Imagine your father, the proud breadwinner of the house, going out to work one day and falling into a pit with large splintered spikes protruding from the bottom. Imagine him lying there, still alive, screaming with excruciating agony, with punctured organs and a heart beating out a cry for help. Imagine him trying to pry himself out from the spikes, each twist tearing a new muscle, while blood stains his white work shirt a dark red. Three days pass. Time for him becomes a blur. Days melt together with the heat of pain. Imagine seeing him lying there after three days, the blood coagulated into a thick caked layer of black around him.
Your lovely mom. Imagine for a moment that your mom, adventurous and bubbly, always smiling, goes for a walk one day. Imagine two sneaky little fucks waiting in the bushes for her to pass and as she does, they slash her ankles with rusted blades, severing the taut tendons. Your mom, she runs away for a while despite the pain. She runs until she stumbles, loses her balance for a moment, perseveres and runs on. Then the pain takes over and she drops to the floor dragging herself along the rough terrain with her arms. Fatigued and in pain, she passes out. Now, your mother lies there, on the floor, while little insects and flies start to hover over her slashed, bloody ankles. They weave their way across the cut up flesh, leaving bacteria and laying eggs. The wound becomes infected. It becomes septic. And now the infection spreads into the bloodstream until your mom becomes delirious and a combination of the infection, the heat, the lack of water or food eventually kills her. And she stays there as her flesh begins to rot and the stench of her flesh fills the noses of each passerby.
Imagine, for a moment if you will, your brother or sister as a torso. Their legs cut out from under them. Their arms cut out from their sides. You walk into the room as they lay there in the stupor of death, helpless to move while pain overcomes their senses and they utter helpless little whimpers of agony. Your eyes lock with theirs for a long second and the telepathic emotions transfer into your mind, uncomfortably settling there, becoming a part of you forever.
Now that I have your attention, let’s begin….
Last week I went on an anti-poaching and de-snaring trip to Rukinga which is just a little south of Voi. Having recently been bitten by the travel bug, I decided it was time to actually do something on these trips rather than just go for the heck of it. So this was the perfect way to start, by going with people who are heavily into conversation and are experienced enough to know what they’re doing. We boarded a Mombasabound bus and dropped off at Voi at four thirty in the morning where the rangers were waiting for us. As we drove through the night in an open back land cruiser spotting the silhouettes of early morning elephants, the cold numbing my face, I thought of what we were going to encounter on our patrols over the next few days. I had no idea what to expect so I expected the worst but even my fabrications of “the worst” were mild compared to the stories I was to hear. We got to camp at about five thirty in the morning and after a quick freshen up and a massive cup of hot tea, we left on our first patrol at about eight.
The Rukinga plains are not dense forest but they’re thick enough to get lost in pretty easily. They host all sorts of animals. We saw elephants, buffalo, Grevy’s Zebra, dik-diks and gazelles on our very first outing that morning. We also saw footprints of a lion that, according to the rangers, had just left the vicinity we were in as they saw a puff of dust in the distance. As we hiked through the woods, my anticipation just grew with every dusty step. I wanted to catch some poachers. I wanted to hurt some poachers. I wanted to hang their entrails from the trees as a warning to their brethren. Despite our collective enthusiasm, we didn’t find any poachers or snares on our first outing. It was rather disappointing but at the same time, it was a sign of hope that perhaps there weren’t any poachers to catch. The day passed quick and a large supper of ugali and sukuma hit the perfect before we all fell asleep to thoughts and conversation about conservation.
On the morning of our second day we hiked a completely different area. We came across large thorny brush that was piled together to make a makeshift fence, the way the Maasai, do it for their little villages. This, I was informed, was a way of trapping small animals like dik-dik. What the poachers do is leave small gaps in these fences where they lay their snares. Once the animal goes through the gap, it gets caught in the snare and waits either for starvation to take its course or the feel of a panga across its throat. A team of two poachers can kill up to sixty dik-diks in one night. The rangers, knowing where to look, found three or four snares that day. Not a substantial number for the amount of man power used but it was still something which is more than nothing. Logic. As we continued to hike through the day, my thoughts turned to matters concerning the financial nature of the poaching business which I’ll mention later. Suddenly, the rangers snapped to life and prompted me into alertness. They’d spotted poacher footprints. We followed the trail, which I couldn’t read at all, to a makeshift den. There we saw where they had their fire and a small bush that they’d made into a tiny shelter for their catch. A few steps forward and we found dried blood on the dust. A dik-dik had been slaughtered there not ten hours back. We’d missed the poachers. Gutted, we got back to camp as the rains fell and washed away all the evidence. However, we decided to go back early the next morning to set an ambush. Five o’clock the next morning, we waited for them at that location just in case they would return to check their snares. No such luck. However, the rangers were radioed with information that six elephant poachers had been caught on the other side of the park which was fantastic news.
