Mark spends the next days orchestrating a manhunt. He dispatches two patrols of eight scouts apiece to the site of the poachers' camp. The scouts capture three poachers, but the main gang splits up and heads for the escarpment. Mark radios headquarters to set up ambushes along the exit routes from the park, but it is too late. The rest of the gang escapes with sacks of fresh game meat and the tusks of at least two elephants. Later, Mark spots three more dead elephants from the air.
The Owenses think that the new wave of elephant poaching has been caused by a revival in the regional ivory market. They have found evidence that ivory is being shipped from Lusaka to Swaziland and South Africa, where it is either sold after being made into trinkets or stockpiled by speculators.
African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania that have endorsed the recent ban on the ivory trade by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) have seen a significant decline in poaching and ivory smuggling this year. But Zambia is among a number of southern African nations, including Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, that have refused to join in the ban. (And some of these countries continue to sell ivory within their borders.)
The nonsignatory countries claim that the sale of legally culled tusks supports conservation efforts. But the Owenses believe that any trade in ivory stimulates the illegal market and gives criminals a way to launder poached ivory.
"We've seen that the ivory ban can work," says Delia. "Now we need every country to join it."
Since the ivory ban went into effect last year, the price paid to poachers for tusks has dropped from as high as $20 to less than $2 per pound. But in a country as poor as Zambia, even this pittance is incentive enough to hunt elephants.
Early one morning at the end of August, Mark and Delia are walking along the path to the kitchen at Marula-Puku when a familiar figure crunches out of the forest on the other side of the river.
"Look, Mark! Survivor's back again."
In a perfect world, this story would end here. Survivor would return to camp and inspire Mark and Delia to keep up the fight. But this is what happens that day:
Mark smiles and turns to his wife. He is about to speak when the heavy crack of a hunting rifle echoes across the water.