2046 - Kenya, Southwestern Mau National Reserve
The silverback stood above the jungle foilage and met my gaze with a cold, threatening glare. He had a family to protect; a newborn was playing not far behind. He was right to fear humans treading too close. My fellow park rangers and I called him Kodhari. We’d been tracking his family of mountain gorillas for four months. We watched them from behind a fallen tree a hundred yards away.
I led the jungle patrols protecting the animals inside the Southwestern Mau National Reserve, for the Kenya Wildlife Service. It has been my passion since I was a boy. My father was a park ranger and my grandfather was a guide for the British before him. I met my wife, Himaya, working for this park. She was a tour guide and I was one of the attractions she would show off to visiting foreigners. We had a simple home. We led a simple life. It was this park and the animals who lived in it that made our lives truly magical. Rhinos and hippopotami, baboons and gorillas, lions and hyenas, flamingos and buffalos, our land was rich with treasures, and we shared them every day with our children.
But this dream would not last. Whenthe food crisis started, the Wildlife Service was one of the first services the emergency government stopped funding after Nairobi fell to the rioters and militants. For three months, the Service tried to get funding from foreign donors, but not enough came through to keep us afloat. Before long, most officers and rangers left the service to join the military. Only our intelligence office and less than a hundred rangers remained to patrol Kenya’s forty national parks and wildlife reserves. I was one of them.
It wasn’t a choice, as much as it was my duty. Who else would protect the animals? Their numbers were already falling from the Great Drought and as more and more harvests failed, the people turned to the animals to feed themselves. In mere months, poachers looking for cheap bushmeat were eating the heritage my family spent generations protecting.
The remaining rangers decided to focus our protection efforts on those species who were most at risk of extinction and who we felt were core to our nation’s culture: the elephants, lions, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, and the gorillas. Our country needed to survive the food crisis, and so did the beautiful, distinctive creatures that made it home. We vowed to protect it.
It was late afternoon and my men and I were sitting under the jungle tree canopy, eating snake meat we’d caught earlier. In a few days, our patrol route would lead us back into the open plains, so we enjoyed the shade while we had it. Sitting with me was Zawadi, Ayo, and Hali. They were the last of seven rangers who volunteered to serve under my command nine months earlier, since our vow. The rest were killed during skirmishes with poachers.
“Abasi, I’m picking up something,” said Ayo, pulling out his tablet from his backpack. “A fourth hunting group has entered the park, five kilometers east of here, near the plains. They look like they might be targeting zebrasfrom the Azizi herd.”
“How many men?” I asked.
Our team had tracking tags pinned to animals in every main herd of every endangered species in the park. Meanwhile, our hidden lidar sensors detected every hunter who entered the park’s protected zone. We generally allowed hunters in groups of four or less to hunt, as they were often just local men looking for small game to feed their families. Bigger groups were always poaching expeditions paid by criminal networks to hunt large quantities of bushmeat for the black market.
“Thirty-seven men. All armed. Two carrying RPGs.”
Zawadi laughed. “That’s a lot of firepower to hunt a few zebras.”
“We do have a reputation,” I said, loading a fresh cartridge into my sniper rifle.
Hali leaned back into the tree behind him with a defeated look. “This was supposed to be an easy day. Now I’ll be on grave digging duty by sundown.”
“That’s enough of that talk.” I rose to my feet. “We all know what we signed up for. Ayo, do we have a weapons cache near that area?”
Ayo swiped and tapped through the map on his tablet. “Yes sir, from the Fanaka skirmish three months ago. It looks like we’ll have a few RPGs of our own.”
I held the legs. Ayo held the arms. Gently, we lowered Zawadi’s body into the freshly dug grave. Hali started shoveling in the soil.
It was three a.m. by the time Ayo finished the prayers. The day was long and the battle grueling. We were bruised, exhausted, and deeply humbled by the sacrifice Zawadi made to save the lives of Hali and I during one of our planned sniper movements. The only positive of our victory was the trove of fresh supplies scavenged from the poachers, including enough weapons for three new weapons caches and a month’s worth of packaged foodstuffs.
Using what remained of his tablet’s solar battery, Hali led us on a two-hour trek through the dense bush back to our jungle camp. The canopy was so thick at parts that my night vision visors could barely outline my hands shielding my face. In time, we found our bearings along the dried riverbed that led back to camp.
“Abasi, may I ask you something?” said Ayo, speeding up to walk alongside me. I nodded. “The three men at the end. Why did you shoot them?”
“You know why.”
“They were just the bushmeat carriers. They were not fighters like the rest. They threw down their weapons. You shot them in the back.”
