Wednesday, January 29, 2014

10. Consummation with Hercules

The drone provided by the Canadian International Conservation Agency (CICA - "see-kah") was an RC helicopter equipped alternatively with a zoomable HD still/video camera by day and an infrared video camera by night.  An on board transmitter would beam the footage frame-by-frame down to a ground based receiver hooked up to a laptop computer on which screen the image at any one split second would be displayed in real time, while at the same time it was recorded in the computer's hard drive.  On the right of the laptop was the joystick by which the drone was controlled, both in flight characteristics as well as the camera functions.  The piloting of the drone was conducted as if the footage on the screen was the view from the cockpit of a real helicopter.  Right now, the laptop was on the hood of a jeep located about a horizontal mile from the drone.  Gripping the joystick was the right hand of one Mark Lee, and dead center on the screen of the laptop was one magnificent male black rhino.

The noon day heat raised such a broad and steady thermal that the drone on low power could just float on it, thus lengthening the duration and range of the flight.  His mission was to conduct a grid-by-grid aerial survey of the rhino population and distribution, and, while at it, monitor the poaching activity, plus, if possible, intervene by direct action, that is, by means of the drone.  For this purpose, it was also equipped with a ten-pack "fire-cracker" release, where the "fire-cracker" would be activated upon release with a twenty-second fuse delay.

In order not to disturb the wildlife nor alert the poachers, Mark maintained a minimum hovering altitude of 300 meters at all times where the quiet sky-blue electric drone would be all but invisible and inaudible.  This minimum height would be observed even when releasing the fire-crackers, where he would aim the camera vertically downward, and release the rocket-shaped fire-cracker when the target area was at screen center.  So far, he had had several occasions to hone this skill in real life poaching situations, and more than one rhino had thus been saved.

Now the drone was at a 45 degree angle above the rhino, and, with the camera aimed down 45 degrees, Mark executed a horizontal 360 degree sweep with the camera set at wide-angle.  

Almost at once, he noticed three ground vehicles parked about 100 meters from the rhino.  There were about a dozen black dots in the vicinity of the vehicles, which in Mark's mind constituted a poaching gang.  

Just one thing out of the ordinary.  There appeared to be a zebra about half way between the rhino and the vehicles, and the zebra appeared to be trotting from the vehicles towards the rhino, with something looking like a baboon sitting on its back.  

Mark stabilized the drone, aimed the camera at the zebra, zoomed in, and realized that it in fact was not a zebra carrying a baboon, but a large horse carrying a small human, a woman to be exact, one with what appeared to be a hunting bow in her hand.  

While sensing the woman's malicious intent in his gut, Mark was puzzled.  This departed markedly from the general MO of a poaching gang, nor that of an anti-poaching patrol.  Nor was he aware of any wildlife biologist backed by a dozen men or more.  If anything, it invoked a scene from the movie Troy, where the Greek coalition army sent Achilles out to do one-on-one battle against Hector.  But still, it did not make full sense.  If this is a trophy hunting party, why would it send out a woman armed only with a bow against a massive rhino full of testosterone, and soon, adrenaline as well?

The woman maintained a steady trot, bearing an off-direct course for a tangential approach to the rhino.  When she reached the closet approach, she stopped the horse.  Mark estimated her distance to the rhino to be 30-40 yards.  He maximum-zoomed the telephoto on her, and, due to the slight vibration, he switched over to "Still", and snapped a dozen still shots of her, at least three of which caught her in profile, two in quarter frontal and one full frontal.

Then, he kicked himself that in his puzzlement, he did not think of repositioning the drone for a fire-cracker release.  Were he to do it now, he would momentarily lose sight of the woman.  But before he could move the drone, if he wanted to, he saw the woman draw her bow, fire off an arrow, draw the bow again and shot again, and a third.  He wide angled the lens, and saw that the rhino had orientated his massive body at the woman and begun a ponderous charge.  The woman shot off another arrow.  And then, her horse reared and threw her on to the ground.  The horse regained his balance, and began to run away, but the woman held him back by the reins which she had retained in her hand.  The rhino continued his charge and was soon on to them.  And in the words that flashed through Mark's mind, she pulled the horse in between the rhino and herself, and "offered him up to the rhino in her own stead".

Before his very eyes, the rhino ran his horn clean through the torso of the horse.  While the two animals were lock in the death struggle, the women ran off 30 yards, and shot another half a dozen arrows into the rhino.  And when the dust had finally settled, the one left standing of the three was the woman.  

Mark zoomed in to her again and snapped a few more still shots, one of which caught her raising her bow above her head at the observing party in triumph.  In some disgust at himself, Mark finished what he had to do.  He aimed the telephoto at the observing party, zoomed it to the max, and snapped another dozen still shots.  To his amazement, a least two of them showed the face of the President of the United States.

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