“Animals don’t want a car, a paycheck, a bigger house, or… They don’t have egos like us. They want one thing. They want to live. And we as a species continually take that away from them.”–Damien Mander
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Damien Mander had a military career with the Australian Royal Navy as a Clearance Diver and Special Operations sniper. In 2009, he completely cashed in and became the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation in Africa. He was in DC recently to raise funds for his organization, and was able to give Commander Divine some time to talk about his work in Africa and how he is developing leaders among Rangers in several African countries.
- Damien recruits largely from the female population for his rangers lately for stronger connections to the communities affected by poaching
- How his anti-poaching efforts came from going to Africa first, and gaining understanding later
- It’s important to include the communities in his efforts, rather than just “declaring war” on both poaching and the communities
Listen to this episode for a fascinating conversation about courage, leadership and the importance of preserving the eco-system.
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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. Welcome back. I hope you’re doing well. I certainly am. Enjoying the summer here in Southern California. It has been epic.
I hope you’re having a good time as well and getting some time off and enjoying family and whatnot.
I have a super, super-cool guest today. Damien Mander. This is going to be a fantastic discussion so just stand-by. We’re going to talk about some things completely new, and near and dear to my heart. So you’re going to love it.
But before I get into that, as usual, I got a few announcements and things to chat about.
First, we have our Unbeatable Mind Summit coming up the first weekend in December. Actually November 30th to December 2nd. This is the 6th time that we’ve run this event. It really is an epic, epic experience. Lots of Unbeatable Mind training. Lots of great speakers. Tons of really cool things that we’re going to do to try to crack you wide open for 2019, including developing your new 5 mountain training plan and getting clear on your ethos so that you can kick ass and take names next year.
So if you want to do that, we have a final kind of sale-push on discounted–I don’t like that word “discounted”–but lower price, early-bird, catch the worm tickets. So check that out at retreat.unbeatablemind.com.
Also you may have already heard me say this, but I’m super-stoked about the 5th anniversary edition of my book “The Way of the SEAL.” The publisher was cool enough to ask to do another edition, and we added 2 chapters. One on leading in accelerating times, a VUCA environment which is something that my guest knows a lot about.
And also a chapter on building elite teams. Something else he knows a lot about. So we’ll probably talk about some of that stuff today.
So check that out. It’s available at Amazon in paperback. The whole book has been updated. Some new stories. A lot of the language–not a lot–but some of the language is changed.
Anyways, it’s better. The first book was great, but this is even better. So if you haven’t gotten it, or you want to check out those 2 new chapters. There’s also key takeaways for all the different principles. Go check it out. The book is even more relevant today than it was 5 years ago, when I wrote it.
And, of course, Burpees for Vets. We are halfway, almost, to our goal of doing 22 million burpees this year for veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. We gotta help these guys and gals. There’s 22 a day, on average, committing suicide. That makes me sad I even say that. We have to help them out.
So we’ve gotten a team together–a couple hundred folks have committed to doing 22 million burpees in total. We’re doing it… I’m doing it essentially by committing to 100,000. So a bunch of us have chosen a number like that. So I’m doing 100,000 this year. And donating 10 cents a burpee. So you can join my team, you can pledge me. Or you can create your own team. You can do it like as a CrossFit box, as many burpees as you can do in 24 hours. Stuff like that.
So my friend Boomer, who’s an Unbeatable Mind coach did 4700 burpees on his 47th birthday. Raised 5000 dollars. So there’s a couple ways that you can kind of help out here, and have fun with this. And suffer a little bit for those who have suffered for us.
Okay. burpeesforvets.com. Help us out.
So my guest today–let’s get to the meat of the matter here–Damien Mander. Former Australian Special Operator. Naval Clearance Diver–I actually worked with those guys, back in ’93. What a solid group of operators.
He’s an Iraq war vet. He ran a special police training academy in Baghdad to work to prepare or develop Iraqi’s Special Ops and Paramilitary forces.
But most interestingly, and what we’re going to talk a lot about today is he’s the founder of the International Anti-poaching foundation. And unless you’ve had your head up your ass, poaching is another really insidious–just disgusting thing that goes on in our world. I’m sure there’s economics behind it that probably makes sense to some people. But we’re going to learn from Damien just what kind of impact poaching has on some of the local economies in Africa, and also on the biosphere, and the wildlife population. It is really, really pathetic. And we gotta stop that too.