My jeep’s back tires fired a huge plume of dust and gravel as I raced east along the side of road C56, avoiding the traffic. I felt sick inside. I could still hear Himaya’s voice over the phone. ‘They are coming. Abasi, they are coming!’ she whispered between tears. I heard gunfire in the background. I told to her to take our two children into the basement and lock themselves inside the storage locker under the stairs.
I tried calling the local and provincial police, but the lines were busy. I tried my neighbors, but no one picked up. I turned the dial on my car radio, but all the stations were dead. After connecting it to my phone’s Internet radio, the early morning news came through: Nairobi had fallen to the rebels.
Rioters were looting government buildings and the country was in chaos. Ever since it was leaked that government officials had taken bribes of over a billion dollars to export food to Middle East countries, I knew it was only a matter of time before something horrible would happen. There were too many hungry people in Kenya to forget such a scandal.
After passing a car wreck, the road east cleared, letting me drive on the road. Meanwhile, the dozens of cars heading west were filled with suitcases and home furnishings. It wasn’t long before I learned why. I cleared the last hill to find my town, Njoro, and the columns of smoke rising from it.
The streets were filled with bullet holes and shots were still being fired in the distance. Homes and shops stood in ashes. Bodies, neighbors, people I once drank tea with, lay on the streets, lifeless. A few cars passed by, but they all raced north towards the town of Nakuru.
I reached my house only to find the door kicked in. Rifle in hand, I walked in, carefully listening for intruders. The living room and the dining room furniture was upturned, and what few valuables we had were missing. The basement door was splintered and hung loosely from its hinges.A bloody trail of hand prints lead from the stairs to the kitchen. I followed the trail cautiosly, my finger tightening around the rifle trigger.
I found my family lying on the kitchen island. On the fridge, words were written in blood: ‘You forbid us from eating bushmeat. We eat your family instead.’
Two monthspassed since Ayo and Hali died in a skirmish. We saved an entire herd of wildebeests from a poaching party of over eighty men. We couldn’t kill them all, but we killed enough to scare the rest away. I was alone and I knew my time would come soon enough, if not by poachers, then by the jungle itself.
I spent my days walking my patrol route through the jungle and the plains of the reserve, watching the herds go about their peaceful lives. I took what I needed from my team’s hidden supply caches. I tracked the local hunters to make sure they killed only what they needed, and I scared off as many poaching parties as I could with my sniper rifle.
As winter fell across the country, the bands of poachers grew in number, and they struck more often. Some weeks, the poachers struck at two or more ends of the park, forcing me to choose which herds to protect over others. Those days were the toughest. The animals were my family and these savages forced me to decide whom to save and whom to let die.
The day finally came when there was no choice to make. My tablet registered four poaching parties entering my territory at once. One of the parties, sixteen men in all, was making its way through the jungle. They were heading towards Kodhari’s family.
The pastor and my friend, Duma, from Nakuru, came as soon as they heard. They helped me wrap my family in bed sheets. Then they helped me dig their graves in the village cemetery. With each shovel of dirt I dug up, I felt myself emptying inside.
I can’t remember the words of the pastor’s prayer service. At the time, I could only stare down at the fresh mounds of earth covering my family, the names Himaya, Issa, and Mosi, written on the wooden crosses and etched on my heart.
“I am sorry, my friend,” said Duma, as he placed his hand on my shoulder. “The police will come. They will give you your justice. I promise you.”
I shook my head. “Justice won’t come from them. But I will have it.”
The pastor walked around the graves and stood before me. “My son, I am truly sorry for your loss. You will see them again in heaven. God will look after them now.”
“You need time to heal, Abasi. Come back to Nakuru with us,” said Duma. “Come stay with me. My wife and I will look after you.”
“No, I’m sorry, Duma. Those men who did this, they said they want bushmeat. I will be waiting for them when they go hunting for it.”
“Abasi,” the pastor cajoled, “revenge cannot be all that you live for.”
“It’s all I have left.”
“No, my son. You still have their memory, now and always. Ask yourself, how do you want to live to honour it.”
The mission was done. The poachers were gone. I was lying on the ground trying to slow the blood running out of my stomach. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t afraid. Soon I would see my family again.
I heard footsteps ahead of me. My heart raced. I thought I’d shot them all. I fumbled for my rifle as the bushes ahead of me stirred. Then he appeared.
Kodhari stood for a moment, growled, then charged toward me. I set my rifle aside, closed my eyes, and prepared myself.
When I opened my eyes, I found Kodhari towering above my defenseless body, staring down at me. His wide eyes spoke a language I could understand.He told me everything in that moment. He grunted, stepped over to my right, and sat down. He extended his hand to me and Itook it. Kodhari sat with me until the end.
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11