Category Archives: Conservation

Life, Death and Culture

Life and death can be a strange thing. Here at the IAPF we recently had the opportunity to see how the death of an animal can have an emotional, educational and cultural effect on people from very different backgrounds.

A call came out across the radio that the rangers had picked up the spoor of a wounded spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) that appeared to be moving towards a large dam. A few nights previously, we had heard the distinct sounds of fighting between hyenas but had since seen or heard nothing else. After some expert tracking by rangers John, Chelepele, Senzani and Paul, the animal was finally located.

It had sustained major injuries to its flanks, rear legs and neck. Paying little attention to us, it chose to wash its wounds in the dam and then lay in the shade. After about 45 minutes, it slowly regained some strength and began to limp off.

At this time we where unable to either treat or euthanize the hyena so all we could do was follow it and keep a close eye on its condition. It’s surprising how often an animal, which appears to be on the brink of death, can make a recovery when given a bit of time and space. However, this time it was not meant to be. The hyena lay down in a small stream (presumably to keep the flies out of its wounds and shelter it from further attack) and died just after nightfall.

The next morning we recovered the body and transported it to the Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust , where visiting vet Dr. Foggin, began work on the autopsy. During this time, the IAPF’s Green Army had a family of five from the UK/Australia visiting and they had been with us through the whole experience. We watched as the staff and volunteers of the Trust dissected and took samples from what was now determined to be a young male hyena of around 2 years old. The wounds seem to have been sustained during a fight with other hyena, most likely from another clan. There is often little space for competition, especially in a hierarchy like that of hyenas where the males sit at the bottom of the food chain. Necrosis had already settled in on the neck wounds and even had we tried to sedate it, it’s unlike that he would have survived.

A huge thanks has to go to Dr. Foggin, Roger and Jessica from the Wildlife Trust, their volunteers Becky and Anna and of course the Wright Family, whose 13-year old daughter’s interest in the whole thing was inspiring. She even managed to convince the vet to measure the hyena’s intestine, which turned out to be roughly an incredible 15 metres in length! We will now preserve the skull so it can be used here on the reserve as an educational tool and hopefully this (natural) loss of life will not be in vain.

In the end, this hyena showed everyone involved something about the world we live in. The educational aspect of showing people how hyenas are built, their incredible muscles, crushing jaws and even the stomach contents which held complete pieces of bone, including a piece of vertebrae!

The emotional aspect, as some people find the “gory” scene of an autopsy a bit much to take, especially when they saw the animal living and breathing less than 24 hours previously. Also, there is a cultural aspect, which is often lost on us. For most “Westerners”, this animal is a necessary part of the African bush and environment, one we strain our necks to observe from the back of a safari vehicle. We tend to forget that they may be held in a completely different regard for the people who were born and raised here.

In many African cultures the hyena is seen as an “evil” creature, often the messenger of the Sangoma (witchdoctor) and parts of its body hold very magical properties, especially the tail. I had to confirm with our ever-brave chef Hope and some of the rangers that the tail was indeed still attached when we collected it and that yes, after the autopsy the body would be burned. Most of the guys here did not even want to see the body and seemed visibly relieved when it was gone. These are educated and intelligent rangers, who spend everyday in the bush. I wouldn’t say they feared the hyena but once dead, they where glad to see it gone before it could “fall into the wrong hands”. In this light, is it really that much different between the way we see the use of rhino horn compared to the way it’s viewed in Asian countries such as Vietnam? Definitely food for thought.

However, whether it is indeed a witch’s steed or simply an unfortunate individual who moved into and area where he was not welcome, and paid the price, this hyena certainly had an affect on the property and all of it’s inhabitants during its short time with us.

Go well hyena, and please don’t curse our chef on the way.


‘Damned if you do & damned if you don’t’ – Legalising the Rhino Horn Trade: Episode 1

The IAPF in Vietnam

The IAPF recently embarked on a journey to Vietnam. We travelled there to gain a better understanding and perspective on the use of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine (TVM).

