by D R Evans
Ex soldier and policeman comes out of self imposed retirement, to help stop rhino poaching
| Age of Extinction
The reddening sky silhouettes the trees of the Kruger National Park.
Ancient Baobab trees and fruit bearing Marula trees, fading against the oncoming night.
The changing of the guard, as the heat of the African day transforms to the cold of night. Creatures, big and small, begin the ageless rituals, of preparing for the night.
Inhabitants of this wild utopia continue the endless cycle, of finding food and surviving the night.
A young Rhino brakes from the confides of his protective shelter, he runs out to greet the cool evening air. A grunt from the darkness stops the young rhino, he stops, turns around to see his mother's head slip slowly in to the clearing. She moves her massive head around smelling the air for any feint traces of danger. A second grunt signals her young calf that he can carry on. Being one of the biggest animals in the park, was no reason to avoid being vigilant. The wild was no-one's friend. They move till they come to a patch of wild Buffalo grass, where the young rhino and his mother can eat. They have been doing this for as long as the young rhino could remember.
A loud crack startles the young rhino. He stops eating and raises his head, seeking the source of the noise. When he cannot find the source, he turns to see if his mom heard the noise.
When he turns, he sees her lying on the grass her head resting on her front legs. He grunts, waits for her answer, is it safe? He gets no response. He grunts again but still no answer. He walks over to see what his mother is waiting for. When he arrives, she is still lying with their head on her front legs. To him she looks like she is resting, but there is a difference. Where her left eye used to be, there was a giant hole, blood ran down her face.
The young rhino stood looking at his mom not understanding. Then he heard another crack. This time he felt a sting behind his ear. His mother's face started to fade then it disappeared. He falls over dead.
The sound of men breaks the silence. A chain saw revs to life. Two men move the head of the rhino into position while a third man tears through the Rhino horn with a chain saw. A fourth man walks out of the dark, he lifts the baby rhinos head shining a torch on the young rhino. He wipes the blood from it faces. Then he drops it back to the ground.
"hurry up, let's go" he shouts at the men.
"what about the other one?" one of the men inquires.
He waves his hand at the corpse of the baby rhino.
"na, Leave it, waste of time, too small"
The chain saw stops. The men hoist the bloody horn into a bag. They turn back into the bush, disappearing as quick as they arrived.
Within seconds the park is quiet, soon the noises of the veld continue their song.
Bending down, Jake "Coop" Cooper brushed his hands through the thick grass. Beneath the grass, he finds the foot print he is looking for. The old lion had not stayed alive this long without learning how to survive in the veld. He was learning from his mistakes, when he tired, he moved to the longer grass where his foot prints would disappear under the thick kakiu grass.
Coop lost the spoor two hours ago. The heat was drying up any sign of the lion's presence. Tracking over the open Savannah was not as taxing as tracking through the thick grass. The old lion's huge paws leaving deep impressions in the soft sand. The old lion had turned away from of the open plains to move through the grass.
The moisture of the broken grass was all Coop needed, but in the summer heat, the breaks dried before he found them. The lions' movements mingled with the paths of the thousands of animals that pass every day. Then he got the sign he was looking, he had been lucky, the lion had got to close to the deep shade, he sensed the danger. A few tiny blades of grass were still moist and out of place. If he had been a minute later he would have walked straight past. The foot print looked the freshest he had found today. The old lion was tiring.
He had been following the lion for two days now. The old lion had broken the "truce" with the local farmers and killed several cattle. It was always the danger of living this close to one of Africa's biggest game reserves. When wild carnivores get the taste for domestic prey, they do not go back to chasing wild prey. The chase and capture of a wild Buck is dangerous, hard work where as domestic prey are slow and easy prey. When older male lions get chased from the pride by a younger more dominant male, they no longer have the aid of the pride to hunt and feed.
The Chief of the tribe had threatened to poison the lion if it came back.
One of the chief's sons had begged his father not to kill the lion. So the chief compromised, telling his son that he had one week to stop the old lion.
That was four days ago. It had taken a lot of convincing, to get permission from the Game reserve to let Coop hunt the lion.
Coop had told them that if he could not track and capture the lion, he would let the Rangers deal with it.
