In Kenya, Ted Goss and His 'Green Men' Have Declared a Year-Round Open Season on Ivory Poachers
01/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST
01/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST
With his Hughes helicopter warmed for takeoff and a powerful Winchester .264 cradled in his arms, Ted Goss strikes a fearsome pose for a reason: His life's mission is to save the animals of East Africa, but now men's lives are at stake too, including his own. Goss, 43, heads Kenya's hair-triggered new antipoaching unit, and hunting the hunter is the most dangerous game of all. It has already cost the lives of two of Goss' troops and an undisclosed number of the enemy. "There is no question of shouting challenges; you wouldn't live to hear the reply," Goss says. Hunting and trading in game trophies is banned throughout Kenya, but with "white gold" (ivory) selling at $68 a kilo (about 2.2 pounds) and rhinoceros horn fetching $8,000 per kilo, poaching is, as Goss puts it, "a proposition they couldn't afford to miss." As a result, Kenya's elephant population has been more than cut in half (to 65,000) in just six years and, even more sickening, the rhinos are down from 12,000 to 1,500.
This carnage prompted the World Bank to put up $3 million in 1977 to bankroll the antipoaching unit. Goss today commands an army of 300 Green Men (so called because of their camouflage jackets), trained like the Foreign Legion in the skills of detective, tracker and commando. Many are recruited from the poaching tribes, and the unit relies on a network of informants. "I spread the word that I would pay well for information," growls Goss. "No good charging off into the bush half-cocked."
Though Goss and his Green Men have so far reduced poaching by an estimated 80 percent, the quarry is rapidly changing from natives with poisoned arrows "to a big international business." Professional poachers from neighboring Somalia (where killing an elephant is a capital offense) have been filtering across the border armed with automatic weapons to mow down entire families of elephants. "It is much easier to find the poachers nowadays," sighs Goss, "because they shoot at you. They blaze away at my helicopter whenever they see it."
Though he may be winning the battle of the bush, Goss observes, "It is just as important to catch the men behind the poachers who provide them with bullets and smuggle the trophies out of the country." To this end, he has earmarked $100,000 for a speedy coastal patrol craft for pursuit at sea. The real "masterminds" of the traffic, he's convinced, are Indians and Arabs.
The son of a British game warden in what was then Tanganyika, Goss himself grew up in the bush. He left school at 16 to begin training as a forestry officer. Then as a game warden he helped stake out Kenya's Meru National Park, where the Adamsons of Born Free fame did much of their work. It was there that Goss was nearly crushed to death by an enraged elephant while experimenting with immobilizing tranquilizer darts. Leg operations knocked an inch off his 6'4" frame and sent him from the hospital wearing braces. He was told he would never walk properly again. But a self-devised regimen of swim therapy in the Indian Ocean helped him prove the doctors wrong. Within a year he was back in the field and developing new skills like aviation, which led to his present license to fly choppers.
A divorced father of three, Goss makes his home in a sprawling old house near Kenya's antipoaching HQ in the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi. He lives by jungle savvy and law. The government considers the poaching problem so critical that Goss and his Green Men are authorized to raid without search warrants. Goss has also helped in winning stiffer sentences (up to eight years) for poachers and feels no reservations about his shoot-first-ask-questions-later style of conducting business. "They say we are rough on poachers. This may be so," he admits. "But make no mistake. We are fighting a war."