And guess what? Damien is doing that. And we’re going to learn about him and why and what that’s all about in a moment.
So at any rate, Damien’s coming to us… he’s right now in Washington DC, probably raising some money or doing something cool. Damien thanks for joining us today. Super-cool to meet you.
Damien Mander: Mark, how you doing brother?
Mark: I’m doing outstanding, man. I feel like we met, but, you know, I don’t know. When were you with the Clearance Diving Unit down in Australia?
Damien: I joined in 2009, mate.
Mark: I guess I was a little before your time then.
Damien: Maybe in another life, though. Who knows?
Mark: Yeah, no kidding. So Unbeatable Mind, we are all about our own commitment to making ourselves better and making the world better in the process. And so that’s why I love talking to people like you and introducing you to our tribe. And we always like to just kind of like figure out what made you–what’s the man behind what you do today? Like, what were your early influences? How did you grow up? What was life like for you as a young man in Australia? Give us some of the early stuff before we get into some of the later stuff.
Damien: I used to get up very early before school and I would ride my bike down to the local pier. And I would go freediving and collect all the fishing lures that had been lost by the Calamari fishermen overnight. And I would come back up and I’d sell them.
And did this before school, and after school. Built up this little empire of shopping trolleys and berthing to catch the lures. And that got me into diving, and then eventually wanted to join the navy and take it further.
And I was happy doing my job as a diver in the Navy, and then September 11th happened. And it sort of changed the world for a lot of people.
Mark: Tell us about the Clearance Diving before we go on. So what is that job like? Are you clearing mines and demolition? Or what are you doing?
Damien: We do a… I worked with the US divers who tend to specialize in one particular field. And we get rotated through the different disciplines every couple of year. Sort of jack of all trades, master of none. But we do underwater battle damage repair. So it’s your version of salvage diving.
And some mine counter-measures. Maritime tactical operations. Surface and underwater EOD. And then after the Tactical Assault Group was formed in… I think it was 2002. Counter-terrorism.
Mark: Right. So was that part of the Navy? The TAG? Or was that like a version of our Tier 1?
Damien: Yeah, that’s 2nd Commandos. Special Operations.
Mark: Okay. So you applied for that, and is the training like that kind of like CAG or DEVGRU is?
Damien: Yeah. I don’t know what those are, sorry man. But they put us through our paces. We went through Hell to get onto the dive teams. And then had to go and do it all again. But this time we were coming into an Army environment. And the Army guys, they don’t like sailors hanging around.
Mark: (laughing) I know.
Damien: I think they get upset, you know. Cause we always get the nice places on the harbor to hang out. And skipping down the wharf with a cold beer.
And they’re stuck in the bush. So I understand where they’re coming from. But needless to say that they weren’t too kind in the beginning. But we all became buddies in the end.
Mark: How many Navy guys went to the TAG from your unit?
Damien: Not many. So we had a water troop, made up of a very small team. And then I went across to snipers. So when I was online as a sniper, I was one of only two qualified Naval Special Operations snipers who were online at the time in the defense force.
Mark: No kidding. So tell us a little bit about your experiences in Iraq. Some of the interesting things that you did and lessons you learned there.
Damien: Yeah, I mean, Iraq’s a tough one, hey? When you’re down there at ground level it’s hard to come up and see things from 30,000 feet and see the big picture. Interesting to hear you talking about suicide, and that there before and how a lot of veterans… For a lot of us guys the real war doesn’t start until the bullets stop and you’re trying to figure out your relevance in life.
I mean, you come from a world where you mean everything to everyone around you. And then all of a sudden, it sort of feels like you’re by yourself. And there’s nothing for a sniper in the local newspaper when you come back home. And I suppose reflection of why we go to war in the first place, and what that war is about, is part of that process.
And it’s tough. I suppose the thing that hit me hardest about Iraq was seeing what happened to the Iraqi people and just this general… It was just a country that was flattened, man.
And it wasn’t… I made a strong effort there to learn Arabic and embed myself with the culture. And that served me very well over there in terms of promotion and the various roles that I took up.