He had only seen the lion once in the two days. Even staying close had taken every ounce of Coops tracking experience.
Coop heard a rustle from his left. He stopped dead, dropping to his haunches. He looked at the tree to see the wind was blowing from his right.
"sneaky Devil" he thought.
The lion had move up wind of him and was now stalking him. The scent on the wind showing his every move to the lion.
He unstrapped the tranquilliser gun from his back then took out the hypodermic dart from a pouch on his belt. Slipping the dart into the gun he stopped to listen.
It was silent, the lion sensed his caution. Coops body odour changing enough to belay his emotion. The lion broke through the trees, his main blowing behind him. Coop turn to see the lion bearing down on him. He raised the rifle and pulled the trigger. He saw the dart hit its target but the lion showed no sign of slowing his charge.
Coop dropped his hand to a thirteen-inch Bowie Knife in a sheath behind his back. He forced his breath to slow down to a murmur, bringing his heart rate down. He crouched low knife held by his side. He dug in his right leg and waited. The lion leaped, claws out, mouth open. The lion jaws now millimetres from his face gave him a half second to notice the eyes cloud over. At the last moment, Coop turned the knife away from his attacker. 230 kilograms of lion crashed into him, hitting him square in the chest. Coop felt his right shoulder dislocate as he hit the ground. He could feel the hot air from the lion's breath blowing on his cheek, its eyes looking into his, then they closed and they both slumped over.
Coop rolled the lion off his body then felt for a pulse. The pulse was steady and he was satisfied that the lion was not in any danger. He took out the dart and put it in his pouch. He then took out a new tranquilliser this time in a syringe and injected the lion.
"that should hold you for a while" he said.
Coop took out the satellite phone, hit a few buttons and waited.
"it's done" he said.
Coop arrived back home two days later.
For Coop home was a wooden house on the banks of the Limpopo river in Northern South Africa. From his porch, he could look over the mighty Limpopo river. Across the river, he could see two other countries. To the west, he could see Botswana and to the north he could see Zimbabwe.
This had been his home for 5 years now, on a piece of land given to him by the local tribal chief.
Sitting on the porch with his coffee cup and the local Newspaper, Coop looked up to see a white Toyota Landcruiser making its way up the dirt road to his house. Coops house was at the end of a long approach road and he could watch the vehicle coming from over a kilometre away. The dust behind the SUV left trail in the air, giving away the path the vehicle had navigated.
It was an hour before the evening sun set in Africa's southernmost country. Coop was sitting on his porch waiting for the part of his day he always enjoyed the most. The dust trail irritated Coop, he lived in the top most region of South Africa for a reason. Having his "me time" was right up there at the top of the list.
He opened his newspaper to read last night's sport scores but the dust in the distance did not allow him to relax. He folded the newspaper, putting it down on the side table. He stared at the vehicle, now about one hundred meters from his gate.
"fuck" he said.
Then stood up to go greet this "guest"
He motioned to the white Toyota, now on his property. To park under the tree to the left.
Two people were in the SUV that Coop could see. The driver dressed in the green fatigues of SANParks, South Africa's National Parks Board, the people in charge of South Africa's wild life. With him a woman dressed in "Bush Wear" from, what Coop assumed, one the local boutiques in the city.
They climbed out of the vehicle, stretching and straightening clothes. The woman walked around the car hand extended.
Coop nodded and extended his hand.
"my name is Alison Joy. I represent a group individuals and companies looking to procure your services" she said shaking his hand.
The man in green walked over to Coop and extended a hand.
"hi Mr Cooper, my name is Jeffery Makhanya, but all my friends call me Jeff"
"Hello Jeffery" Coop said. "what brings SANSPark out here, I only see you guys when a tourist needs help?"
Jeffery Makhanya waved a hand at Coop.
"ah come on, I like to think we do more than ferry tourist around parks, Mr Cooper." he smiled "we also give them great food"
Coop smiled, he was going to like Jeff, Miss Joy, he was not too sure.
"call me Coop" he said
"well come on in, the kettle has boiled. I will pour a pot and we can get down to the reason you guys have come all this way"
Coop walked back out on to the patio with a pot of coffee and a three tin mugs. He handed his guest a cup each, then filled them while they held them up.
