VETPAW is a non-profit organisation founded by former U.S. Marine, Ryan Tate, with the purpose of providing post-9/11 veterans with meaningful employment and to combat elephant and rhino poaching in Africa.
When exposed to the atrocities of the illegal wildlife trade and the devastation it was having on local African communities, Ryan felt compelled to act.
“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. I realised I have the skills necessary to help save animals and the people who risk their lives daily.”
Ryan also recognised an opportunity for the soldiers he had previously served with. Many of them were struggling to find employment. Their expertise, whilst essential in the army, didn’t have a great deal of use in a conventional civilian setting.
Ryan believed that they were ideal for instructing and training African park rangers to combat illegal poachers in order to conserve critically endangered species and their ecosystems.
Through empowering these anti-poaching park rangers with top-level military training and equipment, they are able to cover vast areas more efficiently and effectively pushing the poachers back and increasing the levels of prevention and deterrent.
VETPAW also assembles Quick Reaction Force (QRF) teams comprising of the most advanced rangers. QRF teams are deployed to vulnerable areas and react quickly to any suspicious activity for the purpose of eliminating any potential threats.
VETPAW works closely with national parks, anti-poaching scouts and government agencies by implementing infantry tactics, cooperation and medical training. It also supports local communities by providing education, rehabilitation and alternate employment to ensnared poachers.
The non-profit organisation also provides former U.S. military personnel with altruistic career development opportunities. One such individual is Kinessa Johnson, the heavily inked female U.S. army veteran from Washington, who has become a poster child for the VETPAW cause.
“(VETPAW) was searching for a female to train female park rangers so I applied and was selected,” she said.
Johnson served for four years in the US Army as a weapons instructor and mechanic as well as doing a tour in Afghanistan. She trains rangers in advanced anti-poaching techniques and how to deal with confrontations with illegal poachers.
“Our intention is not to harm anyone; we’re here to train park rangers so they can track and detain poachers and ultimately prevent poaching.”
Despite much misalignment in the press and on social media, Johnson is quick to point out that she’s not the ‘poacher hunter’ she has been painted as.
“I’m a technical adviser to anti-poaching rangers so I patrol routinely with them and also assist in intelligence operations,” she said.
Much like Ryan Tate, Johnson has a passion for wildlife. Both feel strongly about protecting animals and the preservation of endangered species. For them, VETPAW was the perfect solution to utilising their military expertise and ensuring the survival of animals under threat from the illegal wildlife trade.
Pledge your support for VETPAW here.