Tampa veteran fights poaching in Africa

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Poaching is pushing elephants and rhinos to the brink in Africa.

Their numbers are crashing and these magnificent animals could go extinct in our lifetime.

But Ryan Tate of Tampa is determined that won't happen on his watch.

He and his team are taking on poachers on the front lines of the war for Africa’s wildlife.

Tate founded Vetpaw, an organization dedicated to exposing the realities of poaching. Tate recently worked on a docuseries for Animal Planet called “Night Raid: Blood Ivory.”

Tate spends much of his life in the bush in Africa, helping park rangers in stop poachers. Tate says he’s yet to have an animal poached on his watch.

"The more animals under Vetpaw, the better," Tate said.

Tate founded Vetpaw after serving in the Marines on the front lines in Ramadi.

"During my time in Iraq, I spent a lot of my time in the larger cities and saw a lot of things people usually don't like to see," Tate said in an interview taped for the “Blood Ivory.”

And he didn't like what he saw on TV one night; elephants and rhinos being slaughtered for their ivory tusks.

That's when the 2003 Plant High School graduate, nicknamed Ryno - decided to do something about it.  He called some fellow Marines and went to war again against poachers.

"This is a war. 100 percent," Tate said. "It's counterinsurgency 101, as well. This is an enemy that you can't see, just like in Iraq. They blend in."

His Vetpaw team works with the rangers, sharing what they've learned as Marines to help them defeat poachers before they’re able to kill.

Sometimes that means being right there in the danger zone, as captured in “Blood Ivory.”

"The same people that traffic drugs, arms, humans and commit terrorist activities are the same people that are poaching the wildlife,” Tate explained.

He says poaching is organized crime and terrorists - even Isis - are involved.

The numbers are staggering and unsustainable. Up to 100 elephants are killed every day for their ivory.

Rhinos are being wiped out by the thousands. One species is already extinct.

It's a daunting task, but Tate says Vetpaw won't stand down.

“We can't stop. We absolutely can't stop. We'll lose the species,” he said.

Vetpaw stands for Veterans Empowered to Protect Africa Wildlife.

Ryan won't say how many parks they're helping, but they expect to add to the list this year.

You can follow them and learn more about Vetpaw on their website and Facebook page.