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The plain was strewn with dead zebras. Last night's thunderstorm had flooded the flatlands hoof-deep, and lightning did the rest. More than two dozen carcasses dotted the grasslands. Already, only an hour after dawn, the vultures were at work. Black-backed jackals stood their ground defiantly as the Toyota safari wagon rolled to a halt.
"The rifle of God," Bill Winter said. "Silaha ya mungu. The government can keep us from hunting all right, but it can't deny God His sport."
Winter and I were traveling through Kenya, assessing the state of the game animals. Winter, who is 46, had been a professional hunter until last May when President Jomo Kenyatta outlawed his calling in an attempt to help preserve Kenya's wildlife. Ten months later, to curtail the widespread slaughter of game by poachers, Kenyatta had had to prohibit the sale of wildlife trophies and curios.
Ahead of us, at the edge of the plain, Naibor Keju soared up from the border of the Lorogi Forest, a stately curve of granite that glowed in the early light. Naibor Keju means "White Legs" in Samburu, but there was nothing remotely white or leggy about it. The most obvious landmark in the region, Naibor Keju is prominent in Samburu mythology. Nearby stands a more famous landmark, a smaller outcropping known as the Rope of God. Ages ago, the Samburu say, this was a giant umbilical cord connected to Heaven. Down it poured milk and blood—food for the people—from God's herds. One day a man whose cattle had been killed by lions climbed up and asked God for some cows to replenish his stock. God refused, and in a rage the man severed the rope with his short sword. That was the Fall from Grace, Samburu-style.
A great gusher of milk and blood poured down, inundating the countryside, and the umbilicus drew back up into the sky. Indeed, the whole sky rose higher than it had ever been before. From now on, men would have to fend for themselves. But the man who had cut the Rope of God was forbidden to keep cattle. Henceforth, God decreed, the only creatures he could herd would be bees. That, according to the legend, was how the bee-hunting Wandorobo bands split off from the cattle-herding Samburu.
Despite heavy poaching, the wildlife of southern Kenya was still in excellent condition, except for rhinoceroses and elephants, whose horns and tusks are valuable enough in the outside world to warrant the risk of arrest. Having seen this, we had come to Naibor Keju in the hope of gauging the situation to the north. Northern Kenya has traditionally been the scene of raiding and poaching by its neighbor Somalia. Bands of Somalis, known as shifta, cross the border with impunity, often armed with Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles and plastic land mines. They raid villages, ambush trucks and slaughter game. Somalia claims that all of northern Kenya, clear down to Mount Kenya itself, is its property. As a result, the Kenyan government has opened new roads into the north, mainly to expedite troop movements in the event of war, and caravans of its own troops course the countryside every day. African soldiers are notorious for slaughtering wildlife whenever they can. And they have the weapons at hand. Between shifta and soldiery, the game takes a heavy pounding.
I had hunted the country around Naibor Keju with Winter in 1974, and at that time it was thick with gazelles, buffalo, eland, impala, game birds and lions. In our three-day stay this time out we saw plenty of gazelles but very little else, except for the zebra herd, which seemed to be stronger than it had been four years earlier. Heavy rain kept us from penetrating deep into the surrounding Lorogi Forest, so we had no chance to check for signs of rhino or elephant. But clearly the region had taken a "dreadful clouting," as Winter would say in his English locution. It seemed that the Rope of God had been cut again in a new, more insidious, manner.
Not far from the scene of the electrocuted zebras we came upon the carcass of a freshly killed impala doe. She had been partly skinned, and a spear, a blanket and a walking stick lay beside her. Lambat, our Dorobo tracker, found blood and hair along a track down which she had been dragged. An entry wound gaped in the doe's neck. Nearby, a group of young Samburu were herding goats, and when we began to gut the animal one of them—a boy of no more than 12—came running up. Soldiers had shot the impala, the boy said, and because they had left it to rot, he had decided to salvage the meat. Yet on opening the body cavity we could find no bullet, not even a fragment of one. The doe was heavily pregnant.
"She was probably lying up in some cover, in labor, and the lad spotted her," Winter said. "Short work with the spear. Well, Bwana. we've caught ourselves a poacher—but what do we do next? Turn him over to the police in Maralal? If we let him go, this boy will be a hero tonight in his manyatta for bringing home the bacon. If we turn him in, he'll spend months in the toils of the law, and that isn't a pretty prospect anywhere on this continent."
The boy went off to his goats, loaded with fresh meat. Behind him he left the almost born mimba. The fetus was sleek and darkly marked, gleaming with amniotic fluid, and its perfectly formed hooves felt soft as jelly.