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This Australian Sniper Is Now Leading A Fight To Defend Endangered Wildlife From Slaughter

Damien Mander has saved huge populations of elephants and rhinos from being slaughtered.

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Photo Credit: Getty

Elias Marat, The Mind Unleashed

Australian combat veteran Damien Mander had a world of options before him after he returned from his tour of the Middle East.

But the former special ops war-fighter chose to devote his life to defending helpless wild animals from facing slaughter at the hands of illegal poachers.

Damien Mander had completed three years in Iraq where he trained and deployed paramilitary forces to the front lines of combat.

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The toughest journeys are the least pursued ones, but they are the most rewarding. A comfortable life is a dangerous life, and I highly advise against it. Out there, amongst it all, awaits an unbiased and blank canvas. A path that is yet to be carved. A life that is yet to be lived. A story waiting to be written. To walk a beaten track is to follow in familiar footsteps. At some point, if you want to search for something undiscovered, that safe, easy to follow path has to be abandoned. And then shit gets real. Then life really starts. – – Many grey hairs ago… In a galaxy far, far away, September 11 changed the world for a lot of people. It changed the world for me. As a response, the Australian government formed Tactical Assault Group-East (TAG-E). A special operations, direct action and hostage recovery unit. After enduring the mental torture of selection, I came across to TAG-E from the Navy into Water Platoon. I’d been there only two days before being told I was being sent to sniper school. Talk about a fish (Navy Diver) out of water. The Army lads beat me into shape pretty quickly in what I’d say would be the most extreme learning curve I’ve ever encountered.- – Special operations gave me the qualifications I needed to head to Iraq as a private contractor. Iraq gave me the money, life lessons and desperation needed to set up the IAPF. IAPF gave me the purpose I needed to be all I could dream to be in life. – – We all have a path waiting to be carved. And no one will do it for us. If they try – run. Only you can cut your own path. Anything handed to you is a disservice. – – #ClearanceDiver #IAPF #AntiPoaching #Purpose #Vegan #PlantBased #Nature #Sniper #SpecialOperations #Dream #Animals

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Before that, he had served as a special operations sniper in the Australian Army’s Special Forces 2nd Commando Regiment, as well as a Navy Clearance Diver—the Royal Australian Navy equivalent to the U.S. Navy SEALs.

The 40-year-old could well have transitioned into a life of leisure since he had an impressive property portfolio back home.

Instead, Mander visited Africa for a six-month tour where he was exposed to the bloody world of illegal animal poaching in a journey through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The eye-opening experience changed his life forever and convinced the veteran to devote his life to protecting wild creatures with no means to protect themselves from those who would track, hunt, and slaughter them and their parts for any price.

He told LADBible:

After Iraq I was looking for the next adventure and [a trip to Africa] just seemed like it was going to be a six-month thing to do.

When I travelled around the continent, I was inspired by the work that the rangers were doing.

They have something really worthwhile fighting for: giving up everything, being away from their family for so long each year defending the natural world.

I had just come from Iraq where we were looking after dotted lines on a map and resources in the ground and it made me reflect on who I was as a person.

It was at that point when the animal-loving war vet decided to sell off all of his properties back home to fund his new passion project: International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) and a ranger training academy in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Just as he once trained militia forces in Iraq his foundation now teaches rangers how to covertly track poachers, remain cloaked and camouflaged, conduct ambushes, carry out arrests, and preserve crime scenes.

While the work clearly draws from Mander’s military skills as a fighter, one of the most essential tools was one he learned during his occupation duties in the war-torn Middle East: to win over the hearts and minds of an often-hostile local population, a problem his military “failed” to grasp during the war.

