March Crime Story Winners

The March Crime competition was judged by Patrick Coyne. You can read the winning story below.

1. Rose Saayman with Shoot to kill

2. Andrea Ward with Who stole the Boerewors

3. Yolandi Niewoudt with What the hungry Mind sees

Highly commended: Terry Sandy with The Anniversary

                                                                     Shoot to Kill by Rose Saayman

Exquisite beauty has labeled this area in Africa as one of the most idyllic spots on the earth. If you sit on your landrover you can focus your binoculars and still see the wild life in their droves, peacefully going about their business. Mother Nature has ruled it is kill or be killed. The sad dilemma is that the balance of nature is being interfered with by the human race as they are not killing for food but for money. In other words their greed overrules any morals, if any still exist. As a result wild life numbers are drastically reduced, and some are even dangerously close to extinction. There is a war going on between the conservationists and the poachers. The message on either side is “shoot to kill”.

Circling vultures and the stench of death led the four men in the Watersfontoin Game Reserve to the blood soaked grass where the animal remains lay. It was a fresh kill and couldn’t be more than twenty four hours old. Jacques, the game reserve manager, fired a few shots into the trees, to scatter the vultures and other bird life from the prey. They then approached the carcass to examine it in detail. It was a black rhino with its horn roughly severed from its head. The animal’s eyes were bloodshot. It was known to have a calf which was nowhere to be seen. Scouts were immediately sent on a search and rescue mission to discover its whereabouts. Blood still trickled down the mother’s neck in the early morning light forming a congealed pool on the ground. It was obvious that the animal had died in pain. The poachers had now killed four rhino in the last month.

It was just another hot, steamy day in Africa fighting criminals on all fronts. Jacques was fresh from Zimbabwe, where he had been successful in this field, until he got booted out because he got too close to the ringleader and the situation became politically embarrassing. With his new employment, he was asked to control the poaching by making it absolutely impossible and uncomfortably dangerous for poachers to proceed with their activities. They found the rhino calf dehydrated and exhausted hiding in some brush. How it escaped the poacher’s gun is anyone’s guess. After darting it and transporting it to safety, the three month old calf was bottle fed round the clock by the ranger’s wife, Kathy.

Jacques was aware that it was not only the rhinos the poachers were after. The elephant were next in line for their ivory. Tactics had to change. They had to set a trap. They could not afford any further loss from the Watersfontoin Game Reserve, one of the most profitable game ranches in South Africa. Thousands of local and overseas tourists visited it each year. It was a huge loss to tourism and why should the perpetrators get away with it. The poachers were in it for the big time. Their pockets were probably lined with millions of foreign exchange from overseas investors who were earning ten times their salary.

Jacques had previously fought in the Zimbabwe Bush War and knew he had a challenge on his hands. The poachers had automatic AK 47 rifles and meant to kill human or animal if they were to get away Scott free. After fighting in a skirmish in the Bush War, Jacques and his comrades always gathered in a circle to debrief. Sometimes a fellow soldier was shot by a foe or even killed by his best friend in the crossfire.

He stepped up day and night patrols. The next day he flew over the property by helicopter to assess the entry routes to the reserve. A river bordered the property in the south. They already had electric fencing on the other three borders and they were checked out more than daily for breaks. The river seemed to be the weakest point and he was determined to solve the problem. He knew the poachers loved money and put out one million rands as a reward through the bush telegraph for information leading to the capture and arrest of the perpetrators. After all, this game was all about money no matter which side of the fence you stood on.

He made friends with the local villagers, giving financial aid for their schooling and housing. He started to get feedback about strangers in the district. He warned the community that he was going to put crocodiles into the river at the bottom of the property with a twenty four hour watch. His efforts paid off. His ranger radioed him at three in the morning that a suspect group of poachers had tried crossing the river and had been attacked by the crocodiles. The group of about eight had scattered in all directions with a couple of men being dragged under by the reptiles.

Jacques knew that he’d have to step up patrols along his fences and provide trained tracker dogs. No fool was going to chance crossing the river again. He also decided to invite the mayor of the municipality to come to the reserve so he could explain the developments and efforts he was making to protect the wildlife. Mr. Khumalo was hosted for a few days. He enjoyed soaking up the reserve life and viewing the game. He’d brought along pen and paper to discuss ideas how to tackle the poachers. He was extremely impressed with their progress. Jacques’s wife, a trained nurse kept a fully fledged first aid kit on wheels that could be towed to any location in an emergency to treat friend or foe. She had attended to a pilot who had crashed in the reserve and had saved his life. The mayor promised Jacques that he would work with him to help obliterate the poacher’s activities and would contact him in a few days time.

