A DECORATED Solihull war hero who threw himself on a Taliban grenade to save the lives of his comrades is on a new mission to protect endangered rhinos and elephants from poachers.
Ex-Royal Marine Lance Corporal Matt Croucher, who was awarded the George Cross for selflessly smothering a grenade with his backpack, has launched his own animal welfare charity.
Action Against Poaching (AAP) will see Matt passing on the skills and training learnt through his Royal Marine years, to support the Chengeta Wildlife organisation’s rangers in their fight against the armed and dangerous poachers.
Speaking to the Observer, Matt said: “I founded AAP to combat the rise of poaching in Africa.
“I served in Afghanistan and Iraq and now I want to put my skills and expertise to good use.”
Growing up in Solihull surrounded by dogs, former Lyndon School pupil Matt describes himself as an ‘animal lover’.
“I have always been passionate about conservation,” he said.
“But in the last two or three years I made the decision that I needed to do something about what is happening to rhinos and elephants across Africa.”
Fuelled by the Chinese medicine trade’s demand for tusks and horns, some experts suggest Africa’s rhinos could be extinct within the next 10 years if nothing is done to save them.
Matt added: “I read an astonishing figure a few weeks back that suggested around 40 per cent of Chinese people thought elephants’ tusks grew back once they had been cut off.
“This is just so far from the truth – tusks do not grow back and poachers brutally slaughter the elephants to be able to get hold of them.
“It just proves how important education is.”
Once the on-the-ground, practical support arm of the charity is up and running later this year, Matt hopes to expand it into a ‘two-pronged attack on poaching’.
Using education as a tool, Action Against Poaching will encourage local communities in countries across Africa to turn their back on poaching as a source of revenue and instead look to using the environment and animals to attract tourists.
From there, he hopes the charity will be able to stop poaching at the source by branching out into Asia to educate against the use of horns and tusks.
But Matt also envisages another use for the charity – helping former servicemen and women who are injured or finding assimilating back into civilian life by offering them the chance to join the charity out in Africa.
He explained: “There are a lot of transferable skills going from the marines or the services to the work we’re doing combatting poaching.
“While my role as a reserve in the Royal Marines is now very much part-time, I am hoping to use my connections within the military to reach out to other servicemen and women who may not be adapting well to civilian life or who are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and offer them an opportunity that could prove beneficial and therapeutic for them.”
Looking to the future, Matt is hoping he can persuade the animal-loving and altruistic Prince Harry, who he has met at numerous charity events, to show to support Action Against Poaching’s work.
“It is a huge asking, but our aim is to be part of the efforts which eradicate poaching all together,” Matt concluded.
“There are a lot of hurdles – political and practical – but I am hopeful that in three to five years we will have successfully combatted poaching and reduced the number of these magnificent animals that are brutally, and meaninglessly killed every day.”
Action Against Poaching welcomes donations through its crowdfunding page at www.actionagainstpoaching.org/ and is also on the hunt for interested corporate sponsors.
Visit www.facebook.com/actionagainstpoaching or follow @ActionAgainstP to keep up-to-date with their latest work.