But when you learn their culture you break bread with them. And when you’re breaking bread, you become part of their family and their household. And there wasn’t one person there that wasn’t directly affected. And when I say “directly affected”–someone’s kid who wasn’t missing an arm from a bit of shrapnel, or a wife that hadn’t been killed. Or a grandmother had caught a stray bullet.
So it was… I worked a lot in the private sector over there as well as with the US military. Attached as some of the contracts that I was on. And there’s like a handful of different wars going on over there on the ground. It’s hard to know which bullets got whose name on it.
Mark: I know. No kidding. You know, this is… I’ve never really talked about this on this podcast, but I think it’d be interesting right now. Since you bring it up.
Warriors… I was in Iraq. I wasn’t, you know, in a fighting unit. I was a little bit too senior for that. And so I was more in a garrison, JOTC sort of thing.
But I was there. And I had time to reflect, just like you. And I’ve been deep into yoga and the martial arts for many years. And the more senior I got, and after going to combat zone–my opinions on war have just really… combat and war have just really changed.
And I think warriors–true warriors–end up abhorring war. And will do anything possible. Anything possible. To avoid conflict. To work through things. To learn how to communicate and see other people’s perspectives.
And yet those people–and this is no big breakthrough observation. We’re still compelled to serve and to do our duty. But we abhor that war. And it’s just horrific. And it sounds like you had that same experience. Like the cost of war on the civilian population and economies. And just human spirituality and the heart is just devastating.
Damien: It’s tough, man. It’s tough for everyone. A lot of healing.
Mark: I like the fact that you’re… I’m trying to educate warriors to come at it from a… make better decisions. World-centric decisions. And I’m trying to educate people to connect with their hearts. And to connect with others. Not be so separated, right?
And I think more and more people who begin to experience life that way. Like authentic warriors do. Then I think we can make a change. But it’ll take time.
One last thing I want to share with my tribe and you. This is kind of interesting but I was listening to an interview between Deepak Chopra and this guy named Sadhguru, who’s a yogi. Really fascinating, funny guy.
And the guest said “hey, what would you guys do about the immigration crisis or migration crisis from war-torn regions like Syria and Yemen? Would you be compassionate or would you take the more stern approach and prevent the migration from happening.” And Deepak said, “Of course, compassion.” He gave kind of the pat answer.
And then Sadhguru just smiled and he goes, “You know what? I would just stop investing in conflict.”
Damien: Good answer, heh? Wow.
Mark: Right. He’s like, “Stop investing in conflict. Those people are getting their bullets from somewhere. Stop making the bullets, stop selling them the bullets.”
Anyways, I went off on a little tangent. But it’s just from one warrior to another, speaking to our guests here–war is screwed up, and conflict is screwed up. And this is coming from a Navy SEAL and an Australian Special Tactics sniper. It’s messed up. And we gotta figure out how to stop it.
Anyways, I’m off my soapbox. Sorry about that. (laughing)
So you learned a lot about and I sense that when you said about coming back from war and you’re kind of lost and you need a purpose and that’s what a lot of guys and girls who are suffering from post-war stress are lost. They lose their sense of purpose.
You found yours though. So tell us about how you found your purpose in regards to training people to basically take back the parks. And to kill the poaching stuff.
Damien: Yeah, so, after Iraq… I left Iraq and then in 2008, I went to South America, man, just to decompress and spent 11 months there. Doing far too much drugs and alcohol, and fucking hit rock bottom, man.
Rock bottom, and a set of crossroads, you know? I’d heard about anti-poaching about a decade before, hey? And it sounded like a bit of a romantic adventure.
I was one of the lucky ones. I got shat back out the other side. Got on a plane and I literally… when I left for Africa it was a one-way ticket. I had my boots and a carry-on backpack.
So I didn’t join the military to serve my country. I did it for adventure. I didn’t go to Iraq to help the situation. I did it to make money. I suppose when I arrived in Africa instead of looking for a cause, I went looking for a fight.
Mark: Wow. Interesting.
Damien: And there was a couple of things there that changed my life. One was seeing rangers. These are people that leave their family behind for up to 11 months of the year, to be out there doing something greater than one’s self. I’d come from a world where we’re defending resources in the ground and dotted lines on a map. And had all the resources I needed in the world, man. And a huge paycheck to go with it.
