But to people like Mander, founder and chief executive officer of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) – registered in Houston, headquartered in Zimbabwe, and training rangers across Southern Africa – the way the world is fighting back against this sophisticated new enemy is failing. What's needed, according to this military man, and to growing numbers siding with him in an acrimonious debate among conservationists, is total war on the poachers. Mander's philosophy, at its core, is simple: You don't want to show up at a gunfight armed only with good intentions.
"Look, I get it that we need to win the hearts and minds of the people living around here so they turn against the poachers," he says, sotto voce, leaning against the Land Rover while still looking through the night scope. "Hearts and minds: It rolls off the tongue so easily, but when has it really worked, shifting an entire population to your side? It didn't work in Iraq against the insurgency. It didn't work in Afghanistan against the Taliban. And it's not yet working in Africa against poachers.
"Meantime," he adds, "while we're trying to win people [over], tens of thousands of animals are being killed every year. We need to do something now, on the ground, to stop the hemorrhaging. Otherwise there won't be anything left by the time we've won all the hearts and minds."
Mander's urgency is not misplaced. Poachers in South Africa killed the equivalent of one rhino every eight hours in 2013. They hacked or sawed off their horns and sold them on the world market for as much as $27,000 per pound – more than the price of gold. That makes the average horn on the average rhino worth close to a quarter-million dollars.