Our main focus of the trip was not only the use of rhino horn but the culture and beliefs in all Traditional Vietnamese Medicine.

Stay tuned in the coming week for a series of video blogs about the trip as we try to uncover some of the truth and myths about TVM. Tune into to our youtube channel or alternatively watch this blog space.

Encounters of the ‘LARGE’ kind

The “Big Five”. So called because they were apparently the most difficult and dangerous African mammals to hunt. Nowadays, things have changed slightly but they still remain some of the most difficult to conserve.

Here on the Stanley and Livingstone Game Reserve (SALGR) we’ve had our fair share of “Big Five” encounters lately. Lions roaring almost every night and recent sightings of brand new cubs, the buffalo herd exploding in numbers after the rains, a very cheeky elephant nicknamed “kloppers” by the rangers, an old tom leopard who occasionally allows you a glimpse as he slinks back into the bush and of course, our resident rhinos.

It’s these experiences, exciting and often heart stopping at the same time, which keeps us doing what we do. It’s not just the famous species that need protecting though. In order to save one, you have to work from the ground up. Literally. That’s why this is a very important time for us out here. Once the rains stop and the temperature begins to drop, we enter a new season and a have to tackle a new threat… wild fires. Grading the roads, controlling erosion and making sure that our fire guards are well maintained is a big part of the work that needs to be done in the coming months. Uncontrolled fires can have a huge detrimental effect on a property such as this one. They spread quickly through the dry grass, removing food sources for the game and exposing the soil to the harsh sun and winds. This can lower the quality and quantity of next year’s growth and it may be years before we’re able to restore things to the natural balance needed. No soil equals no plants, which equals no animals. It’s as simple as that.


We’ve progressed well with our vegetation study, and now it’s time to put some of that work into action. We couldn’t have done this of course without help from all of our volunteers to whom we owe huge thanks. Their hard work and dedication has allowed us to thrive and continue on with our goals. So from the IAPF, the SALGR staff and all the animals here in the bush, thank you.

You can keep up to date on everything happening at the IAPF through this blog. For those of you who would like more information on the Green Army program or want to make a commitment, please head over to our website or email or Come and join us, and see what all the excitement is about for yourself.

James Slade

Game Ranger & Green Army co-ordinator

The IAPF are proudly supported in Zimbabwe by:

IAPF in the media

As the poaching epidemic that has gripped the planet increases at an alarming rate, more awareness needs to be raised about how critical the situation is on the ground.

However, in a day and age when news and information can be transmitted so quickly, across so many different formats, there is potential for stories to become distorted or misreported. It is therefore the aim of the IAPF to get the correct facts to the right people, which allow them to report accurately on the situation.

The key to winning this war is awareness. The media is one of the best tools that the conservation community has in it arsenal.

Here are some of the latest articles about the IAPF’s activities. I urge you to share these with you friends so we can involve more people in the struggle.

Damien Mander on Channel Ten’s ‘The Project’

If you manage to miss it, or for our overseas supporters, Click here to see the interview in full.

IAPF feature in “Rhino Wars” National Geographic article

“The rifle shot boomed through the darkening forest just as Damien Mander arrived at his campfire after a long day training game ranger recruits in western Zimbabwe’s Nakavango game reserve” 

The IAPF is featured in the March 2012 issue of National Geographic, in an article entitled Rhino Wars.

Voice of America radio interview with Damien Mander

Special Forces operative teaches military tactics to wildlife rangers Jan 30, 2012 Online article and Radio Interview with Damien Mander on Voice of America – heard daily by 123 million people in 44 countries, VoA is one of the worlds biggest radio networks. Click here to listen to the interview

Green Army – The IAPF on Aljazeera – November 12, 2011

One of the world biggest and most respected news network Al Jazeera travelled to Zimbabweto film a feature story about the IAPF’s fight to save the black rhino and their Green Army of Rangers

Protecting the Voiceless : A personal view

As I patrol through the bush with rangers to my left and right, shadowing a couple of black rhino late on a moonlit night, I pinch myself, still surprised to find myself here.