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Earlier this year, Matt Shapira's beautiful artwork and generosity helped raise many yearly salaries for new recruits! Matt's elephant painting on a vintage map made it all the way to Zimbabwe, thanks to Erin Haley. She attended a fundraising event in Colorado hosted by Next Wave Impact and was outbid on one of Matt’s paintings. Afterwards, she got in touch with us to ask if she could commission a painting with her donation. Matt agreed. When it was ready to be shipped, she decided to gift it to the rangers as a token of appreciation for doing one of the hardest jobs there is: saving the natural world. The painting will be hanging in the new ops center being built as we speak. One of our goals is to create a reality in which elephants are treated as carefully as one of these century year-old vintage maps. Elephants, like any species, should be allowed to live out their lives as they wish, to their fullest extent. IAPF is hard at work, making this a reality for more and more wildlife each day. Happy World Elephant Day! #IAPF #Akashinga #WorldElephantDay #talesleftunsaid #elephants #africanelephant #trunksup #elephantlovers #jointheherd #conservation #savetheelephants #saynotopoaching #elephantlove #wildlifeconservation #endwildlifecrime #thisisafrica #bekindtoelephants #saveelephants #worthmorealive #stoppoaching @roaming__elephant @africanveganonabudget @damien_mander @kellyhazelking

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Mander explained:

Beyond the guns and ammo are the lessons I learned in Iraq that have really been the biggest benefit to what we do.

The ability to get the local population on side, get the hearts and minds, that’s more important than anything else and it’s something that we completely failed at in Iraq. We’re able to take those failures from Iraq and turn them into a positive.

So far his efforts have seen a 90% drop in rhino poaching activities in Kruger National Park—which lies along South Africa’s border with Mozambique—where the creatures are coveted by buyers and dealers for their valuable horns. Mander’s team was eventually able to drive out poachers entirely.

By 2016, rhino poaching had finally begun to drop for the first time in a decade. Mander said:

The rate of incursions of poachers into Kruger National Park, about 75 per cent of those were attributed as coming from Mozambique into Kruger and with the operations established on that side of the border that dropped to around 30 per cent.

We got a lot of credit for that, got a lot of kudos.

Further north in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls all attacks on rhinos were put to a halt thanks to the IAPF. However, there was no shortage of friction between the Aussie adventurer and poor locals.

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FIELD REPORT: Recently the International Anti-Poaching Foundation’s (IAPF) Akashinga rangers intercepted a team of three suspected poachers entering Zimbabwe’s World Heritage Listed Mana Pools National Park armed with cyanide, axes and knives. Further information passed to the Akashinga team resulted in a joint operation with the Minerals Flora & Fauna Unit (MFFU) of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), netting the arrest of a fourth suspect who allegedly supplied the cyanide to the would be poachers. Cyanide is sometimes used to kill elephants and other wildlife without force as it is cheap and quiet to use. It is placed near watering holes, on oranges or rock salt where the unsuspecting animals will be baited. The suspect being implicated of supplying the cyanide works in Mberengwa’s mining industry. Miners use cyanide concentrate during the separation process of gold from bulk ores. It exists in two forms, gas and crystal (see small white ‘balloons’ confiscated in photo above). This inhumane method of poaching works quickly, as cyanide cuts off the oxygen supply. Cyanide use in poaching is an ongoing problem in Zimbabwe so these types of arrests are a significant ‘win’ for wildlife. Cyanide is easily obtained illegally, so monitoring and protecting these areas remains a vigilant task. The suspects will appear in Kariba Magistrates Court. Thank you to all those involved in this operation. To support our continued work, please follow link in bio. #IAPF #Akashinga #antipoaching #rangers #wildlife #conservation #zimparks #racingextinction #savetheelephants #elephants #womenempowerment #womenwholead #africa #socialmovements #illegalwildlifetrade #stopivorytrade

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For Mander, the problems of prolonged conflict had begun to reveal themselves and it was necessary to change the strategic approach. He explained:

We had helicopters, drones, canine attack teams, military grade hardware [but] we had this ongoing conflict with the local population and while we might have won that battle overall, what we were doing was not sustainable.

We were saving rhinos and we were having a war with the local population on a continent that is going to have two billion people on it by 2040.

