The sun hangs low in the sky, elongating the shadows as the day begins cool.
A white rhino and her calf munch their way through the succulent grass, easing ever closer to the dam where they will slake their thirst before drifting off into the thicker bush for the night.
No threat is recognised from the vehicle that has been close by for some time, the occupants, like all visitors to the reserve, excitedly taking photographs of these two icons of Africa.
The rhinos reach the water’s edge, drinking deeply. Before leaving, they both have a good wallow, coating themselves in thick glutinous mud. The mud will dry quickly, giving their skin some measure of protection against the stinging, biting insects that plague the African bush at dusk.
They wander off.
The vehicle follows for a while until the two animals trundle off the track and head into thicker bush.
One of the occupants uses his fancy tablet device to capture one last image.
The vehicle drives away, having to leave the reserve before the gates are closed for the night.
Outside the reserve, another group of men are waiting patiently, concealed in the bush, close to the fence.
A cell-phone beeps.
On the screen is a picture of the two rhino, along with the gps coordinates of that last sighting.
The coordinates are entered into a small gps navigation instrument which obligingly displays a map and the route from their current position to that of the last known position of the rhino.
As the light fades away, the four men busy themselves checking tools and equipment for the task ahead.
They move along the fence-line getting closer to their target.
These men are poachers. The ‘tourists’ were their scouts.
Breaking through the fence, their eyes well accustomed to the faint star-light, the men move quietly through the bush, ever vigilant for danger as they follow the clearly marked route on their gps unit.
One of the four is a skilled tracker. He soon picks up the distinctive spoor, leading his companions through the thick bush with confidence.
It doesn’t take long to catch up with the unsuspecting rhino who are relaxed and dozy in a small thicket.
The number two man takes over. He quietly releases the safety-catch on his hunting rifle, moving to the side for a few steps to get a better firing angle.
A shot rings out, rolling quickly away to silence, the sound muffled somewhat by the heavy vegetation.
The rhino takes a few stumbling steps, its calf by its side, until it collapses, breathing loudly and hard, its body screaming in shock and sudden pain.
As it falls, the two machete and panga wielding members of the team run in and begin hacking at the rhino’s face, cutting deep to extract as much horn as possible.
They are paid by weight.
The face is now a bloody unrecognisable mess. Great gouts of blood bubble and froth from destroyed nasal passages, rivers of red flowing into the dry African dust.
The calf is distraught and confused, squealing for its mother, the poachers slashing at it to keep it away from its mother.
The horns are free of the head.
They are wrapped in sacking and put into a back-pack.
The four men use the gps to back-track out of the area, led, unerringly, to the place at the fence where they entered the reserve.
In their wake they leave a confused young rhino.
If it’s very lucky it will be found by a ranger patrol and rescued.
If not it is condemned to either a slow death from starvation or a relatively quick one from an opportunistic predator, drawn to the spot by the scent of blood.
Horns have been poached.
The whole exercise has taken about two hours.
The adult rhino, horrifically disfigured, callously left.
She lived for several hours, in agony that cannot be imagined, her calf squealing frantically by her side.
Another night in Africa……..
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