A former special ops sniper and hunter has revealed why he stopped killing animals and started protecting them in an inspiring video shared by Million Dollar Vegan (MDV).
MDV is an advocacy organization which encourages and supports people to sign its 31-day pledge and give a plant-based diet a go. In the past, MDV has offered to make $1,000,000 dollar charity donations if Pope Francis and Donald Trump signed the pledge.
Those who take part will be offered recipes, health and nutrition advice, and a free Vegan Starter Kit featuring meal plans, tips on where to eat out, and answers to tricky questions
Damien Mander, founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), told MDV how his parents split up when he was a young child, and he moved schools. At his new school, he 'had the sh*t beaten out of [him] every day', which he says made him try to be a 'macho, tough guy' to avoid being in that position again. He adds that maybe he 'had to go through that process' to become the person he is today.
"You know I was desperate growing up, desperate for this sort of macho acknowledgment," he says. "And that's actually what led me into hunting. I was trying to evoke some form of primal respect from my peers, and so I took aim at the vulnerable.
"Would I change anything going back? No, because...it gives me a strong voice to speak to who I used to be. Look, three years in Iraq will give you a different lens through which to see the world, and this macho barrier I had around me, that got destroyed in Iraq. When you see people's country and culture obliterated and know that you're a part of that for whatever reason, fighting the arguments of old men."
Time for reflection
He says leaving that gave him 'time to reflect' - and that reflection led to growth. Mander never hunted again after Iraq, saying he 'knew what it was like to be hunted'.
He went to Africa, where he witnessed the work of rangers, who were fighting poaching and protecting animals for little monetary reward - a plight he found inspiring, 'in a world where it's hard to be genuinely inspired'.
He learned more about the animals being hunted and killed for no reason - elephants, rhinos, and more - and says he had the skills to go out and stop those animals from being killed. According to MDV, the trip inspired him to found the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF). Soon after, Mander decided that, as a meat-eater, he was no better than a poacher, and immediately went vegan.
"It's unfortunate that the world needs guys like me with the skills that I have to protect the natural world," he says. "But this is what we've created for ourselves to manage. And it's evolved now...we have a growing army of women* that are developing their own communities and in the process protecting millions of acres of land. And in those areas is everything...everything in this rich tapestry of biodiversity, upon which our future as a civilization is depending."
*The army of women is the Akashinga (which means 'brave ones') - 'a community-driven conservation model, empowering disadvantaged women to restore and manage a network of wilderness areas. James Cameron has just executive produced a short film about the Akashinga.