To get the support of the locals Mander decided to begin integrating female rangers into his team. Many of them are themselves victims of predatory attacks such as serious sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender violence in their communities.

The all-female units are now the most elite force within the foundation with 120 rangers having already carried out 140 arrests.

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Throwback Thursday alert! Remember when these amazing LEADRangers graduated? Here they are, celebrating right after the ceremony. We’re immensely proud that all participants persevered through to completion of the course. This is commendable, as there was a stringent selection process prior to attending—and the standards and pace remain high the whole time. After the graduation ceremony, they each returned to their own units across the continent as qualified instructors and leaders, ready to work with and train their fellow rangers with new lifesaving skills so they can more effectively end poaching and degradation of wild lands. Visit the link in our bio to learn more about their training, graduation, and a recap of what they've accomplished with their time at our LEADRanger facility. LEADRanger empowers the next generation of frontline conservation leaders⁣⁣. It is a collaborative initiative of @int.anti.poaching.foundation, the @thingreenlinefoundation, and @rangercampus⁣⁣. @lead_ranger @rangerboris @dominiquenoome ___________________ #IAPF #Akashinga #LEADRanger #TBT #throwbackthursday #standwithrangers #leadership #antipoaching #rangers #wildlife #conservation #racingextinction #elephants #wildlifeconservation #inspiration #animallove #protect #leadbyexample ⁣⁣#theresnoiinteam #wildlifeprotection ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣#lawenforcement⁣⁣ #humanrights⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣#savetheelephants #thisisafrica #illegalwildlifetrade #saynotoivory #defender #endwildlifecrime #myafrica #endangeredspecies

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Mander has a sharp message and basic appeal to the humanity of the poachers. He said:

We are one of millions of species on this planet but we’re the only one that determines what level of suffering and destruction is acceptable for all others.

We sit here talking about different species going extinct but the reality is if we don’t look after this one beautiful backyard we’ve been given it’s not the elephant or the rhino that’s going extinct; it’ll be us.

We need to decide if we want to be part of the future and if we do, we need to make changes.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Drone Captures One of the Largest Swarms Of Sea Turtles Ever Filmed

“This is the only time I’ve seen a video capturing this phenomenon in the water.”

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Drone Captures One of the Largest Swarms Of Sea Turtles Ever Filmed
Photo Credit: National Geographic

Jade Small, The Mind Unleashed 

Nature has the most amazing sights and surprises to offer and being in the right place at the right time while being able to capture it on film is every wildlife photographer’s dream.

Thankfully, wildlife photographers share their amazing work with those who can only dream of experiencing the unique and extraordinary bounty nature has to offer for themselves.

Biologist Vanessa Bézy was studying the olive ridley sea turtles and their reproduction. While flying her drone over the Costa Rica coastline, she captured what is likely to be the largest swarm of sea turtles on film.

Thousands of turtles were swimming across a region off the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge.

Bézy said:

“I immediately knew there was something special going on. To this day I’m still blown away by the video. They look like bumper cars out there.”

Ostional National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983 specifically for the turtles. Although the olive ridley is the most abundant sea turtle of the seven turtle species in the world, they are considered a vulnerable species and conservationists fear that swarms of this size may be the last ever seen.

Roldán Valverde, scientific director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy in Florida, said:

“This is the only time I’ve seen a video capturing this phenomenon in the water. Most of the photography documenting this occurs on the beach.”

Bézy’s wish is to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the olive ridley and that her footage will help in the efforts to maintain healthy population numbers.

Few nesting sites remain globally and Bézy is concerned that the booming tourism industry around nesting beaches will have a devastating effect on their numbers, especially since regulations to protect the nesting sites don’t seem to be enough.

Unfortunately, the olive ridley hatchlings survival rate into adulthood is very low which means that any additional threats to the population will likely have a negative impact.

Bézy is investigating the reason for the great numbers of olive ridley sea turtles gathering in that particular area between August and October which could include factors such as the type of sand, the beach orientation, and sea currents. Finding the answer could help put measures in place to increase the survival rate of the species.

