site policy, only if there is a genuine escalation and set of challenges before we need to use that level of force. So essentially we are not only saving wild life, but we are saving people as well.

Stephanie asks: I was just wondering about how the poachers are dealt with after they are caught?

Damien Mander: There are many different types of poachers and many different crimes they commit, and largely a crime of opportunity, on tonight's show you saw 2 guys who are out laying snares to trap animals mainly for the bush meat trade. And my major concern is they were armed, so they could have shot rhinos, cause if you large snares, there is no need for fire arm. The poachers are handed over the natural parks and police where there is a schedule that they are charged under depending on what crimes they have committed, but some of the subjects that we push home are things like human rights and prohibition against torture and use of force. So when dealt with our rangers, they are dealt with humanely (like in the western culture), which is something completely new to the people we are training, but I think it is essential.

Heath asks: Have you ever had to actually kill a poacher? I heard with interest that it is legal to 'shoot' them on site'.

Damien Mander: Whilst it is legal to shoot them on site, it is not something I aim to do. I spend enough time in enough bad places to see the effects of combat and the more we can minimise the need to come to that sort of resolution, the better. Unfortunately, some of the rangers we have instructed have had to use lethal force, but only as a very last measure, and only after a full escalation that use of force has been use. I really want to reiterate, full set of challenge procedures before our rangers are able to use the lethal force. Our training is done in a ethical way and done in a way to allow rangers to take charge of a situation before it reaches gets out of control.

ktang asks: Is there any way of convincing these poaches to work for the 'otherside' be part of the conservation ?

Damien Mander: We actually do employ and retrain some convicted poachers after they have done their time for the crimes they have committed. And that's one program that we really do focus on, but people also need to understand that there are two types of poaching. Subsisting poachers, people who poach to keep their families alive and put food on the table. This is about 5% of poachers we come across. Commercial poachers are people who are poaching for money, they see an animal as dollar signs running through the bush. It would be like you or me, robbing banks to put money on the table. So whilst we do try and retrain poachers, we also have to appreciate the fact that some of these guys are quite hard lined and just prepared to shoot one of our rangers as they are with the animal.

AmyK asks: Is there any way that you can target consumers, the ones that drive the demand for the horns?

Damien Mander: The demands for the horn is funding from the very very top people from organised crime syndicates, same syndicates involved in the drug trades, human trafficking, prostitution etc. So for us as an organisation, the best we can do is the job on the ground and as a community we can create awareness for the government to put pressure on these organisations.

Stephanie asks: Does the International Anti Poaching Foundation work with communities to help address structural causes of poaching? In what ways?

Damien Mander: We're about to engage in what's Greens Zimbabwe Alliance, one of the largest ever conservation projects under taken in Africa, and it involves retraining communities on how to make use of their resources, Zimbabwe Valley, involves 40 + smaller projects that are teaching people how to turn aid into trade and we don't want to give to these pee anymore, teach they how to use their resources. But a lot of conflict has happened over the past decade in Zimbabwe, a lot of aid organisation have come in, handed things to these communities, this causes a lack of learning and lack of productivity from this community on how to develop self sustainable ways, rather than poaching. Education is one of our key things we are pushing and something we sill strongly focus on. Myself and Charlene Hewatt, she is the president of Environmental Africa and consider the God Mother of conservation is Africa. Myself and her are looking to do a corporation speaking circuit in Feb next year in Australia to demo how we are going to attack this problem from a community level and teaching people about sustaining alternatives to poaching.

DougRathbone asks: Hi Damien, with all due respect, where can we find evidence that proves you and the company you work for do not sell the tusks you remove for profit yourselves? (sorry if this has been asked already) - not that I think this, but I’m sure I’m not the only one with this question?

Damien Mander: That's a great question, I'm glad you asked it. On the day of the dehorning, there is a number of representatives from different organisations, as I said earlier, 3 vets from different organisations, we had 2 scientists from a lab that were taking skin samples, we had the property manager, myself, representatives of natural parks. There is no way that that horn could disappear and it must be stated that most of those people there were working pro bono, they work because they know it was a good thing and necessary as heart breaking as it is. The de horning process is heavily regulated, every shaving on the ground is sent to national parks where it is stored.

Browndog asks: Mate would you hope to recruit a few more soldiers from the ADF that are thinking of getting out soon?

