Today, Monday, November 12, is Veterans Day in the United States, a day to honor men and women who have served in the US Armed Forces.
It isn’t always easy for veterans to reacclimatize to civilian life, after the horrors and traumas of combat. Nor is it necessarily simple for veterans to find employment. One refreshing trend we’re seeing, though, is that a number of former military personnel from a variety of countries are getting involved in helping protect wildlife.
The work allows veterans to pursue the kind of service-oriented work that drew them to the military in the first place, as well as use the training they received in the military effectively as part of an anti-poaching force for good.
Here is a small sampling of organizations that are doing great work protecting African wildlife from poaching — and each of these organizations has been named a Moving Giants “Elephant Champion.”
“When I returned to civilian life after the Marine Corps, I lost myself,” said Ryan Tate, founder of Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (VETPAW). “I didn't really know what I was here for. Learning about the brutality of the poaching crisis and the rangers who are dying protecting wildlife, hit me harder than anything I'd ever seen — and I've seen some crazy stuff. I realized I have the skills necessary to help save animals and the people who risk their lives daily."
That’s when Tate knew he wanted to create VETPAW.
Tate had joined the Marines on his 18th birthday in 2001, the same year as the 9/11 attacks in the northeast U.S. ”Several years later, [Tate] was exposed to the atrocities of elephant and rhino poaching, and the devastation it was having on East African communities and wildlife alike. He knew he couldn't sit idly by. All he had to do was consider the men and women he'd served with to see that there is no one better suited to instruct and train park rangers than post-9/11 veterans.”
Tate “is keenly aware that many U.S. veterans are un- or underemployed, and would benefit profoundly from the opportunity to serve in another capacity — one that would save lives. With his military experience, he's able to speak directly to the unique skills that veterans can bring to anti-poaching efforts. He interviewed his colleagues and saw the difficulties and frustrations of men and women who are highly skilled in combat-related areas, but unable to leverage those skills in a conventional civilian setting. They have a continuing dedication to serve others, and [he] helps them channel it.”
Veterans for Wildlife is an international charity, based in the United Kingdom, which, like VETPAW, is “committed to the protection of wildlife and the world's critically endangered species. By deploying highly-skilled and experienced former service personnel, Veterans for Wildlife aims to play a key role in conservation and the prevention of wildlife crime.”
Veterans for Wildlife notes that it has two primary objectives:
“Supporting conservation entities and rangers at the grass roots level” and “The empowerment and development of military veterans.” Both of these goals “offer a unique opportunity to veterans, transitioning into civilian life, to continue to make a positive impact on society.”
Over three years, ex-Australian Special Operations sniper Damien Mander did 12 tours of duty in Iraq. Ten years ago he re-settled to southern Africa, where he is now leading one of the planet’s more unique projects: the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. The IAPF provides training to park rangers — but it focuses on all-women anti-poaching units.
The first, Akashinga, is in Zimbabwe. "Akashinga" means "the brave ones," and indeed, brave ones were needed to protect the "iconic Lower Zambezi ecosystem, which holds one of the largest remaining elephant populations on the African continent. This elephant population has suffered a 40% decline since 2001, mainly due to poaching. Increased efforts in the region by a number of dedicated organisations continue to show promise, however not enough active focus is being placed on the communities. It is the communities where poachers either originate from or pass through to access the area. It is these communities that will ultimately decide the fate of the region and its wildlife.”
“The primary strategy of Akashinga is female empowerment. This generates the greatest leverage in family and community development and conservation becomes a direct beneficiary. The Nature Conservancy states, ‘A growing body of evidence suggests that empowering women is the single biggest force for positive change in the world today.’ Also, the United Nations says: ‘When women work, they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with 35 percent for men.’ ”