58 – Snares
This year it was a pair of Arnots chats which scolded me every time I exited the vehicle and walked across the small Sandy parking area towards the chitenge.
I wondered what had once broken the branch of a big Leadwood tree on the lawn side of the pathway as it wrapped around the anthill towards the kitchen. Possibly the tug of an elephant’s trunk? Perhaps the roaring downdraught of a thunderstorm? Whatever it was, the break was such that the healing of its bark had wrapped around to leave a little aperture to a glove sized interior. It was a space sufficient for the chats to raise a family. A seemingly safe spot, but this was their second attempt. So I also wondered what became of the prior brood. Maybe a ground squirrels dashing snatch up the trunk of the tree, or had the squeaky begging clamors of the chicks caught the attention of a mamba. Had the snake surreptitiously slithered along the branch, peered its big black unblinking eyes into the gloom, and opened the wide grin of its mouth to swallowed the little pink morsels, one at a time, like cocktails at a party, even as they unwittingly continued to beg for food.
But this time fate was on the side of these latest chattering youngsters. They owed there domicile to the presence of lodge guests back in September, at the time of spring-time nest selection. Being chats, their parents had more tolerance for the presence of humans than the glossy starlings, whose greater size and aggressiveness would otherwise have won the struggle for nest real estate.
But, so much for the little black and white birds and their family, because a few minutes earlier it had not been their nervous scolding which caught my attention, instead it was the silhouette of Lauren’s hand, stretched high above her bare shoulder and energetically waving to me as I drove past. Even though she was backlit by the bright openness of the river as she sat in the cool gloom of the chitenge, I could see that she wore a tank top and faded cut-off jeans.
Hmm, sun tan time for those nice long legs and arms, below a bit of burnishing for her shoulders and cheeks.
Thankfully the forecast had a few days of hot sunny weather in the offing. A nice respite from the last few days wetness. And it would give my journey a chance to dry out a bit.
It would be fun catching up with her before I headed to Mumbwa early tomorow morning.
This was because, yesterday we, the scouts, Moses and myself that is , after slowly negotiating the road and its obstacle, followed by the primitive track leading westward to the Lunga River, and having needed to skirt even further out around the edges of the waterlogged dambos, had finally reached the site where the future Kikuji Camp was to be built.
There was still not much evidence of a luxury lodge, except the site of the chitenge, which would be in the shade of a truly gigantic Mahogany, towering its ebullience over that of its peers. Further back was a small platform onto which were piled the breeze blocks, and metal sheeting that would be used to begin the construction when the surroundings dried out, and the other supplies could be brought in without the truck getting stuck. Over the platform a framework of wood held up a canvas tarpaulin covering the goods, as it also served to shelter the three guards rotating their presence.
It being late in the day by the time we had arrived, Moses and I had joined the scouts on a short patrol heading downriver on the east bank in the direction, shouted and pointed across the river to us, from whence the guards had heard the shots fired two nights ago.
It having rained since then, we knew it was unlikely that we would pick up any telltale tracks. But it was always worth checking for snares, an indication that the poachers would be back. Should any be found, it would also confirm that they were deliberately and tauntingly arrogant. As it was, from the guard’s description, the shots had been very close. I was already worried that there was a message in their proximity.
Shots alone would suggest a hit and run characteristic to any operation. On the other hand only snares would imply a silent sneaky stealth to an endeavor. But shots combined with the setting of snares would signal something else altogether. This would be a taunting, almost a mocking of any authority.
‘Catch us if you can’.
Sure enough, it didn’t take long to find the first blatantly set snare!
On either side of a well-worn game trail leading down through a break in the undergrowth at the river’s edge, cut brush had been piled loosely to funnel any hapless animal towards a waiting wire noose.
It was a flagrant throwing down of the gauntlet. I tried to remember the wording of the warning note, left here, what now seem so long ago.
‘Moses I had said. ‘What do you think?’ It looks like somebody is playing games with us. just like we would do in Angola, ‘tempting’ with a small bait, for others to follow and hit us, so we could pulverize them back, when they walk into our ambushes.’
‘Yes!’ he had replied, ‘But I am not sure that is the motive. It might just be that they want to scare us away.’
‘Why would a snare scare us?’ I asked.
‘Because there was muti involved.’ He had said. ‘Where the snare was tied to the tree, the wire was slipped through the vertebra of a jackal.’
Moses had let his words sink in, ‘I had suspected this, so I looked for it. It was a small bone pressed into the flakey bark of the tree. I removed it before the scouts noticed it, I did not want them to be worried about following these people if they were protected by Muti.’
‘Maybe it was only this one, but if there are any more, we need to find these muti snares as soon as possible and remove them. We do not need the word getting out that the poachers have a sangoma on their side.’
‘I will go with the scouts tomorrow and look for sign further down, on this side of the river, But I think that you should go to the DNPW in Mumbwa and ask for them to deploy another stick . They can start at the confluence and search on the other side of the river, just in case. But you need to be with them, and be the one to untie the snares and hide any bones if you find them.’
‘Then later, together we can work up towards the Kabanga gate.’
But that was yesterday. I halted the vehicle, and dismissed my thoughts as I opened the door, and let my eyes search for Laurens wave.
As I did so my ears were assailed by the scolding’s of a little black and white bird.