Damien Mander: I work for nothing and I don't get paid, so it's a job of love and there is also a very sensitive subject in Africa, having a foreign white person with a strong military background coming across to do this type of stuff so we do have to make sure all our connections with the government are well establishes and very transparent. We will be setting up a volunteer program, where people with skills like myself can come across and work as instructors in the academies we hope to establish.

saw26m asks: I think this is fantastic work you are doing Damien! If someone wanted to travel over to Africa and help the cause, could this be arranged??

Damien Mander: Again please just keep monitoring our website, we will have volunteer programs up and running as soon as the new academies have been built. And it's only through the generosity of people that are willing to give, or come over and offer their services that we can carry on with the work that is needed. So thanks everyone.

sniper asks: Hats of to you Damien, your doing a fantastic job! I'm a teacher and would like to further educate students in your cause. How could teachers in general help your cause?

Damien Mander: There are two programs you can look at, one is Greens Schools and the other is Eco Schools, and if you search those you'll find a well laid out curriculum that is used all over the world, break down subjects to grass roots level and then brings them back up to teach children in a conservational manner. Every subject, all taught in a conservational manner, teaches children how to think in a different aspect.

LDY180 asks: You're doing a great job Damien - you life is indeed rich. Do the rhino's horns ever grow back so you have to sedate them again sometime? If so, how long does it take to grow back?

Damien Mander: The Rhino horn grows about a 1cm a month, and the male bull you saw on the program tonight, he was de horned about 3 years ago, and will have to be dehorned again in anther 3 years. Like I said, just like hair or finger nails.

Mary asks: What experience would someone need to have to join you?

Damien Mander: Just depends, there are so many different areas that we are tactically; I think the best quality that someone can have is enthusiasm.

blake asks: Can you tell us more about the festival?

Damien Mander: The music festival is on Australia Day weekend, this year we were going to do it on the 26th of Jan. We're looking to get some big acts again for the festival, if all the planets align we can hopefully get 3000 through the gate. It'll be in Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. For more information check out our site at

lcb78 asks: hi Damien, do you think you are winning the war? How many black rhino are left? Damien Mander: We are willing the war, but it is a constant struggle. Estimates around 2.5k mark for remaining black rhino in the wild, it's really hard to keep track of these numbers because there are limited resources dedicated to monitoring them.

Caroline_Uk asks: Hi, who owns the private gaming park? Do they hunt the animals in the park or protect them?

Damien Mander: The private gaming is a conservation area, and because of the level of protection offer in a reserve, we're even able to relocate animals that are over populated that have new levels of protection. Whilst this is a private game reserve, we've managed to get a long term lease on the area to build what will essentially become the bigger and best rangers training facility. We hope to train 144 ranger at one time, from as many as 5 different countries. These guys will be trained in a multitude of skills, then redeployed back in their unit back in mass and pass on the information and knowledge they have been given. One of our board members who is very high up in the Australia Special Operation Department will be travelling into the region in the next few weeks to offer his advice on the best way forward for planning, designing and construction this establishment

jrgnsn asks: I truly admire people who lead lives less ordinary. As a former soldier I congratulate you on the efforts you are creating. It's what my dad calls the 'hard right' for both the poachers and the beasts. Where can I see your website and donate? DB

Damien Mander: If you're in Australia, you can donate through any Bendigo bank. And if you are not in Australia (or even if you are) visit, and all donations are 100% full tax deducible.

lisa_ardy asks: Damien do you have a facebook page where we can band together and maybe donate to keep this great cause alive & well?

Damien Mander: We do have a face book page at, just search for on facebook, we've got nearly 7000 followers on there. to donate please go to our regular website and click on the donate button. We are also on twitter at, our twitter feeds are also uploaded to our website as they happen.

Interviewer: I am sorry we are out of time, do you have anything else you would like to share before we finish tonight?

Damien Mander: Thank you to everybody for watching tonight, and for all the support and maintain that we need to keep raising awareness for what is happening around the world. And whilst there are 738 organisation that benefit humans to every 1 that benefits animals, we need to reassess where our focus is and make sure we are not held responsible by our children for the extinction of these creatures.

Interviewer: Once again thank you for joining us, and goodnight.

Interviewer: This concludes our chat with Damien Mander, Sunday October 3, 2010.

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