Jacques felt a huge load lifted off his shoulders. He had persevered in every direction and felt he had covered all the bases. But in a few days there was a complete turnaround of events. One of his rangers radioed that a large hole had appeared in the electric fence on the south side where a family of rhino lived with twin calves.

“This is it.” He thought.

He instructed the ranger not to mend the hole. They could not prosecute the perpetrators unless they had entered the property and they would only damage the fencing in another area, which was unnecessary. He set up a twenty four hour surveillance with tracker dogs near the fence. All seemed quiet for a few days. The waiting was particularly tiresome and stressful. They could be called at any minute.

It was a particularly hot humid night at about eleven pm. and Jacques could not sleep. Even with his mosquito net he’d been woken by the insects’ incessant buzzing. The radio jolted him to full consciousness. His ranger informed him that a group of approximately ten men had crawled through the fence and were making their way southwards towards his rhino. He told him to seal off the fence and send other rangers after the suspects. Quickly splashing his face with cold water, he pulled on his clothes, called his tracker dogs and game guards. They drove with their lights off to within a kilometre of the border fence. They climbed out of the vehicle and walked through the bush as quietly and quickly as possible. He knew they were close. Some rangers had forced the rhino family to move nearer to a wild life lookout. Jacques had also invited his old comrade in arms to join them. He was known as “Silent Man”. He stalked his quarry, pounced on them and slit their throats before they knew he was there. They fitted their infra-red glasses to pick up movements in the dark. The thick cloud cover and no moon did not make it any easier picking up images.

Suddenly the dogs picked up a strong scent. His ranger near the border fence had radioed that there were more than ten poachers and they were moving fast. The most important part of the operation was to take them by complete surprise otherwise they were wasting their time. Jacques decided to attack in the form of a Zulu horn and close in on each side, with the front men moving forwards. In this way all means of escape would be cut off. The net of rangers tightened as they advanced. But a plan cannot always be perfectly executed when a flock of hardidas took off crying out their mournful call. They had been disturbed by one of the rangers as he stepped on a piece of brittle wood. It spooked the poachers and they opened fire in their direction. The element of surprise was lost as the rangers had no choice but to return fire. For fifteen minutes deafening gunfire ensued. Fortunately, Jacques’s men were good shots and picked off the suspects with help from their infra red glasses. Their leader tried to charge them but was killed in his attempt after being shot six times. Jacques examined his body. He was still clasping an AK47 rifle in his hands. The rangers rounded up the prisoners and guarded them in a landrover. This was not going to be an easy task defending their action. It was 1994 and the new Democratic government had just been voted into power.

Jacques radioed the police. Nothing must be moved until they came. Evidence was vital that they had defended the action appropriately against the infiltrators, who were trespassing on the property. Jacques knelt next to the leader and turned his head to look at his face. He gasped as he recognized the features of the mayor of the municipality who had just spent the last few days inspecting his game, and taking note of where they all were! It was even more vital that nothing be moved. It appeared that out of the suspect’s group of fifteen six were killed and nine taken prisoner. They were found to have all the equipment for setting traps and sharp knives to cut off the rhino horns. The police came and took the prisoners into custody. The dead were taken to the government mortuary. The rhinos were safe for another day. A few of his men had minor injuries and were attended by his wife.

Jacques did not let up with his patrols. There were still plenty of takers out there in the community who were willing to take their chances and make their fortunes. He then decided to contact his lawyer as he knew he was going to have a different kind of battle on his hands. He was informed that he was to appear in court on charges of precipitated manslaughter.

The court case went on for three months. Arguments were fought backwards and forwards. The costs of the legal fees were enormous but Jacques was well known and had become quite a folk hero, so sponsorship was readily available for him. Eventually he won the court case. He had won the battle but he had not won the war. The prisoners were sent to prison but Jacques realized that they would be up for parole. Would they go back to poaching? Unemployment was an occupation no one relished and it was especially rewarding to make a few extra bucks.

When the prisoners came up for parole, Jacques was determined to get permission to form a programme for them to work on his game ranch with a minimal wage. Permission was granted and he set them to work, each man allocated to a game guard to learn the fundamentals of conservation. After a year’s training none of them wanted to leave. They were joined by their families. They turned out to be best poacher catchers he’d ever had and far surpassed his rangers! Sadly the battle with poaching continues. The latest news bulletin reports that the National Park’s board is moving rhino to undisclosed destinations to beat the poachers. There are only nine hundred black rhino left in South Africa!