Mander returned to Australia. He recalls a barroom chat he had with someone about a man who had gone to Mozambique and was running around with a sniper rifle protecting wildlife against poachers. "I don't remember how the conversation came up, but he said it as a kind of a joke – as the ultimate boy's adventure," he says. The idea appealed to Mander's sense of derring-do, and despite knowing no one in Africa, he bought a one-way ticket to Johannesburg, South Africa, and began contacting wildlife reserves offering to help.
"I can imagine how I looked back then, a white foreigner, a Special Forces background, wanting to run around in Africa and have some fun," he says. He admits he just wanted to live in the wild for a while and post some "cool" pictures on Facebook for his buddies back home.
In Zimbabwe, a wildlife reserve manager with a team of rangers out in the bush decided that hiring Mander was worth a try. At least he thought it could do no harm. So Mander lived with the rangers for six months. Slowly, he came to the realization that here, fighting poachers amid the teak forests and grasslands of the Bushveld, his military skills coupled with his enduring quest for adventure really could have the kind of "positive contribution in a bad situation" that he had hoped for when he was training the police in Iraq.
"I had a personal transformation. I realized out there in the bush that there was something much bigger than myself, and it needed protecting," he says. "I was living out with the guys, teaching them what I knew about military tactics, and they were teaching me about the bush and how to deal with the wildlife. We might be in the African bush here but the principles are no different to the techniques of working around downtown Baghdad."
Seeing the need to teach rangers about military tactics, and using money from investments he had made during his high-paying days in Iraq, Mander set up the IAPF in 2009. To date, it has trained rangers from 10 separate wilderness areas in Zimbabwe and is expanding into Mozambique. IAPF is also leading efforts from South Africa to create an international standard for wildlife rangers around Africa and beyond.