The mist floats reluctant to lift, noiseless as it crawls up and over the roof tops. A drowsy murmur floats in the air as the grey morning creeps in, slow and languid. I pick up my copy of ‘A field Manual for Anti-Poaching Activities’ written by Rory Young and Yakov Alekseyev and lose myself in the information.
On page 32…232 of the manual:
‘Normal citizens often require a ‘nudge’ before taking action’.
I stop reading and with my finger tracing over these powerful words, I smile thinking back over the reasons why I had become involved with raising awareness on the plight of the elephants. There are many different reasons. I have spent untold weeks of my life romancing the African bush and elephants, richly endowed with all the better attributes of mankind have ambled through the twilight and past our camp many times, their low rumbles capturing my imagination and my heart. As the early sunrise explodes over the horizon and the breeze caresses the early morning dew, my heart is at one with this sun baked land of extremes and I live for the next moment when I will become aware of that low frequency purr that you can feel rather than hear as these giants ghost into view. As the bright golden sunshine cradles the end of another exciting day, and that special woody smell of mopani smoke lingers on your clothes, Africa, in all its wildness, harshness and beauty would be like an empty shell without elephants, rhinos and other endangered game.
Dedicated to all those brave rangers fighting for the endangered wildlife
I have such a huge admiration for the men on the ground. They are fighting against vicious gangs of poachers..ruthless hardened men. African elephants are being slaughtered at an alarming rate to satisfy the soaring demand for ivory among China’s middle class. Hundreds of rangers have been murdered in the defence of endangered wildlife.
When long shadows and weary strides signal the end of a sultry day, these brave men and women have to rid themselves of the dark hungry presence and repugnant odour of death that clings long after the spent cartridges and freshly mutilated elephants or rhinos have been found. They patrol the sun kissed bush which has turned in a raw and violent battlefield. As stars cool down the darkest sky, the rich smell of evening and fire smoke keeps squadrons of mosquitoes at bay as the young ranger squats, drunk with fatigue and deep in thought as he stares into the rich red smoldering coals. A couple of small children with their somber brown eyes and tight knit curls rough and tumble in the dirt. Puffs of dust freckle lightly over their ebony cheeks. A tinkle of laughter erupts from these two bundles of concentrated energy reminding the young ranger that there is some normality to life despite the constant reminder of this poaching war. The nightmares, set like snap shots in his mind will sneak up on him later in the dead of night. Pulling the two children close, he ruffles their hair..now is family time.
As the morning lays a gentle hand over the peaceful valley, the bush is coming alive with early morning songsters chorusing from the trees. The young man picks up his weapon and laying a gentle hand on each small head, he waves them goodbye stepping out and disappearing into the early shadows of the bush to join his fellow rangers. 10 kilometers further down the river line a small herd of elephants feel the throb of the valley beneath their feet. They have left behind a night full of hovering moths and a galaxy of mosquitoes. Their large trunks swing freely and they are fully engaged in the beauty surrounding them. Two small calves are being raised within this warm and loving environment and their confidence is obvious as they frolic with exuberance and noisy splendour. There is always a large muscled trunk caressing or guiding an infant through the swirl of dust. Gentle rumbles vibrate on the breeze and there is a feeling of calm. The matriarch has led this herd for 25 years now and her daughters are learning the journey through her memory. They are a close knit family group.
‘KKKKKK’ the angry bark of automatic rifles explodes and the sky bursts open. The small herd of unsuspecting elephants are hard hit and they crash one after the other into the dry parched earth, their tormented cries piercing through the early morning. The small calf loiters, frightened by the chaos and by the thick odour of blood and smell of gunpowder. She has no where to run and no where to hide. With her small heart hammering she reaches out with her trunk, tentatively smelling and prodding her mother whose eyes stare..unseeing. She has been frozen in time. The small calf is the sole survivor..all that is left from this loving herd. There is a silence of emptiness and melancholy hangs. The trees stand, witnesses to the carnage as the silence shredding cicadas once again saw the air.
Using axes the poachers work quickly to remove the tusks before evaporating into the bush, their blood stained shoulders bearing the brunt of their ill gotten gains. The young ranger and his group have heard the shots and are moving towards the killing grounds, their expressions tense and their brows furrowing with concentration and it is a couple of hours later that they stumble into the nightmare of torn flesh. Stopping briefly, they decide on their course of action, and picking up the tracks, they follow. They track for a few hours and covering a huge distance. The young ranger, a deep anger burning within his chest did not stand a chance. The poachers came upon him all silent and menacing..a phalanx of ruthless killers. His untrained follow up had him walking straight into their ambush and into automatic fire. Fortunately for them, his colleagues who were lagging way behind, stop to help him and once again the poachers slip the net.
She looked stricken, shrunken and immensely old as they laid him gently down onto the sheet on the floor of the room. Two pairs of huge round eyes swimming with tears peer out from behind her garish skirt. He will never lay a gentle hand on their heads again.
The air is no longer filled with shouts of laughter, giddiness and urgency. Outside, the blood red streaks of twilight are fading fast. Under the grotesque limbs of the listening tree, the small elephant calf, the tip of her trunk stained rusty red stands dejected and lost. The empty skies stares down. Two families from two species have lost loved ones….
The mutilated bodies of elephants are left behind in the bush but their personal treasures or white gold leaves a trail of blood that stretches from Africa by air, sea and highway into Chinese carving factories. China has 37 licensed carving factories and calls to shut down these factories are studiously ignored. Zhao Shucong is the man who approves the licensing of these state sanctioned factories…all in the name of ivory trinkets.
China…this is the tortured scene of desolation and loss..the true cost of ivory trinkets. Lives are being destroyed by the unquenchable lust for ivory. China..close down the ivory carving factories.
For anti-poaching activist and forestry expert Rory Young, his passion for saving the African elephant from deadly poachers involves this detailed field manual and arming local teams with firearms to combat what he calls, “well-armed, ruthless and experienced gangs of poachers.
Rangers and scouts are brave men who risk their lives to protect wildlife. They may face heavily armed poachers, sometimes ex-guerrilla fighters hired by ivory smuggling syndicates. These rangers need to have the best training and anti-poaching strategy possible and that is what Chengeta Wildlife provide.
I had been lost in thought and once again look down on the ‘Field Manual for Anti-Poaching Activities’ manual sitting on my lap. I feel for these men on the ground who are struggling in this poaching war.I cannot sit and do nothing: I can describe the pain and torment that these animals experience and raise awareness through my writing and poetry. However, I need to do more. This is not a violent storm that is bullying its way through the African bush. This is a dark menacing chaos of greed, corruption and ruthless killers who are turning this sun burnt bush into a wild sweltering inferno: flames devouring any animal with tusks and horns. At the rate these animals are being poached: mortality shadows them.
‘My chosen cause is Chengeta Wildlife and the following infographic has been designed for Chengeta Wildlife with thanks to Joe Chernov, Robin Richards and Leslie Bradshaw. Please share it by any means that you can.’
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
PLEASE DO NOT LOOK THE OTHER WAY
THE RANGERS AND THE WILDLIFE NEED OUR SUPPORT
The Tashinga Initiative