Sea turtles swim thousands of miles through our oceans during their lifetimes. They are only able to reproduce after decades and females return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. Although females often lay hundreds of eggs in one nesting season, few hatchlings will survive their first year of life and those who do face growing human caused threats such as being caught in commercial fishing gear, illegal trade, consumption, climate change, and pollution.

Diminishing numbers in sea turtle populations have devastating effects on marine ecosystems. WWF (World Wildlife Organization) explains their importance:

“Sea turtles are a fundamental link in marine ecosystems. They help maintain the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs that benefit commercially valuable species such as shrimp, lobster, and tuna. Sea turtles are the live representatives of a group of reptiles that have existed on Earth and travelled our seas for the last 100 million years. Turtles have major cultural significance and tourism value. Five of the seven species are found around the world, mainly in tropical and subtropical waters. The remaining two species, though, have relatively restricted ranges: Kemp’s ridley is found mainly in the Gulf of Mexico and the flatback turtle around northern Australia and southern Papua New Guinea.”

By Jade Small | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Morgan Freeman Turns His 124-Acre Ranch Into Huge Honey Bee Sanctuary To Save The Bees

Morgan Freeman converted his 124-acre Mississippi ranch into a gigantic honeybee sanctuary to save threatened bee colonies.

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Morgan Freeman Turns His 124-Acre Ranch Into Huge Honey Bee Sanctuary To Save the Bees
Photo Credit: Truth Theory

Morgan Freeman has long been known for having a voice of gold, using his clout and vocal talents for such worthy causes as environmental conservationist group One Earth. But it has also become apparent that the beloved actor also has a heart of gold–especially now that he has devoted his ranch to helping save honeybees.

The 81-year old actor took up beekeeping on his 124-acre Mississippi ranch as a simple hobby in 2014, largely in reaction to the mass die-offs that were occurring and continue to this day.

To kick off his efforts, he had 26 bee hives shipped to his ranch from Arkansas, where they are fed a healthy diet of sugar and water while surrounded by a wide variety of pollinator friendly plants and flowers.

In an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Kimmel, he explained that his relationship with the bees was one of mutual respect.

Freeman explained:

“I have not ever used the beekeeping hat with my bees. They haven’t stung me yet, as right now I am not trying to harvest honey or anything, but I just feed them … I also think that they understand, ‘Hey, don’t bother this guy, he’s got sugar water here.’”

Continuing, Freeman stressed the vital importance of bees to our eco-system and the need to increase efforts to save them. He added:

“There is a concerted effort for bringing bees back onto the planet … We do not realize that they are the foundation, I think, of the growth of the planet, the vegetation … I have a lot of flowering things, and I have a gardener too.”

“As she takes care of the bees too, all she does is figure out, ‘OK, what would they like to have?’ so we have got acres and acres of clover, and we have some planting stuff like lavender, I have got like, maybe 140 magnolia trees, big blossoms.”

Government agencies like the EPA and the scientific community in general have been sounding the alarm in recent years over Colony Collapse Disorder–a situation many fear could become an existential crisis for bee populations around the globe. Studies have largely blamed the overuse of toxic pesticides called neonicotinoids for the crisis, among other factors.

Just this week, Forbes noted:

“Research, published in the journal Science, links the declining bee populations to a combination of parasites, pesticides and habitat loss. While there is no evidence that bees are going to become extinct anytime soon, the decline of bee populations will continue to have ripple effects on wild vegetation and agricultural crops around the world.”

Under the Trump administration, the EPA has opened the floodgates on the use of bee-killing neonicotinoids by big agriculture, clearing sulfoxaflor–an insecticide considered “very highly toxic” to bees by the agency–for use on over 16 million acres of crops that attract bees. In combination with the proliferation of insect resistant GMO crops, bee populations have continued to plummet worldwide.

While Freeman’s efforts may not be enough on their own to turn back the tide of adverse factors facing bees, his example is an inspiring signal that people are beginning to grow more conscious of the winged pollinators’ importance to humanity.