And here’s these guys defending the heart and lungs of the planet. Away from their family in a hostile area where the biggest threat wasn’t so much the poachers they’re trying to stop but the animals they’re trying to protect. And I thought that… made me reflect, man. And it made me feel like shit actually, to think that I was there trying to have an adventure on the back of their hard work.
And the second thing I saw was animals. And you’ll know as well as anyone, man, when you get into a combat situation in places like Iraq, it’s a two-way street when those bullets are flying. And with animals, what I saw over there, was it wasn’t man.
It was an unjust action, where animals are being killed. And that affected me in a way that it probably wouldn’t have affected me at all a decade before. But Iraq has a way of breaking down some of those barriers, and giving you a different lens to look at the world through.
And just seeing what was happening to animals… Animals don’t want a car, a paycheck, a bigger house… They don’t have egos like us. Animals want one thing. They want to live. And we as a species continually take that away from them.
So that was enough for me to say, “Fuck it.” I’d done all right through Real Estate. And I had a set of skills. So sell-up and set-up. And 2009 we set up the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. That’s almost a decade ago. Registered in 4 countries now. Operating through southern and east Africa. The rangers we’ve supported help protect over 5 million acres of wilderness every day. And millions of animals of all different shapes and sizes that live there.
Mark: That’s incredible. I mean that’s a pretty big chunk of land. Compare that to a state in the United States. How big is that?
Damien: Oh, geez man. I don’t know. That’s… it’s bigger than the local golf course. It’s a chunk of change, hey?
Mark: Yeah. So tell us… let’s back up a little bit. What is the nature of poaching? Why…? People poach for trophies, they poach for money. What is the whole thing?
Damien: You got different types of poaching. You’ve got subsistence poaching. That’s people trying to put food on the table genuinely.
And then commercial poaching. Commercial poaching from ivory–coming from elephants and horn coming from rhino–are the two sort of key targets there and those two animals are the most aggressively targeted species. Because of the value. 35,000 US dollars a pound for rhino horn on the black markets in China and Vietnam. And one rhino can easily have 20 or 30 pounds.
So these things should be actually locked up in safes, not running around in areas the size of small countries.
And so when we set the organization up it was designed to be a surgical instrument to go to the front-lines and protect these animals. Their natural environment.
Special Operations, small groups of guys getting shitty jobs done in big places with minimal…
Mark: So your idea initially was to send tactical teams out and basically “counter-poach.” Go after the poachers. Would you actually kill them? Or would you just try to round them up and get them arrested?
Damien: You try and round them up. Not only individually going after these guys… I say guys cause it’s mostly men doing the poaching. But training local forces.
And that’s one thing I see with these rangers. People keep looking at all these fancy solutions to deal with wildlife crime. Whether it’s drones or fancy bits of software. Or lenses that are going to see over the horizon.
The most valuable asset on that continent are its people. And 90% of getting the job done over there is just making sure you’ve got well-motivated and well-led teams in the field. And the difference between success and failure in many of these operations is usually just one good commander. Who can pass on all the skills and most importantly spend time with them.
And we saw that very early and set out just training and running operations. Grew as an organization. Learned a lot. Learned a lot from the lessons I took away from Iraq and just trying to… always I think, life is like nature. It’s evolution. Cutting away the parts that don’t work, and keeping the bits that do. And pushing on. Trying new things. And not being afraid of making mistakes.
And look, we’ve made some monumental fuck-ups in the years, but we made them. We were prepared to make them. But we were prepared to grow after them.
Mark: Yeah, right. That’s awesome. Fascinating.
Mark: So what impact is it having? Do you have any way to measure it?
Damien: So the biggest project we’d run to date… Kruger National Park in South Africa is home to around a third of the world’s rhino population. And most of those rhinos are in the southern quarter of Kruger National Park. Kruger in South Africa shares a border with Mozambique. And I think it was around 2015, you got about 80% of the people who are doing the poaching are coming across the border from Mozambique into South Africa, into Kruger and into the heart of the biggest rhino population in the world.
And there’s around 400 organizations specializing in rhino conservation in South Africa. But none were working on the piece of land that was up against the South African border on Mozambique’s soil. The piece of land that separated most of the world’s rhino and most of the world’s rhino poachers is the most critical piece of land on the planet for rhino conservation. 7 or 8 years into a losing war.
So we went in there and set up a ground level offensive. We involved 165 personnel, 4 different government departments. Bigger fences. More guns. Helicopters. Planes. And it was essentially a ground level insurgency that we were fighting against the local population.
Had a team of primarily white instructors that were over there leading local indigenous forces. And we were literally at war with the local population there. And that was…
We stopped poachers coming through that area into southern Kruger National Park. And that led to…
Mark: And those poachers were subsistence poachers?
Damien: No. These were international poachers. Poaching for rhino horn. Making significant amounts of money. Driving around in brand new cars, living in big houses.
And we stopped poachers from coming through there, and then that helped Kruger deploy their forces to their western boundary and collectively it led to a downturn in rhino poaching locally. Which led to the first downturn in rhino poaching figures globally for the first time in a decade.
The program was a success, but it was a failure. Because ultimately the communities in Africa will decide the future of its wilderness areas. And we were at war with the local community. Same with Iraq, man. We were at war.
Mark: So the local community were involved in the poaching. And just doing one operation to stop it wasn’t going to change the basic underlying needs that they had, right? To earn money. And the economic conditions didn’t change.
Damien: Not only that but people’s husbands and sons and uncles coming home in body-bags. The whole operation down there is… they say there’s been over 400 people from those communities killed. During those counter-poaching operations.
So it was… drove a downturn in rhino poaching, but it’s not the answer man. It actually made us try and think outside the box, and try something new. And one of the programs now I think is… will define the future of conservation as we know it.
Mark: Is that the Akashinga program? Or is that…?
Damien: Yeah. So I mean we… actually reading The New York Times written about the first group of female US Rangers to come through the ranks. But, so, we looked at it. And conservation is a male dominated industry. The ratio of men to women on the front lines is around 100 to 1. And so we’re looking around at other industries, and in particular US military where we’re seeing women come through the ranks.
And reading more and more about how the empowerment of women is the single greatest force for positive change in the world today. And I thought, Well, if women aren’t getting exposure at ground level to the experience that they need to rise up through the ranks and genuinely fill management positions with the background experience to make proper operational decisions.
Then if women can’t progress in conservation then can conservation progress? When the rest of the world seems to be moving along? And so we set out to build a team of all females as an anti-poaching unit. And we tried, and we tried, and we tried and we couldn’t find a reserve that would accept them. Or accept us to trial this what everyone perceived to be such a huge risk.
Mark: You mean you couldn’t find an existing conservation unit from any of the countries involved. Is that what you’re saying?
Damien: We couldn’t find any that were willing to allow us to test this model. And then we eventually found an abandoned trophy hunting reserve.
Now just to give some context there. Trophy hunting is a dying industry. Trophy hunting is where people from overseas will come over and they’ll shoot an elephant or a rhino.
Mark: Yeah. Facebook has helped kill that off, right?
Damien: Yeah. It has. So activism, largely driven from the Western World. Reduced wildlife populations and rougher laws and penalties around the import and export of certain trophies. Such as ivory from countries like Zimbabwe to the US.
Which again is a function of activism. So what that means is that there’s an area collectively the size of France across Africa that is being set aside for trophy hunting. And in just Zimbabwe alone where I live–20% of the landmass of that country is set aside for trophy hunting…
Mark: By the government you mean? Or is it privately owned?
Damien: A collection of the two. And so where trophy hunting has been used as an economic model to fund anti-poaching units in the past, as it dies off, the pieces of land that have been set aside for trophy hunting have no protection.
And these pieces of land… and look, I don’t like trophy hunting. And what I hate more about it is the fact that we have ethically… there’s been enough momentum around the world to ethically maintain it as an industry to fund conservation.
But now that these areas are dying off, all the hunters that call themselves “conservationists”… they’re not hanging around. They move on to the next area where there’s still something left to shoot. And people like us have to pick up the pieces.
And so we moved into this area in August last year. And we did selection for… we started with 87 women and we did pre-selection. Pre-selection, just interview process. Get it down to around 36.
I did selection for 189 men in 2012 and at the end of day 1, we had 3 left. We had three that were suitable. So we did selection for these women… we started… largely modeled on the sort of torture you know too well of coming through Special Operations and being exposed to the pillars of misery. Being cold, tired, hungry and wet.
