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"Mark, they're shooting Survivor!" Delia screams, but Mark is already running for his shotgun. A second shot rings out. Then Survivor is running away from the gunfire and into the trees.
For the rest of the morning Mark and his men search the bush for signs of the poachers. They look for blood spoor that might lead them to the elephant. But they find nothing. Mark takes the plane up and spots the carcass of an elephant a mile from camp, its tusks hastily hacked out of its skull. It is not Survivor.
Now the hot dry season has settled in the Luangwa Valley, and the Lubonga River trickles sluggishly past camp. The noon sun bakes the valley floor, and acacia pods snap like firecrackers in the dust. The sun sets red and swollen from the smoke of the wildfires. At dusk the wind picks up and blows through camp like the breath of hell.
Survivor has not been seen. He may be dead or wounded, or he may have escaped into the forest.
Mark and Delia have mounted a new campaign to drive out the poachers. They are offering a reward and a high-paying job with the project to every hunter who turns in his rifle. The government has stationed a unit of paramilitary scouts near camp. The Owenses have hired informers in several of the park's villages.
The poachers may be retaliating; the house of one informer was recently raked by AK-47 fire. As always, the Owenses sleep with loaded guns by their bed.
Mark and Delia went back to the States for a visit in October. They needed a break from the heat and from the battle that never ends. They drove out West to look for some land in the Rockies, a place to put in an airstrip and build a log cabin someday, "when we're too old to crawl back to the bush," Mark says. But now that the thunderheads are welling up on the Muchinga escarpment, and the December rains are breaking over the parched Luangwa Valley, Mark and Delia are back in Africa. It is a good time for lions. And maybe, someday soon, it will be a good time for elephants.