A few days ago I sat on a grassy knoll almost exactly on the border of Kenya and Tanzania and drank coffee with a man named Moses. In the valley below us a herd of around ten elephants ripped their way through the scrub.
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted the life story of Moses any better. In his own words Moses is “an old man”, but he looks no more than fifty and is still stronger than most twenty year olds. Moses is not actually a Maasai. He’s from the areas around Tsavo National Park in eastern Kenya. He was once the gun bearer for a famous Kenyan hunting turned safari family. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s he took wealthy western clients big game hunting. In the late ‘70’s hunting was banned in Kenya.
The work dried up for Moses and, though he was offered employment in tourism, he chose to return to the thing he knew best. Hunting. But this time he was breaking the law. His poaching career spanned a number of years, and the stories he told me sometimes almost defied belief. For most of these you’ll have to wait until the book connected with this project comes out, but here’s one story to whet the apetitie.
Moses and his three fellow poachers had been hunting for elephant (rhino horn wasn’t so valuable back then). They were living in the Tsavo bush, scavenging meat from carcasses of animals killed by lions or that they themselves had shot. During the early 1980’s the poaching of elephants in Tsavo became so bad that elephant numbers declined dramatically. Moses and his band of poachers had almost cleared the surrounding bush of elephants. It was time to move on to fresh hunting pastures. They walked for several days and had gone a long time with no real food. They were starting to starve. One day a ranger helicopter flew overhead looking for poachers. They hid from it and thought they had been unnoticed. Some more days passed and they got ever hungrier. Eventually, they were close to collapse and starvation. They could hardly stand upright so they stripped the bark from an acacia tree and tied it around their waists like a natural corset. This prevented them from buckling and falling over. They then noticed vultures circling in the sky. Lots of vultures. That meant meat. By the time they got to the scene much of the meat had already gone, but, unsure what sort of creature it was they had stumbled upon, they gathered up the bones and left-over meat. They roasted and ate the remaining meat and used the bones to make soup. Feeling a little stronger, and still confused as to what sort of animal they had eaten, they continued their journey. They had only walked a few hundred metres more when they found the answer to what they had just eaten. There, lying in the bush ahead of them, was a human head. Moses and his friends had eaten a dead human being.
Moses described to me how the realisation as to what they had done made them ‘go a little mad’. They lost their caution and stealth. And this was to prove their undoing. The helicopter of rangers they had seen a few days earlier had spotted them and a trap had been set. Half mad with disgust and fear at what they had done they stumbled through the bush without noticing that they were being surrounded by rangers. Suddenly from out of the bush sprung the armed rangers. They beat the poachers with their rifle butts and took them away. Moses served four years in prison.
Today Moses is reformed and believes that all poachers should be shot.