And we started selection with 37 women, and at the end of 72 hours, only 3 had voluntarily pulled off. We knew had something very special. Now the distance one places between suffering and breaking is what I think defines the spirit of an individual and its spirit we need. I can train the rest. I need spirit, I need character. And these women had it.
And so we used a small team of former Special Operations instructors, and we put these women through hell. And they impressed us at every turn. They went operational in October of last year, and have just absolutely shifted my mindset on how conservation should be approached.
Historically, when we build a unit–an anti-poaching unit–we would recruit from around the country, and form a unit to protect these nature preserves. From which the local population has at some point in history been pushed off to create that area. So there’s already tension.
And then you bring in an external force. So they’re not influenced by the local population that they may have grown up with.
Now women don’t seem corruptible. We haven’t seen any instance of corruption. In the African context. Which means we can recruit 100% from the local community. If we recruit 100% from the local community, it means that the largest line-item we would spend in conservation–which is law enforcement–it means that now becomes a community investment. And we’re currently spending around 62 cents from every dollar operationally that we invest goes back into the community. It doesn’t go in at government level, doesn’t go in at the chief level, it goes in at…
Mark: You mean the pay that these women get goes back into their local communities because they’re going to spend it there.
Damien: Everything we can get from the local community, we purchase from the local community. And the salary of these women is hitting the community at household level and in the hands of women. So at face value, we currently have more money going into that community every 34 days than what trophy hunting was providing per annum.
Mark: And that money was going to the government and then trickling down?
Damien: Previously, yes. Yes. Elected council.
Here it’s going into the hands of women, and where research tells us that women spend 3 times more of their salary on family and local community than what men do. So around 90% of what they earn, they invest back in their local community.
So we essentially took the conservation dollar and turned it into a community investment by switching the strategy. And putting female empowerment at the top of the strategy. That gives us the greatest bang for buck effectiveness and efficiency in community development. And the by-product of that becomes conservation.
Mark: That’s incredible. Let’s just stop there, because that model is so powerful. I mean, it could be used for multiple different projects, I can imagine. Not just conservation.
Damien: Yeah. Well, I mean, it de-escalates everything. For us means countering insurgents. Women want to have a conversation. They want to know what the problem is and they want to fix it. Not shoot it.
And that’s a big difference. As we de-escalate in a law enforcement environment, means it’s a less militarized approach. And a less militarized approach is a cheaper one.
Mark: That’s like Sadhguru said, stop investing in conflict. Start investing in conservation or the community.
Damien: Yeah. And it’s shifted almost two decades of military law enforcement and conservation thinking for me.
Mark: And it doesn’t mean you’re not training… you’re still training these women how to shoot, and how to do tactics… I saw the picture of one of your trainees. She looks like a Navy SEAL sniper.
Damien: Yeah, man. I trained her.
Mark: You’re still training them to do that, but that’s not their… Their inclination isn’t to lead with the weapon, but with the open hand.
Damien: Yeah, I mean we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. These women are trained in all the tactics they need to be moving through… I mean the eco-system, the Lower Zambezi, one of the largest elephant populations left on the continent, has had around 8000 elephants killed in there in the last 16 years. That’s 8000 teams of armed men moving through there. Willing to kill rangers or willing to kill animals. And we have to prepare them for that.
But they have made 62 arrests since October. And these are not just low-level arrests. These are people involved… within syndicates. And all of those arrests have been made without a shot being fired, actually.
Women… they form the informal communications networks in rural society. That’s a polite way of saying “gossip.” But they are actually plugged into absolutely everything that’s going on there. And I think around 3% of crimes that are solved are solved by catching people in the act. And the rest that are solved, are solved through intelligence led operations.
Mark: Yeah, I could see that. They’re probably like terrific spies. (laughing)
Damien: Well, yeah. I tell you what, they’re so plugged into the community. The community’s on side with what we’re doing. It’s much easier to take a phone call or a text message from somebody in the local community telling you about where a problem is than it is to walk around a million acres looking for one.
Damien: And yeah, it’s just really… I mean the information that they are receiving and processing and acting on is resulting in huge success.
Mark: So what does it cost to train up a unit or a class of these… by the way, that word… what is it again? Akashinga?
Damien: Akashinga. Yeah, it’s a local Shona name that the women came up with for themselves. And it translates into “The Brave Ones.” so when we say we’re going to do recruitment of this unit… I’m an Aussie, so we’re always battling for the underdog. So I thought well if we’re going to recruit these women, let’s give the ones that are the most oppressed an opportunity.