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In Great Barrier Reef, Amazing Photos Captured Of World’s ONLY Pink Manta Ray

The rose-tinted manta ray is named Inspector Clouseau.

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In Great Barrier Reef, Amazing Photos Captured Of World’s ONLY Pink Manta Ray
Photo Credit: Unilad

Elias Marat, The Mind Unleashed

An underwater photographer has captured rare images of the world’s only known pink manta ray, dazzling online observers and marine biologists.

The rose-tinted manta ray is named Inspector Clouseau—in homage to the detective from the Pink Panther films—and is known to dwell near Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Finnish photographer Kristian Laine was fortunate enough to get within touching distance of the rare creature, which was first spotted in 2015 by diving instructor Ryan Jeffery, reports Australian Geographic.

The photographer Kristian Laine bumped into a bubblegum pink manta ray on the Great Barrier Reef – probably a rare mutation, like albinism but oh wow, how beautiful! Follow Kristain on Instagram @kristianlainephotography
for more underwater marvels. pic.twitter.com/BfCBK0jg9a

— Lucy Cooke (@mslucycooke) February 13, 2020

Laine took the brilliant photos some time last year.

He explained to Daily Mail:

“It is very rare because I think there has only been around eight to 10 sightings since the first sighting in 2015.

I felt amazed afterwards but also felt like when I was in its eye level, I felt like he was smiling at me.

He was big and I got into a touch range but obviously didn’t touch, I was super close, about a meter at best.

The whole encounter lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes and he was part of a mating manta train that was just circling around a cleaning station.”

While scientists had initially believed that the manta ray’s pink belly was perhaps a result of a skin infection, the University of Queensland’s Project Manta believes that “the coloration is just an unusual and unique expression of the skin’s melanin.” However, other theories have been floated about why the ray has its unusual pink color.

Laine continued:

“I have read multiple different answers, they have analysed a sample of his skin and they have changed their theories many times and still don’t seem to know for sure.

I think the latest theory is that it’s some sort of a genetic mutation causing a pink of melanin to be expressed.”

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Iconic Photo Shows Orangutan Catching Fish With A Makeshift Spear

One of the most iconic photos ever taken of a primate shows an orangutan hunting for fish with a spear.

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Photo Credit: Truth Theory

John Vibes, Truth Theory

Primates are extremely intelligent creatures, but humans can sometimes forget how similar we are.

One of the most iconic photos ever taken of a primate shows an orangutan hunting for fish with a makeshift spear, using very similar techniques as a human would. The image was captured by Gerd Schuster, who co-authored the book “Thinkers of the Jungle: The Orangutan Report.”

The photo was reportedly taken in Borneo, Indonesia, on the island of Kaja. Schuster says that the animal observed locals fishing with spears in the Gohong River, and began to replicate their techniques.

Eventually, the animal was able to improvise and find a strategy that worked for him, hanging down from a tree and then using a stick as a spear to strike the fish in the water.

The animal was even smart enough to seek out the lines that were set up by the fishermen, which made the task even easier for him.

The authenticity of this photograph was confirmed by Michelle Desilets, executive director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) UK, who said:

“I can confirm that the photo is authentic. It is also backed by the BOS Scientific Advisory Board, including Dr Anne Russon who has done extensive studies of the orangutans on this island. The behaviours including spearfishing and swimming on these islands are not uncommon, and are almost certainly learned behaviours as they have not been seen in wild populations. “

This is not the first or only time that something like this has been captured in photos or videos. More recently, also in Borneo, a wild orangutan was observed helping a man who was wading through snake-infested waters.

An amateur photographer named Anil Prabhakar was on a safari with friends at a conservation forest run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) when he witnessed the scene.

Prabhakar was able to capture a photo of the moment, which showed one of the island’s critically endangered apes extending a hand to help a man out of unsafe water.

By John Vibes | TruthTheory.com | Republished with permission

The views in this article may not reflect editorial policy of Collective Spark.

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