Life Vs The Law

Even before reading the half-visible placard, Anna knew the law she was about to break. It didn’t bother her much; she was here for a job. A job, mind you, that was perfectly illegal but overlooked in this part of the world...

Life Vs The Law

The rules of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania were pretty straightforward:

 

Don't feed the animals

Don’t litter

Don’t approach animals

Don’t leave the vehicle.

Don’t poach the animals…

 

Even before reading the half-visible placard, Anna knew the law she was about to break. It didn’t bother her much; she was here for a job. A job, mind you, that was perfectly illegal but overlooked in this part of the world...

Her job was to poach.

Anna worked for little firms that sold animal fur to bigger firms who sold then them to your favorite bag brand—Versace?. Well, these firms were open-secret corporate giants, owned by magnates around the world. The government in these African countries signed laws to prevent poaching but still went behind closed doors to protect this multi-billion dollar industry. Of course, they received compensation for these illegal expeditions.

Given all of these, it was safe to say that Anna was indemnified of any losses.

The poaching business was a blessing to her; it had really transformed her life. Now more than ever, the business was booming. Even though it was high-risk—certain people do go to jail for poaching—Anna couldn't really see anything else that paid better... especially in Africa.

She knew quite well that this was a competitive business. Four years as a poacher taught her that the wild was an oasis of wealth, but sometimes oasis runs dry. On previous expeditions to Loisaba Conservancy in Kenya, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and Kruger National Park in South Africa, Anna came across numerous other poachers who shared her sentiment, assassinating animals for their pretty fur.

She never bothered with the bigger animals like bears and foxes. Anyone in their right minds would stay away from predators, except Irish natives who drank for a living and were stock-full of drunken courage. Anna was a lot more careful. For her, nothing was as easy as targeting smaller animals like tortoises, iguanas, and rabbits. Chasing a bear, shooting it down, and hauling it four miles across the crater didn't sit well with her.

Anna was covert. She was careful and diligent, maneuvering her way across national parks with relative ease. Oh, and she always got what she wanted.

How could today be possibly different?

The tour van seated a dozen and half people. It was one of those longer vans without the windows, something like a rollercoaster, but longer and with eight tires. Ann reserved the backseat for herself. No one shared her seat. It was evident she was a poacher; who else would carry a 2 feet long and 6 inches wide backpack to a safari trip?

Definitely not a sightseer…

The tour guides knew her all too well. Even they were in on the business. Who else would ferry her and her catch back to the Park lobby?

Today, however, the van had an unfamiliar conductor. Anna had never seen this man before, and this was her sixth time here. She hoped diligently that he didn’t sabotage her plans. And he almost did… or at least tried to.

Because as the van commenced its journey, the conductor started a lecture about the new poaching legislation. The newly proposed poaching laws were really strict and Anna had been following it for a while now. It scared her. The UN had released a mandate to national parks across the world, especially those in Africa to prohibit illegal animal hunting or risk international intervention.

Of course, Africa was a different ball game. The government here was invested in the poaching business. Canceling it altogether was a ‘hard ask’ of a corrupt wildlife conservation system whose tour guides seldom gave poachers directions to habitats. To stop the poaching trade was to stop many international companies from functioning.

Today’s tour guide, however, was quite adamant that many half-extinct species would be saved by this new poaching law. He also stated quite clearly that he would not tolerate the poaching of any sort; and that anyone caught would be remanded to the proper authorities.

Anna knew from experience that Africans who spoke with such affirmation were often the most corrupt. A little cash in someone’s pockets was enough to set her free from confinement. This was how things worked in Africa. She simply went along with the tour ‘circus’ and waited for her chance.

The Serengeti crater is a very beautiful expanse of land. Had the Romans landed here, they would have made it the perfect ground for civilization. Here was the home of a hundred thousand habitats and a million more animals. It was beautiful from every corner. There was no explaining it. You stood here and connected with the world—with nature itself.

From far and near they could see Zebras grazing alongside giraffes. To the extreme, deer ran amok like joggers would on a Saturday morning. A pond came into view and they, for a while, watched excitedly as alligators came out of the water to stare.

The park was built in such a way to separate its zoo-like landscapes from the wildlife zone. Anna was headed for the wildlife zone. She conducted her business in those little pockets of bushes here and there, scattered around the valley. Soon, the tour bus would slow to a halt around the edges of the crater, along the hills where they would all stand afar and gaze at the beautiful creatures below.

This would be her time to jet, and she waited long for it.

After driving them around the crater a while, the van parked at the foot of a hill, close to a rainforest habitat, as Anna predicted. Within this forest were the furry animals Anna so deeply desired. There was no stopping her now. She was ready to do everything possible to slip away unseen and begin her poaching expedition.

The conductor ushered everyone out; here they would walk up a hill that overlooked the forest. Here was the uplifted syncline of the crater; and the climax of the expedition. Anna had had this walk before; it lasted two hours, more than enough time for her to slip away and return unnoticed.

When they had finally alighted, the tour guide surveyed everyone's face and heaved heavily when his gaze fell on Anna. Looking away, he announced in very broad but direct words that:

"Anyone who needs to go about their business can do so now."

The audience believed it to be a toilet call, a piss in the shade, or poop in the bush. Some even ventured a little further down the hill to take a piss. How foolish of them. Anna knew better. The message was clearly intended for people like her; the poachers. In a split second, Anna alienated herself from the crowd and slipped into the bushes. She ran for a bit before turning around and affirming that she wasn’t pursued.

No one even realized she was gone.

She breathed a sigh of relief and continued her journey. She knew the road all too well. A few kilometers further, she would come upon the nearest terrestrial habitat; the home of many grizzly bears and other nasty predators. For some reason, easy prey like the ones she hunted lived close to the bigger predators.

Fortunately for her, predators in this habitat loved their alone time; and wouldn't bother anyone or anything they didn’t recognize. It was a quiet landscape with preselected periodical times each for prey and predators. During the daytime, you would find vegetarian animals feeding; and a few hours after midday, closer to evening, the carnivores came out to hunt.

It was super early, at about 10 am. Anna was safe for the meantime. Unwilling to waste time, she began her search for mild wildlife.

She didn’t mind hunting for a few hours; she came prepared. She had, in her satchel; three bottled water; some dry fruit and bread; a portion of sardine for prey, some biscuits, and a pack of cigarettes in case she got bored. Within her bag’s biggest compartment lay a crossbow and a dozen arrows for poaching and protection. Guns attracted attention, arrows were silent.

She came across her first predator pretty soon; a cackle of hyenas waltzing the forest looking for leftovers. When they saw her, she lit a cigarette and set a branch on fire. Smaller predators hated the sight of fire. The hyenas, five of them, fled.

She was safe.

Now, where are those bunnies?

She perused the forest’s leafy perimeter, looking this way and that for little brown rabbits. Anna preferred rabbits; they were easier to catch. Merchants used rabbit skins to make fur hats, coats, and jackets. Rabbit meat, white meat, was also eco-friendly. Vegans—or people who claimed to be—paid a lot of money to get their hands on white meat. For Anna, rabbits brought in the big bucks… and she would kill for them, literally.

Finally, Anna stumbled on a fluffle of rabbits. She found them gathered around a shrub, chomping down hard on green vegetables. They numbered seven and had their backs turned to Anna.

Just perfect…

Anna crouched. Her bag was big enough to contain four rabbits at the most. Of course, she couldn’t catch all seven, but if she managed two or three, she was good for the day. She considered shooting them but thought against it as that would alarm the rest. To be honest, she wasn’t a big fan of shooting cute little rabbits. Other poachers were fine with it; they hunted beers and stuff. Rabbits weren’t so tough to catch after all.

If it came down to it, she would shoot. But there was another concern. Rabbits bled pretty awkwardly. Not only that, a bloody carcass bred scrutiny. It was a lot easier to get caught poaching when you have a bloody stain on your clothes. Anna accepted there and then that she would capture these little creatures by hand. She didn’t want any unscrupulous suspicions from the new tour guide.

So she holstered her bow and crept, within the bushes, advancing gently towards the unsuspecting fluffle of rabbits.

But something unseen suddenly rattled the rabbits, because Anna found them scuttling away. There was no time to lose, this was her chance. She jumped out the bush and ran towards the scrambling fluffle and, in the nick of time, grabbed one of the rabbits by the leg. It yelped feebly but none of its kin bothered to return and save it. Anna smirked at her $4,000 bounty. She was definitely eating well this Christmas.

Now to crack the neck…

And then a low growl behind her halted her decision. Anna froze. She turned slowly to find herself a measly ten feet from a humongous mountain lion.

Christ!

Anna had never run so fast. She held the rabbit close to her chest and darted towards the clearing—any clearing. The lion pursued her gently but to Anna, it felt like it was inches behind her. She didn't look back... she couldn't. All she could do was run; and this is what she did until she came upon a large clearing, a few miles away from the Park.

North of her was a single chestnut tree nestled on the side of the trail. It was unoccupied. Still running, Anna climbed the tree aggressively, with one hand still clutching the rabbit; and didn’t stop until she reached the very top. Standing on a branch, twelve feet high, Anna peered down at the lion below her, who just now trotted towards the foot of the tree.

This is not a very hungry lion, Anna presumed. If it was, she would have already been dead. She would wait it out, she decided.

“Whenever you get bored,” she spat at the lion, “you’ll leave, okay?”

But the lion only watched her quietly before growling deeply and sitting at the foot of the tree unperturbed. For the creature, this was a very convenient shade in the safari, with views of high hills and mountain peaks from a distance.

When she was finally settled on the tree branch, safe from the predator, she observed her catch.

The rabbit was startled to the bone. It shook so much that Anna feared it would have a heart attack. She tried to calm it down, but the little thing squirmed, seeking escape. She didn't mind. Calming the rabbit relaxed her a little. She braved herself to look at the lion, once again, which was now making itself at home underneath the shade.

She realized this was a matter of life and death. It was either her or the lion. The lions in the Serengeti were numbered, however. Not in any case was anyone permitted to poach these predators. If anyone did, they would face prosecution, simple as that. Anna wasn’t about to go to prison. Yet, there was the feeling she would get away with it.

In this moment, Anna decided, her life was more important than a stupid wildlife conservation law.

She reached for her crossbow and panicked when she didn’t find it. She remembered suddenly that she had placed it somewhere within the bushes while attempting to catch rabbits.

I'm screwed…

Anna looked into her bag. There had to be something she could use. But all that was there were food and a few arrows. What was an arrow without a bow? She tried offering the lion some food. She opened a can of sardines and tossed it at the lion, which then sniffed the fish for a second and avoided it.

The lion had an undisturbed feel to it, looking far into the distance like a dog would when out picnicking with its owner.

She tried tossing her sandwich but thought about it for a second. If this was her deathbed, then, by all means, she deserved a nice meal. She chomped down on her sandwich, taking huge nervous bites and even shared some with the stricken rabbit. Then it struck her…

I can toss the rabbit!

But if she did, all she had worked hard for would mean nothing. She could never muster the courage to return to the wild alone and hunt for more prey, at least not today or in the next 6 months. Being hunted by a lion was enough trauma to make a poacher quit. But did she have a choice? She realized, she did not.

Yet Anna couldn’t bring herself to toss the little thing over. She kissed the scared rabbit on the face—a cute little thing. "Do you know you are worth $4,000? It's fine. I'll protect you."

But these were empty promises fuelled by her hysteria. Not once did the lion flinch while she stayed perched on the tree. She knew she had to let the rabbit go sooner or later. After holding onto the rabbit for another hour, Anna was ready to sacrifice it.

She kissed the rabbit one last time, muttering two final words, "I'm sorry."

It was time to offer the lion its meal for the day. She hissed for its attention, which the lion gladly gave. Something about the enormity of the lion’s muzzle shook her and she almost lost hold of the rabbit.

"You want this, eh? She taunted, waving the rabbit by its neck.

The lion growled.

"Now fetch!"

Anna had never thrown anything as far as she did that rabbit. Yet it was the worst throw of her life.  The rabbit soared through the safari air and landed just a few feet from the lion. The great beast pounced immediately and Anna waited for if to start devouring its prey before she escaped.

But the lion did no such thing.

"What the fu..."

Instead, the lion nudged the rabbit with its muzzle, as if saying; Go on now; I've saved your life. Anna couldn't believe her eyes. The lion swiftly returned, looked up at her, and gave the loudest roar of its existence.

Anna felt herself freeze. She had never felt so afraid.

Again, the lion jogged away, with the rabbit further forward, like two puppies taking a stroll across the street

Anna was stunned. She hopped down the tree, and just as she was about to run in the opposite direction, the tour bus returned. In her two-hour absence, the tour had ended and all passengers had been dropped off at the park’s lobby. One person, the only person she really expected to see, was at the wheel.

The tour guide parked right next to her, shaking his head vehemently.

"I've been looking all over you."

Anna said nothing. She didn't have the words. There was nothing to say. She had been caught red-handed with no believable excuse to give.

The tour guide reached behind him and handed over her crossbow. "I believe this is yours."

Anna took it silently. The tour guide started the bus, smiling smugly. Soon they were on their way back to the headquarters. They didn’t speak one bit. One thing was very clear now: never again would she see the Serengeti.

Sure enough, they came upon the lion she had encountered earlier. She flinched at the sight of it.

The tour guide looked over at her passenger side where the lion sauntered casually. He noticed the look on her face and laughed.

"Oh, I see you've met Tanzuebe,” he said, chuckling. “He's a zoo animal, you know, recently released to the wild. A very cultured lion, he helps to keep the environment safe. He loves cabbage by the way… look what happens when I wave."

The tour guide waved vigorously, and Tanzuebe stood on his hind legs, his great big mane looking up to the sky in a form of salute.

Anna couldn't help but smile at this strange occurrence. "That explains it," she said.

It made perfect sense now. Tanzuebe was vegetarian. But who in their right minds would’ve guessed that; certainly not any poacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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