And so the recruitment was open to victims of serious sexual assault, domestic violence, AIDS orphans, single wives, abandoned mothers. And there’s been no hand-outs on this course. They had an opportunity and they made the most of it.
Mark: How do you recruit? Do you put a poster up and say, “Hey, if you’ve been sexually assaulted, we want to talk to you?” I can’t imagine that working.
Damien: No. It’s bush telegraph, hey? Very tight-knit communities. Different villages. Everyone knows everyone’s business. And we went and spoke with the chief and said this is what we want to do.
And skeptical at first. This is perceived to be a man’s job in a male dominated culture. And we managed to convince them, and they were very good in helping us open up that opportunity to the right people there.
And nobody’s disappointed, hey?
Mark: That’s amazing. So how many…? Do you run a class of recruits every year now? Or how’s this kind of growing?
Damien: Yeah. But back to your question before… so we currently have about 40 people in the program. It costs us around 5,800 dollars per annum to recruit, train, equip and deploy these women onto the front lines.
Mark: Is that per head? Or for the whole class?
Damien: Per head.
Mark: That’s what I thought.
Damien: And then we have the first model now, which is refining. We’re essentially turning this into a best practice model. Which we’re measuring across 5 different sections and 67 parameters. So we can understand from a scientific base what we’re doing and how to improve it.
The second reserve will start in Kenya, early next year. And once we have it running and functioning, and succeeding in third reserve, we’ll then make all the doctrine available for free to other organizations that agree to meet standards.
Mark: Hmm. That’s cool. Open-source it, hunh?
Damien: Yeah. It’s absolutely amazing to watch, man.
Mark: That is fascinating. I think I see a note from my producer Allison that BBC did a documentary or some sort of profile on the women?
Damien: Yeah, BBC did a short piece… well two different pieces actually. One for World News and one for social media. I know the social media one’s been seen over 11 million times now, so getting a lot of traction. A lot of people are starting to sit up and take notice of the program.
And I think where the West has largely helped drive a downturn in trophy hunting, we now need to look at alternatives. And from an economic standpoint, this is an alternative.
And I think empowering women to protect these areas, uplift their communities, support their families and protect wildlife is a much more sellable market than trophy hunting.
Mark: Right. What would someone search for on YouTube if they wanted to see that documentary?
Damien: If they go to our website… If you just Google “anti-poaching” we’ll pop up there somewhere around the top. The International Anti-poaching Foundation. iapf.org.
Or you can get on BBC and type “Akashinga.”
Mark: Yeah. We’re going to add a few hundred thousand to that 11 million. I want to check it out myself.
So what’s your ultimate vision for… not just for the work that you’re doing, but for the world? When you wake up every day, what’s your mindset about the future and where we’re going?
Damien: You know, when I sit down at the end of it all… on the porch there somewhere in the rocking chair, I just want to look back and know that I helped play a part in building teams that were able to protect as much of the natural world as possible. You’ve got this amazing planet… this rock spinning through space and we keep looking for miracles. When in actual fact, it’s all around us in nature. And I think just protecting it. We don’t need to try and protect any one, specific species, just give nature a chance to do its thing…
Damien: It’ll come back a billion times over, man.
Mark: Couldn’t agree more. And what I love about what you’re doing is protecting the environment, Mother Earth and everything, but also empowering women who are the protectors. And so it’s such a virtuous loop that you’re creating. I think it’s a fantastic model
Damien: Yeah, and we’re not necessarily a female empowerment organization. We’re a conservation organization. We just found a better way to do our job. For us, we do this because it makes business sense. And I think that will appeal to a lot of people who value the bottom-line. And we have to try to make our dollar go further and further. And I need to keep finding new ways to protect nature and protect animals, man. That’s my thing.
Mark: Is there any technology leverage here? Down the road? Through block-chain or micro-payments or mobile Bitcoin… you know what I mean? That you could bring into this model that could erase some friction.
Damien: Yeah, so we’ve got… we do some block-chain, we do some crypto-mining. Part of the… a third party company in Australia get the electricity donated for free through a solar farm. And we got mining machines turning. That’s a commercial plugin to the overall model that we are running.