"ok Alison, what do these likeminded groups and companies want from me?"
"Well Mr Cooper, a trust was created by these entities, a trust to save our rhinos'...... "
Coop held up his hand to stop her.
"Alison, if you have come all this way to sign me up to some scheme, some rich individuals came up with, while on a retreat to some wild life sanctuary, you can spare us all the story. I have been living here for five years now, and have known the area most of my adult life. I have seen every type of corporation trying to get some 'Green' recognition, that ends as soon as the publicity dies down. Leaving the local communities to fend for themselves when the poachers take revenge. "
"Mr Cooper" she said, "let me finish my pitch then you can tell me if it is a show or if these guys are for real."
Coop raised his hands.
"ok, so your trip was not a waste of time."
"Unlike other attempts to stop the poaching of Africa's rhino population" she continued "this trust is putting their wallets up as proof of their commitment. The actual individuals and groups making up the trust will all stay anonymous. They will fund the trust but not have their names attached to the trust. I have a director in Johannesburg who will handle the daily running of the trust. We have in turn delegated certain assets to help in the fight. These assets consist of a large wealth of knowledge, from different aspects of the corporate world needed to facilitate the crushing of the world Rhino trade."
She stopped again to assess Coop, and again she got nothing.
"We have experts in shipping, surveillance and Global Information Technologies all ready to join the fight. "
"OK, you have my attention. I take it by Mr Makhaye's presence Government is on board?" Coop said.
"Yes" said Jeff "I will be one of the representatives of SANParks assigned to the trust. My job is to help with any red tape and bureaucracy that has a way of slowing things down."
Coop sat back in his deck chair, he took out his pipe, stuffing it with tobacco. Striking a match on his boot he drew the flame into the pipe. He let out two puffs of smoke then put the pipe down.
"So now let's get to why you are here, in the furthest corner of SA?" Coop asked.
"You Mr Cooper, um Coop, will be our man on the ground. You job will be to find the poachers and show them to us." She said "The syndicates poaching Rhino are huge and very complex. They are well hidden and well versed in smuggling. The only constant we have, is that they must put people in the reserves to do the killing. War ravaged Central Africa has given these syndicates hundreds of willing poachers. Instabilities and poverty in some of these nations create many desperate people. People willing to risk life and limb to get a piece of the action. People who have been brutalised and do not mind brutalising. We will use corporations to catch the corporations but we need a soldier to catch the poachers. "
"so where did you get my name from? My soldering days are long gone. I have not been active in the police for ten years. There must have been other candidates? Younger more current?"
She took out a brown folder from her briefcase. Coop noticed his name on the front. She opened the file.
"We cannot expect to have someone at every poaching hotspot in Africa. So we were given the task of finding operators in the different areas. People who are local and have the experience to monitor and track the poachers to the next stage of their operation. At this stage, bigger teams will take over to track the poachers to the very top."
"and you got my info where?" he asked.
"well, Mr Cooper, "she said "it was not easy, but I am sure you knew that."
"I have tried to stay out of trouble."
"out of trouble" she said "you have tried harder than that."
"it seems not hard enough" Coop said.
"we found you by accident . I few days ago you captured a rogue lion for the Lion sanctuary."
Coop winced, he knew no good deed stayed unpunished.
"we happened to be doing an inspection of the Lion Sanctuary. By happenstance we were shown your lion, who is looking great by the way. They told us the story and well, here we are. We called the local municipality, they gave us Chief Mtuli's contact and he gave us your details."
"I will have to have a word with the chief, he was meant to be my barrier." Said
"well he did not actually give us your details directly, we received a call from his grandson who gave you up. He could not stop talking about you. You are a bit of a hero to him."
"that will teach me to tell him my tall stories.
She turned back to the folder. She held it up to show Coop.
"let's see, conscripted in to the South African Army at eighteen straight out of High School. Signed up to Permanent Force at nineteen. You were deployed to 7 South African Infantry in Northern Zululand. You were in charge of training the army to track insurgences. After your stint with the army, you joined the South African Police Services. Here you were assigned to Special Weapons and Tactics in Johannesburg."