The rifle shot boomed through the darkening forest just as Damien Mander arrived at his campfire after a long day training game ranger recruits in western Zimbabwe’s Nakavango game reserve. His thoughts flew to Basta, a pregnant black rhinoceros, and her two-year-old calf. That afternoon one of his rangers had discovered human footprints following the pair’s tracks as Basta sought cover in deep bush to deliver the newest member of her threatened species.
Damien, a hard-muscled former Australian Special Forces sniper with an imposing menagerie of tattoos, including “Seek & Destroy” in gothic lettering across his chest, swiveled his head, trying to place the direction of the shot. “There, near the eastern boundary,” he pointed into the blackness. “Sounded like a .223,” he said, identifying the position and caliber, a habit left over from 12 tours in Iraq. He and his rangers grabbed shotguns, radios, and medical kits and piled into two Land Cruisers. They roared into the night, hoping to cut off the shooter. The rangers rolled down their windows and listened for a second shot, which would likely signal Basta’s calf was taken as well.
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