It doesn’t cover large chunks of our budget, but it covers some of it.
Another thing with this model, too. There’s 2 and a half times more funding for female empowerment in Africa than there is for conservation. Because we’re an economic alternative to trophy hunting, we open ourselves up to animal rights funding. Which is a lot of money in the animal rights world.
And the entire program is plant-based. The women are all vegan.
Mark: No kidding. I missed that.
Damien: The bulk of the funding we get is from people in the plant-based, vegan world.
Mark: That’s a requirement to be part of the unit?
Damien: The program is vegan. What the women do back in their own homes is up to them. But we have a component within Akashinga called Back to Black Roots. And that’s focusing on the history of African food and what people were raised on there. Where meat was traditionally reserved for ceremonial purposes only. And people were raised on a plant-based diet. And it’s been Western influence that’s driven a largely meat-based diet.
Damien: You’re seeing a lot of problems with diabetes and heart disease in the local communities and in water stressed places like southern and east Africa, it takes 48 times more water to produce a kilogram of beef than it does to produce a kilogram of vegetables.
It’s 4 step program. We teach the people… all our staff how to cook and prepare and grow nutritious fruit and vegetables. And how to speak from an environmental and ethical nutritious standpoint. And then we teach their families. And then we teach their communities. And then we create ambassadors.
Mark: That is really cool.
Mark: You have obviously through trial and error. Through facing challenge and risk. And overcoming failure. And falling down 7 times, getting up 8. You’ve obviously learned a lot through that process. And probably have some wisdom. You may not consider it that, but I would.
So what would you share with our listeners…? Two or three really important things that you want them to think about. Consider. To maybe adopt.
Damien: Yeah. What’s helped me the most, and I’ve seen it too with other veterans that have come over, what’s helped me the most is not trying to help myself but to do something for others. Whether it be animals or whether it be other people. And just that single act alone helps the individual so much more than you can if you just focus on yourself.
So focusing positive energy outwards, rather than trying to fix inwards, has always been something that’s worked for me.
And above all else, have integrity. Be honest. Do what’s right. Don’t need to follow the crowd, man. Do what your heart tells you, and what your gut tells you. Because it’s often the truth that sets us free.
Mark: Yeah. Hallelujah. I love that. So focusing on others. Be honest and do what your heart says. That’s some very, very good advice.
One other quote that I wrote down, which I absolutely love is “The gap or the difference between suffering and breaking defines the person. And your spirit exists in that gap.”
Damien: Yeah. Yeah, man.
Mark: That is awesome.
So you’ve already given us the website of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. iapf.org. How else can people… I should say, how can listeners who are moved by some of the things you’re working on support you?
Damien: I mean, obviously we function through donations from around the world. People that want to invest in what we’re doing. People that unlike trophy hunters need to hang something on the wall to show where they’ve been, we want people that just need to know that they’ve done something good at the end of the day.
So anyone that does want to donate or give, please go onto the website, and hit the Donate button. And just learn about wildlife conservation.
Learn about why the program’s plant-based as well. We have to run around in the bush to protect animals. The easiest way to protect them is not to stick them in your mouth.
We can get a lot of self-healing when we stop inflicting harm on others, and animals fall into that bracket. So just have a think about how we live our own lives and how we can help others.
Mark: Hooyah. Awesome Damien. Well, it’s been an honor to chat with you. Thanks very much for what you’re doing. If I can help you out in any way, please don’t hesitate to ask. And look me up if you ever get to San Diego.
Damien: Cool man. Thank you very much.
Mark: Yeah, thank you. Hooyah. Nice to meet you.
All right folks. That was amazing. I mean, wow.
Damien Mander. Check out the International Anti-poaching Foundation website. Go donate. Figure out how to support him, and support these women and support the animals. I mean, there’s not a single thing that he said that I don’t 100% agree with.
I’m not 100% vegan, but I’ve been moving more and more toward whole food, ketogenic diet–and less and less meat. My Yogi in spirit tells me that that’s the way to go. Both for health reasons but also environmental and economical. It’s the right thing.
So, yeah, a lot to think about there. So enough for today. Thanks for listening. Stay focused. Do the work every day. Focus on others. Be honest. And follow your heart.
And find that gap between suffering and breaking. Awesome stuff.
All right, folks. Till next time.