As hard and as long as this winter has been here in Minnesota, it is time to pick a good book to read at night when the chores are done and the cows are in the barn.
One such exciting tome is by veteran writer Ron Thomson, known for Mahoboh, who has just penned a real page turner entitled, The Adventures of Shadrek: Southern Africa’s Most Infamous Elephant Poacher.
To put the whole book into perspective, we have to get the timing right and the players straight. Ron Thomson at this stage of his life is a game ranger. His quarry is the greatest elephant poacher of modern-day Africa known as Shadrek. A goodly portion of this book deals with trying to apprehend this intrepid African who is always not one, but perhaps three steps ahead of his pursuers. No matter how many traps they set, no matter how great the intensive planning, Shadrek poached with total impunity.
As one who has always admired true bush-craft, Shadrek kept me mesmerized with how he stayed in the jungle for weeks on end. Especially fascinating was how he found five strategically-placed, giant hollowed-out baobab trees. Here he slept, stashed his ivory, guns, and ammo, and watched in glee as search parties literally walked just a few feet away. One issue with the baobab tree, especially one that is hollow, is that it becomes a nocturnal attraction for many large bats. This might pose a problem for most of us, but not for Shadrek. He always kept large and dry elephant droppings at the base of the interior that he would burn. The resulting smell and smoke drove the bats out. Then he set up his sleeping mat, and because of the girth of the tree would fall into a deep cool sleep despite outside temperatures that reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit!
With an extensive network of corrupt government officials, Portuguese in this instance, he was able to not only hunt and poach at will, but he also had a steady stream of customers who purchased the ivory at competitive prices, making this fellow rather well to do. But in Africa you can be certain of one thing– there is always change in the wind and oftentimes not for the better.
As the Portuguese flee Mozambique and ZANLA takes over, the ensuing civil war begins to cross over into Rhodesia. Mr. Thomson never does catch Shadrek, but through an elaborate ruse (you have to read the book) they end up working and hunting together. Ron eventually convinces him of the malevolent nature of the Communist rebels and eventually induces him to work for the Rhodesians.
For those of you unfamiliar with this sad chapter of African history, rebels crossing over from Mozambique began to infiltrate and destabilize the government of Ian Smith. With the critical assistance and protection of this illustrious poacher and with a guarantee that the Rhodesians would compensate him immensely for giving up camp locations etc., this brave pair head off into the veldt and very carefully plot the exact coordinates of five rebel camps that will soon be annihilated.
Here is where the story gets real ugly. It is now determined that Shadrek is “expendable” and the greatest act of treachery goes into high gear.
Mr. Thomson tries to make a really strong case as to why he had to do such an unconscionable act. I for one cannot support or endorse this betrayal, especially since Shadrek could have killed his former pursuer on countless occasions. But only by reading the book will you be able to draw any conclusions. This will make for some very enjoyable summer reading. Your blood pressure might climb a bit as well.
Thomson, Ron. The Adventures of Shadrek : Southern Africa's Most Infamous Elephant Poacher. Long Beach: Safari Press, 2014. Print.