"Oh, job, job!" Edwards yelps. "Pongo juice!"
This requires translation. Warden Edwards is saying, "Oh good! Tea!" in the local slang, a dialect so twisted and colorful it makes one yearn for subtitles. In Zimbabwe, crocodiles are known as flatdogs, lions are shumbas, a confrontation with poachers is a scene, women are honeys, blokes who bake (kill) poachers are double-rugged and tea is pongo juice.
So the pongo juice is poured and the meeting opens with a lively rundown of Tuesday night's lion attack. A group of rain-drenched canoeists who were on a Dutch Reformed Church outing had taken shelter in some empty tourist cabins at Rukomechi, 15 miles upstream. In the middle of the night, a lioness crashed through the wire-mesh window of one of the cabins, pounced on a sleeping canoeist and pinned him to the floor.
"He tried to gouge her eye out with his finger, but that just made her mad," says Cousins. "So he called to his mates, who were scrambling around the room wondering what to do. He asked them to pass him his hunting knife. Can you believe it?"
The canoeist stabbed the lioness in the back, but this only made her angrier. She bit him in the face. Somehow he worked the knife up under her and stabbed her in the heart. "He gave it a good twist," Cousins says. "She died right on top of him."
The injured lion-killer was flown to a hospital in the capital, where he was recovering nicely.
Now the meeting gets to the serious business at hand. "We've got to move, move, move if we want to win this war!" Tatham says.
"We're——," says Cousins darkly. "The roads are a washout. If we get a scene today we'll have to wade out of here."
Tatham sits ramrod straight, the stringy muscles around his jawbone jumping furiously as he weighs his options. How can you attack poachers when you can't even get out of base camp?
Nevertheless, Operation Stronghold is in far better shape than it was two months ago. Then there were only five parks vehicles in the whole valley, one portable radio set and not a single backpack among the 100 or so rangers and scouts available for antipoacher patrol.