A story from the ebook by Peter Milton, “Wildlife Ranger: A Journey of Courage and Conviction” about his life in the bush fighting poachers and saving rhino and elephants.
From the eBook, “Wildlife Ranger:…”
The static crackle of the radio woke me from a shallow sleep.
“Sierra Charlie come in…”
I heard them bantering back and forth as I unzipped the fly screen of my small bush swag, climbed out and put on my shirt and boots. Sleep had eluded me again, but I am sure nobody else on this operation had slept either. But now, looks like we were close and about ready to launch.
Two days prior, a routine bush patrol had come across the carcasses of two rhino…a mature cow and a 2-3 year old juvenile. Both had their horns savagely hacked off.
The bush patrol had immediately started tracking the poachers who were estimated to be some 12 hours ahead. Back at the main base we received the situation report and started planning the interception.
I felt confident. We had all the bases covered and our planning, although fast, had been meticulous. All the hours of reconnaissance, the days, weeks and months of learning the area, studying aerial photographs and topographical maps, meant that we knew this area like the back of our hands. We had spent many days determining the infiltration and escape routes that poachers were likely to use. We had determined the best locations from which to launch and control UAV flight operations. With the UAV’s, we owned the night. Teamed with our scouts manning the stopper groups, we owned the heights as well.
Even so, the last minute “what if’s” still cross one’s mind. What if one of the stopper groups gave away their position by allowing the reflection off a rifle scope?…what if the poaching team didn’t follow the route we figured they would? …what if they spotted or heard the UAV that we were about to launch?
The success of this operation depended very heavily on absolute stealth. Thus far, we had made no mistakes…I could only trust and believe that we wouldn’t make any now.
Robi and Danie were preparing the Air Ranger UAV for launch. I looked at them as I walked up to the small control centre. The flight path of the Air Ranger had been programmed. I didn’t have to ask whether the co-ordinates had been checked…Danie would have done that ten times over with Robi cross checking him. The small, electrically powered flying marvel looked so fragile nestled on its cradle. But this wonderful little machine, is what really gives us the edge.
Equipped with different imaging payloads, it allows us to fly day time operations, recording HD video and stills and it flies nighttime operations with highly sophisticated thermal imaging cameras. It can fly in total stealth mode…unheard and unseen…and provide the command centre with live-streamed video data. This data is what we rely so heavily on to co-ordinate and control mission critical objectives….our eyes in the sky.
We desperately needed a success in this sector. Each time a poaching team returns to Northern Mozambique with their ill-gotten spoils, either rhino horn or ivory, their boasts and immediate financial reward reverberate through the remote villages like an African drum. Many more are tempted to take up a provided rifle and poach rhino and elephant. The syndicates that drive this assault on Africa’s wildlife gain an increased source for potential poachers.
These thoughts stayed with me since the poaching report had crackled across the radio. I began to feel desperate…this operation simply had to be a success. We had to balance the risk/reward ratio in our favour.
I went over the plan in my mind again. It was all so simple.
We launch the UAV and observe the poaching team leaving their location. We monitor whether they are remaining on the route we figured they would follow. They would be moving directly towards the stopper groups we had put in place overnight. Both groups were on high ground, looking down onto the dry river bed that the poaching team would be following. The stopper groups range to target is no more than 120 meters, and they have a clear arc of fire. The poachers had around 3 kms to cover before they would walk into the stopper groups. I had hoped it to have been further, to have them more tired and drained by the heat, but we could not allow them to move out of this perfect valley. If they did, our task would be much more difficult.
Do they catch the poachers? Their is a surprising ending that shows what Peter and his team are made of.