by Susie Steimle
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A former soldier for the Australian military is now an animal activist using skills honed in combat to fight the scourge of poaching in South Africa,
Damien Mander was in San Francisco Thursday trying to raise awareness about the success he's had battling the poaching of rhinos and elephants.
It's all due to his organization, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, which he started in 2009.
After 12 tours in Iraq as a sniper, Mander says he felt lost.
"I didn't know where I was going with the rest of my life, there's no job for a sniper in the local newspaper," he said.
So he headed to South Africa, in search of an adventure and instead found his a purpose. Mander witnessed the rhino and elephant population dwindling, being poached for their ivory.
"I saw a lot of horrible things that affected me in a way I wasn't affected in Iraq," said Mander. "I can't say why. I just know they grabbed."
Mander decided to use his life savings and his military skills to train the local population to fight the poaching problem.
"We went back to basics we trained up local indigenous forces," Mander said. "We made them believe their job is the most important job in the world protecting the heart and lungs of the planet, and I do believe that's the most important job on the planet."
"We were able to measure our reduction in rhino poaching by up to 90 percent," he said.
But it isn't enough, which is why Mander continues to speak out about it around the world. He was to speak at the California Academy of Sciences Nightlife event Thursday night. The goal is to spread the word about IAPF and make more people care.
"We've been given one beautiful backyard which is this planet and we continually treat it like a garbage dump," Mander said.
San Francisco has played a part in that, continually being linked to illegal ivory trades in the city's Chinatown.
"Maybe it's the same as many other industries, the disconnect that exists between the consumer and the reality it takes to bring that product to market is something people are willing to ignore," he said.
If anyone can tell you changing your mindset is possible it's Mander - a former hunter-turned-vegan, and a former special ops sniper-turned-activist.
"My message to other people is, I was a tough nut to crack and if I can care about animals I think anybody can," Mander said.
for more features.