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Business of Death

Try not to shed a tear over it, but the world has become a frighteningly dangerous place for poachers of rhino, elephant and other wildlife on the brink of extinction.

For decades, poachers have been getting away with murder – literally – as they have ravaged the national parks of Africa, taking down big game and reaping great financial rewards.  We’ve all heard the outrageous stories and monetary figures; rhino horns fetching tens of thousands of dollars on the black market in Asia and ending up in the hands of men who believe their virility will be magically enhanced by the horns’ “powers”.  Such stories are potent enough to ignite the ire of even the most cold, hardened individuals; and for those who are deeply connected to nature, and naturally have a soft spot for the safety and well being of endangered wild game, like Tusker Trail’s own Eddie Frank, the stories are truly heartbreaking.

For too long, Eddie has seen the trail of carnage left behind by poachers – to add insult to injury, much of the devastation has taken place in the regions of Africa, and even some of the very same wildlife parks, where Eddie has brought peaceful, nature-admiring adventure travelers.  Back in the old days when Eddie was first pioneering trans-continental trips across Africa, one of his trekking guide friends would tell him about his idea for stopping rhino poaching: “Take a rhino horn, rig it with time release explosives, put it into the black market and when it goes off, rhino poaching instantly comes to end,” he stated.

While that’s a rather extreme solution, half told in jest, there’s no denying that this business of death known as poaching requires extreme measures to combat.  Today in some of the national parks of Africa, those extreme measures are being taken.

National Parks or Battlegrounds?

Saying you’re going to give someone “a taste of their own medicine” may be an oft-used and tired cliche, but there is hardly a more perfect way to describe the harrowing – and gruesome – turn of events that have recently taken place in Africa and other parts of the world.

In Kruger National Park, a premier safari destination in South Africa, nearly 350 rhinos were poached in 2010.  Just recently, the demand for rhino horns claimed the lives of three more rhinos, one just a calf.  As gunfire rang out, two veteran park rangers made their way to the source of the sound; charged with protecting wildlife, they realized they were too late as the poachers were already sawing the horns off the rhinos.  Empowered to kill the poachers, they shot at them, instigating a gunfight.  Within a few moments, the poachers lay dead next to the beasts they had just slaughtered.

A similar situation occurred in Chizarira National Park, situated in the remote northwestern region of Zimbabwe.  During a stealthy night operation, poachers shot and killed several elephants, then proceeded to relieve the carcasses of their valuable tusks and meat.  Park rangers, well aware that poachers in the area were secretly operating under the cover of night, swept in and shot two of the poachers dead as several others escaped.  During the sting, the rangers also recovered three .303 rifles and nearly 80 rounds of ammunition from the poachers’ arsenal.

While the trend of hunting poachers is certainly on the rise, it’s not only human hunters who are getting in on the action.

Nature Strikes Back

In an interesting turn of events, it seems that wildlife is finally exacting its revenge on humans who decide to mess with it; some argue that the nature of the revenge could not be more fitting.

There are a plethora of endangered fish species in Zimbabwe and poachers in the know are well aware that Harare’s Lake Chivero is the spot to acquire many of them.  But on a recent poaching expedition, eight poachers with dollar signs in their eyes forgot to factor in one thing: crocodiles.  In one fell swoop, a float of crocs took out the poachers and ended all their devious hopes and dreams.  Of the incident, one Lake Official said, “These poachers come here, without permission to fish, without licenses, and without any idea of the dangers they face.  They come to bring harm to the lake and the ecosystem and they lose their lives for it.  Does the punishment fit the crime?  Of course it does.”

In the shallow waters of Gansbaai, South Africa, the harvesting of valuable and endangered perlemoen (abalone) shells is big business; the meat from the shells is a delicacy that fetches a tidy sum on the black market.  A group of eleven poachers, out in the waters and seeking a big payday were startled when a twelfth began screaming for his life at the top of his lungs.  Immediately turning their heads to see what was going on, the sight of a great white shark ripping into his flesh instantly mortified them.  In a split second, the eleven poachers turned and ran out of the water as the shark finished off their comrade in crime.

Of course, for those who sincerely value wildlife and respect the right for animals to coexist in peace with humans, they know it’s not simply a case of revenge with these poachers.

Vengeance Shall Be Ours

Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged. – Samuel Johnson, English writer/poet.

Poaching, in all its forms, is a gruesome endeavor that’s as bad for humans and the environment as it is for wildlife.  Furthermore, poaching is illegal – for good reason.  If poachers weren’t paying attention before, now is the time to start because the world has become a very dangerous place for them – the hunter has become the hunted and there will be no mercy.

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