These post 9/11 veterans are part of a group called VETPAW—Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife—on a mission to help save critically endangered elephants and rhinos.
VETPAW: Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife
These highly trained soldiers, having fearlessly fought overseas serving the United States, are now fighting a new battle: to halt wildlife poaching in Africa. These team of post 9/11 Marine veterans are tackling the front lines in Africa. Their mission, to help save elephants and rhinos, some of which are critically engendered. They’re part of a group called VETPAW, Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife.
Marine veteran takes matters into his own hands to protect endangered species
U.S. Marine veteran Ryan Tate saw a documentary on animal poaching one night. "On the show there were some poachers, and instead of shooting the animal, they got a hold of a shootable tranquilliser. It doesn’t make a loud gunshot noise," Tate told Grit Daily in 2019. "They darted a female rhino. She went to sleep and they hacked her horn off." Things went from bad to worse.
“She woke up and conservationists found her and wanted to help, but she kept running. She was confused. She was scared. The rhino ended up bleeding out and dying."
That was all it took for Tate to take matters into his own hands and do something about it. That was when he left his job at the U.S. State Department providing security for foreign diplomats and started non-profit VETPAW (Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife).
Tate used the connections he had made while working at the State Department to start working with the federal wildlife parks in Tanzania. He flew over and funded it with his own money. His first order of business was to find out what skill sets the park rangers possessed. He found they excelled at tracking animals, so he combined that with his military skills to create a training program. The rangers lacked the medical training necessary for an operation so far from a hospital.
"Not a single ranger knew first aid, CPR, nor had they ever seen a tourniquet," Tate said. "We had rangers dying of Malaria. It was unbelievable and so mind-blowing to introduce a tourniquet and antibiotics to rangers. We bring them medical supplies. Some of these guys didn’t even have heels or soles on their boots. They had holes in them. We gave them our boots and we ran around in gym shoes."
Animal poachers in Africa are extremely dangerous and rangers are often outgunned
It’s been reported that a kilo of rhino horns is worth up to $65,000. The demand comes from East Asia, where rhino horn is seen as a medicine and a status symbol. It’s met with international networks linking poor villages in South Africa with traffickers and then people who buy it. Law enforcement turns a blind eye and corruption continues.
As Tate explained to Grit Daily, "Wildlife trafficking is one of the top five international crimes. Rhino horns and elephant tusks are very much part of this. When you start messing with their bottom lines, which could be a million dollars for one horn, you get some very dangerous people who take notice."
Over the past year, Tate and his crew of over 30 veterans trained the rangers and patrolled up to 100,000 acres. They also work with local law enforcement to find poachers in nearby neighborhoods and have them arrested.
Find them on Facebook or visit their website where vets can apply to join the fight. You can also make a donation, as well as sign up for a 10-day experience for which all the proceeds fund VETPAW.
JOIN THE FORCE FOR NATURE! PROTECTING WILDLIFE ON THE FRONTLINES
Support Veterans. Protect Wildlife. Get updates from the field on VETPAW’s missions, volunteer opportunities, and giveaways for their Rhino Conservation Experience! Your support employs U.S. veterans in the fight against poaching and endangered species extinction and helps support African communities.