Answer by Diane Meriwether:
"…collect a leaf broken off by the quarry and compare it to a freshly picked one. Each time another leaf of the same type is found as spoor it is compared with those previously picked and a freshly picked one. Very quickly it becomes apparent whether the gap is being closed or not."
It's this level of practical specificity that makes this manual both an interesting read and a much needed guide in the struggle to preserve our natural resources.
Using Robin Hood as a teaching story on how not to proceed, the manual instructs us to remember that whoever loses the people loses the struggle. Sadly, arrogance and racism have a long tail.
"Investigators must also know they carry the reputation of their agency even into the first meeting with a community leader, so they can often start at a disadvantage through no fault of their own."
Without dwelling on the past, and ever practical, the manual lays out the rules of honorable engagement – be humble, be human, be truthful, be patient, be discrete.
Much of the manual is police procedural – how to tag and control evidence, how to conduct an interview, how to read a crime scene – familiar material for those of us who have ever caught up on a Netfilxed season of CSI until you realize that the crime scene is a group of elephants poisoned at the waterhole or mother rhino with her calf bereft by her side.
Another portion describes exactly how to read and follow a trail left by poachers in the Central African terrain. Rory and Yakov tell us that a woman poacher will urinate between her tracks, while a man's stream will fall ahead of where his feet are pointing. Perhaps your picture of poachers will shift at that point and you will wonder, as I did, what she looks like, this woman who kills these magnificent beasts.
The manual asks us to notice whether impala have slept on the poacher's tracks or the poachers have walked across the impala's bed, to visualize a spider taking about an hour to recreate their torn web, to squat down and dip your finger in the poacher's blood – pink and frothy if they have been gored in the lung, watery and foul from a wound to the gut. Notice, the manual says, listen, remember, observe.
I will never practice what this manual teaches. I will never check for scuff marks in the African dust or rehearse breaching the door of a warehouse filled with tusks but that does not mean the guide is useless to me. 8000 miles away I see an image of a mutilated young elephant and I find it hard to even look. This manual invites me to imagine how much more painful the scene must be when one has trained to observe the natural world so closely that you knows the animal's mother by name. I invite you to read and, then, to act: