, Newburyport, MA


January 20, 2014

Crime and punishment

The story stuck in my mind like a burr on a wool jacket. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I was chatting with a friend who I knew had been on a photography trip to big game country in Africa. That same trip has been in the back of my mind for years, so I asked him for some advice.

“I’d go back in a second,” he said. “No other trip compares to Africa.”

He suggested March and the end of the dry season to insure that animals would be drawn to the watering holes.

I wondered about the accommodations.

“No problem,” he replied. “The hotels are first rate. Out in the bush, the tents are on platforms, each with its own bathroom. All the furniture is mahogany. The travel is done in jeeps. Anyone out of the jeep is considered a ‘meal.’”

With all the political turmoil in Africa, I also asked about the safety factor. Did he feel safe?

“In certain parts, yes. Other parts are better avoided. As for the camps themselves, we were surrounded by armed guards.”

And here’s where the story comes in.

The conversation turned to a description of the camps — those raised tents, surrounded by the armed guards at night to, one would think, keep away any dangerous animals. Lions come to mind.

But it was more than that. In the incident in question, my friend had heard a commotion behind the camp. He decided to take a look, but he was immediately stopped by one of the guards.

“You don’t want to go back there.”

Then a shot rang out. A poacher had been executed.

“That stopped me in my tracks,” he commented. “I was horrified.”

“If you poach, you get shot. The animals are their future,” he explained of the policy of protecting the endangered species that are responsible for drawing all the tourists and their money to an area desperate for income. It was the harsh reality.

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