From conversations I had on this trip, it became evident that there’s a phenomenal amount of corruption going on within large organizations which are meant to be protecting our Kenyan wildlife and environment. Large governmental agencies make it so that poaching goes on as long as a percentage of the sizable profits go to them. For obvious reasons I can’t mention the governmental agency in charge of parks so I hope you’ll understand and forgive me for that. After all, I wouldn’t want to implicate anyone who is only guilty by association. But you know there’s a problem when bloody pipelines are commissioned to be built through national parks. Anyway, I heard a shocking statistic which states that we are losing more elephants to poachers now than ever before in Kenya’s history. Take into account that between 1979 and 1989, Kenya lost up to fifty thousand elephants. Fifty thousand elephants!!!! I had to say that again just in case it didn’t sink in the first time. Now, in proportional relativity to that statistic, we are somehow losing more elephants now and yet we hear nothing about it. Could it be that documents are being doctored in order for unprocessed and undocumented ivory to slip through the ranks and into Chinese markets where most of it does end up? The Chinese market for ivory is one of the largest in the world. The blood ivory is used to make little carved trinkets for decorative value.
I know I complain about our government every chance I get but that’s what it all boils down to. Our government’s inability to control their greed is going to be the ruin of this country. Most of the poachers are hired by wealthy people who then have the connections to get the blood ivory out of the country by paying off the right people. A smooth, lubricated passage through to the other side of the world. These poachers wouldn’t risk life and limb if they were not getting a large sum of money for their troubles. Most of these poachers have farms, they are able to make a living and yet they’re somehow coaxed into poaching probably with the promise of small fortunes. And how is it that if these parks are so well monitored that we still have a problem with poaching? And how is it that this ivory is actually getting out of the country? I’ll tell you how. The system is sickeningly corrupt, even when it comes to protecting our wildlife. Trading life has become second nature to most of our politicians and governmental agencies. Even a few Non-Profit Organizations are now just fronts for money laundering while blood ivory sits on lavish pedestals somewhere in the East.
What’s even more shocking are the methods the poachers use to kill these animals. They’re barbaric, prehistoric, inhumane methods that I, personally, cannot believe a man can do without feeling something. The three methods that I killed your family with in the beginning of this article, those are just some of the death traps that they use. There are giraffe carcasses without legs in some of our parks, the legs are used in making something called giraffe bone soup. This only started happening recently when the Chinese begun to build at a certain area near this national park. I’m not saying anything but I figure you’re intelligent enough to put two and two together and not end up with five. In a coastal forest, the smell of death overwhelms your senses. In that coastal forest, the intensity of poaching is tenfold as the rangers there do not have a car to patrol with and so the poachers take advantage of that fact killing everything they get their scrummy little hands on. And this happens every day. Every single day, hundreds of animals are killed in those barbaric ways. Slaughtered to fill the pockets of already rich people. What people don’t understand is by hurting our wildlife and environment, they’re hurting the future of Kenya as a whole. They’re denting the economy as tourists will have nothing to visit in the future. They’re killing off the essence of our country.
So what can we do to help? On a small scale, we can patrol the parks. I will be organizing a volunteer trip to the coastal forest I spoke of in the months to come and hopefully you can make it to get a first hand account of what actually happens when we close our eyes to things. If you’re interested then get in touch. On a larger scale, we must start educating ourselves in terms of who to vote for in next year’s elections. This problem will not be solved if we do not have the right people in power and it’s up to us to make sure that they get there. If not for the betterment of your country, do it to get rid of the cruelty that these animals undergo. There are too many selfish people in power at the moment. And they’re making a killing at the expense of innocent people and animals. The trade of life. Let’s fucking do something about this. I’ve said it before, we’re educated and that makes us dangerous and collectively, we can change this country for the better. Collectively, I’m sure we can come up with an idea to save the wildlife in that coastal forest. So put your thinking caps on before you start banging your head against brick walls and let’s do this.
For me, there is nothing like being in the wild. Nothing even comes close to being in nature, seeing these magnificent elephants and elegant lions walking the plains. Hopefully, someday they’ll do so without the fear that we’ve bred into them.
I told you this piece will not be entertaining. Because sometimes you can’t wrap the truth up in warm bullshit and you just have to say it like it is. Hopefully this will spur you into action. Hopefully, you feel that pain. Hopefully, you’ll do something about this apart from just sitting and reading other people’s lives for the rest of yours.
In the words of the great Bob Marley, “Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!”
Shamit is Kenyan born and bred and happens to be just a guy who likes to write who’ll somehow change the world someday. Follow him o twitter @just_sham_it or continue to read some of his workon his new blog “Dirge of the City“