I have to admit that growing up I was never that concerned about the conservation of animals nor thought much about their rightful place on the earth.  Like many other young contractors earning big dollars in the Middle East, I was more concerned with the material than anything else.  But when I headed to Africa a few years ago and witnessed the destruction first hand, something changed. I realised there is more to life than looking after number one.

Why shouldn’t a rhino, which hasn’t had the need to evolve for thousands of years, have the right to feel safe in its natural environment? Or an impala, be able to roam free without being so callously caught in a snare to suffer a long, slow, painful death?

Steve instructing rangers on the finer points of Cannulation

I feel extremely privileged to be a part of the IAPF.  To be working with such committed, passionate people, united by a single goal, is inspiring.  To see what the organisation has achieved in such a short space of time is awesome.

But in front of us we have a massive task. As well as consolidating the training academies and anti-poaching units that are under our control, we are constantly refining tactics and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in the ever-evolving war on poaching.  Additionally, we now have the momentous task of resurrecting Chizarira National Park in north western Zimbabwe. Large as it may be (about 200 000 hectares) I have no doubt we will revive “The Forgotten One”, as it is called, back to its former glory.

The academy and surrounding reserve in Victoria Falls is a great proving ground for new tactics and techniques. If our methods work on a relatively small property like this, then we can adapt them for a much larger place such as Chiz.

Steve Mcqueen has made a comeback!

One of our greatest hopes in this regard, which we hope to achieve with increased funding, will be to launch an unmanned drone over Chiz.  I have witnessed the value of drones in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and Sea Shepard have recently started using them in their operations in the Southern Ocean. The effectiveness of drones would be invaluable, and practically unparalleled in anti-poaching operations

But all of this would not be possible if not for you guys, our faithful donors and supporters. Thank you and please keep up the support.

Steven Dean

IAPF Operations manager


Understanding Conservation

Today we patrolled from early AM to beat the heat and to look for signs that poachers had been in the area, taking advantage of what is left of the last full moon. Everything was calm and the animals continue to live here unaware of the daily threat on their lives.

Despite the threat it has been another beautiful day in Africa. The sun is now setting over the lake in typical African fashion. We count ourselves lucky for the daily reminder of its brilliance. Elephant are rolling amongst the birds in the shallows, cooling off after a long hot day. I’m also cooling off with an ice cold can of Zambezi lager. Our plan for 2012 has been clearly mapped out. Our main priorities are the academies and anti-poaching operations in Zimbabwe and South Africa and the project in Chizarira. We receive requests for assistance daily from around the world, but available resources limit our capacity to deploy everywhere.

All he needs is a beer!

South Africa’s rhino population was decimated in 2011. 443 rhinos slaughtered for their horn, up from 333 the previous year. JC Strauss is heading up the Eco-Ranger academy for IAPF in South Africa, supported by a team of instructors. Our aim is to train as many rangers as possible in South Africa to be able to protect their rhino. We see the rhino as the hardest animal to protect. If we can protect the rhino we can protect everything in the ecosystem from poachers.

I often find myself wondering how we are ever going to defeat the enormity of the problem we face. As the Far East continues to expand, so does their insatiable appetite for anything we try to protect. As always, with these brief feelings of looming hopelessness, an email will come in offering support in some capacity, be it either a few words of encouragement, a story of success or an offer to volunteer time and services. The selflessness of many people never ceases to amaze me. We must continue to forge together in order to make it through these tough times.

I will leave you with this short quote, written by a well known environmentalist in 1968.

“For in the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught” Baba Dioum

Sunset @ IAPF HQ

We want you to continue understanding about the struggle our world’s wildlife is facing so you can help us with solutions. Please now go to the right hand column and enter your email address to register for our regular blogs.

Thank-you all.

Damien Mander

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