I wrote my last article for the Lusaka Times about poaching. But since submission, I have had several more direct experiences with poaching in the park.
Last night as my scout and I were looking for the baboons at close but different sleeping sites I heard a gunshot just near to camp. When George and I met up he informed me that he called it in over the radio, that there were two scout patrols camping within a few kilometers, and he pointed the direction of the gunshot. I clearly thought it came from a direction closer to camp. Ten minutes ago (9am) I heard a gunshot. This was different from any shot I have heard before. So close that I could hear the full reverberation after the shot was fired. Within seconds I heard running. My scout George and the camp attendant David were coming straight to my camp. They confirmed the shot with me and passed by. George was armed. This gunshot was so close that it made more sense for my scout to directly try and track the poacher. Meaning he believed he could possibly intercept and apprehend the poacher. The past few weeks poaching has been very heavy in this part of the park. We hear multiple gunshots a day. Las week we saw an injured puku. It had been shot and was quivering but when we approached it took off. George explained that often after shooting an animal, poachers fail to locate it and it dies a slow death. That was the fate of this animal. Later in the same afternoon we saw vultures fly up out of the woodland. We approached. I thought it would be the puku we had seen earlier. It was a different animal. George estimated that it had been dead three days, it also was killed by a poacher.
Another distressing indirect sign of poachers was seeing a bare human footprint on the road right next to a baboon footprint. Both were fresh. Most of the poachers don’t wear shoes. This enables them to run faster and go undetected in the forest. This sight hit me hard and the events of the last several days made me realize how vulnerable the animals in Kasanka National Park are.
So the above was going to be my blog post for the day but then something much more horrendous happened in the afternoon. George and I were out the same afternoon looking for the baboons. We heard a strange sound. At first I thought it might be baboons but then as we stopped to listen it sounded more like a whinnying. George asked if we should follow the noise, I agreed. We came to where the woodland meets the grassland and saw lots of puku (a type of antelope) standing around, staring in one direction and alarm calling. George thought that the puku must have been fighting. We decided to move on when something shot up out of the bushes. It was a puku leaping and struggling. It was caught in a wire snare. Immediately we radioed the main office to tell them about the animal and as if we could shoot it. By the time the warden came to the radio the puku was dead. It’s neck had snapped. So it was lucky, as often when an animal gets caught in a snare it can be a very slow and painful death. We were instructed to go back to camp so George could fetch David the camp attendant. By now it was dark. They were to go back to the animal cut the snare and bring the carcass back to camp, therefore ensuring that the poachers would not get their bounty.