Rhino War Journal

Journal Entry #2

By Nathan Edmondson

Nathan Edmondson is the president of the non-profit Eco Defense Group. While its work is covert in nature, FE has invited Nathan to share moments afield as EDG trains and equips rangers on the frontlines of Africa’s poaching crisis.  

I shift my weight with care because the dry grass beneath is loud. My thighs ache from the position but I don’t dare move. I sit upright to observe while ahead of me a pair of rangers lie in ambush amid a thicket of buffalo thorn. 

The full moon rises dim and yellow, veiled by the smoke from many distant charcoal fires. That in itself is a tale of deforestation and illegal activity that at night will glow orange on distant hills and mountains, like burning wounds. An outburst of francolin shakes my attention.

The intelligence specialist somewhere to my left shifts as well, and we’re curious if the birds have been spooked by passage or are simply decrying the anxiety of the night. He is only a black silhouette against heavy dry branches and a lavender sky. Everything now is silhouettes.

We know the drop off will happen soon. 

By the breathing of the Ranger ahead of me, I know when he is listening to his earpiece, communicating with the team 200 meters from the main path. We anticipate the poaching team will come this way within moments—or longer if they have been tipped off. 

The mosquitoes attack with frequency and ferocity. My feet burn in my boots. It is chilly now, and the sweat from our infiltration dries against my neck and back quickly. The bush has darkened, the layers of dense brush and foliage a uniform and flat mass against the sky. I turn on my thermal unit and observe an otherwise invisible world.

I hear the snap of a branch; the giveaway of an elephant plodding nearby. A river is not far West, and we hope a hippo doesn’t stumble upon us, nose to the ground and oblivious—a recipe for death. 

Those thoughts are gone quickly as we hear the sound of the approaching group of poachers. I turn on my thermal to look for them; they are hidden behind foliage and far down the game path, but soon I see indications of them, hot white in the gray and black mass. There are three.  

They walk without care; it is obvious they have not been alerted to the operation. My vantage point will be good. I can see the rangers in the grass now, glowing with heat, and when I turn my neck I can see the others bedded down along with the hot breath of the canine.  

The poachers turn, progressing up the path, leading directly into the elite unit of Rangers. Firearms and ax visible—the ax is used to hack the horn from the rhino—they pass now far closer to us than I expect. The rangers are patient. 

I can turn now to see through a gap the open game trail and thereupon they slow to a stop. I turn and look the other way. Behind them in the road, a lone hyena stands watching from behind. I wonder if it is accustomed to their movement and knows that when these poachers pass, death will soon follow, and a feast. I turn back to them.  

Have they sensed the trap? They discuss something, inaudible. The bush is silent save for crickets. I hold my breath.  Then they start again, moving now more furtively it seems, but it is no matter. The dog can wait no longer.  It lifts off the lead and launches, a missile in the dark, bounding over grass and path until it hits the lead poacher so hard he is lifted off the ground.  

With equal speed and dominating presence the rangers rush to the path, surrounding the poachers. Those beside me are up before I even realize it and flank the group. The poachers are the ground; not a shot is fired. The dog holds one down as the others are disarmed. There are shouts of fear from the poachers and command from the rangers.  

I scan behind them. The hyena has not moved.  It stares, watches this alien occurrence in its world, perhaps realizing that tonight there will be no rhino carcass.  

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