- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

Dr. Bruce Hayse doesn't look like a tin-pot dictator. He favors tropical shirts and Western boots, not camouflage fatigues and a chestful of medals. He drives a muddy truck, not an armored limousine.
So why is this middle-aged family physician living on the summit of cowboy chic recruiting his own army 8,000 miles away in the remote and wretched Central African Republic?
"Don't call it an army," said Dr. Hayse, wincing.
How else to describe 400 soldiers brandishing AK-47s?
Militia? Mercenaries? Military?
"All of the M-words are bad, too," he admonished.
"It's an anti-poaching patrol," he said. "Purely defensive in nature."
Defending nature, by whatever means necessary, is Dr. Hayse's point and his passion.
In the Central African Republic, where the only reliable things are weeklong summer downpours and attempted coups, "necessary" invariably means at gunpoint, even when you are an environmentalist.
OK, Dr. Hayse concedes, an extreme environmentalist.
But he is not, he insists, an aspiring Third World strongman or a modern-day Mr. Kurtz paddling upriver into Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."
All he is trying to do with, he emphasizes, the written blessing of the Central African Republic's president is save what remains of the country's magnificent wildlife and protect its remote villages from brutal gangs of poachers.
These poachers aren't tribal subsistence hunters who shoot or snare exotic antelope for meat. Instead, they set fires to drive every living creature through a fusillade of automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
It's not hunting. It's extermination.
Dr. Hayse says combat is likely because the poachers "won't allow themselves to be arrested. If somebody has a better idea, we'll listen. But nobody does."
In 2001, Dr. Hayse says, President Ange-Felix Patasse ceded authority over the Chinko River basin 60,000 square miles to Dr. Hayse's paramilitary forces, some of them recruited from villages that have been terrorized by poachers.
Dr. Hayse is funding the effort personally, spending more than $150,000 so far.
His rangers are starting to patrol the Chinko region as the dry season begins high season for the animal slaughter.
"The goal is not to kill people," Dr. Hayse said. "But you can't just declare a national park and assume that the animals will be safe. There will be some confrontations, and you have to assume there will be gunfire."
Poaching in Africa is on the upswing again with a black market worth billions of dollars in ivory, skins, baby animals and meat after years of relative quiet.
Governments are selling industrial concessions to develop timber, minerals and other resources. Their deals open lands to illegal hunting that have served as the cradle of evolution.
Even in wealthier countries such as Kenya and South Africa, wildlife protection is waning as ecotourism budgets are diverted to deal with AIDS, famine and other crushing social problems.
By comparison, the Central African Republic has been a forgotten Eden.
It is a Texas-sized nation with 4 million people. The country, the former French colony of Ubangi-Shari, is located in the bull's-eye of the continent. It was legendary among some scientists, hunters and photographers as a bastion of equatorial biodiversity.
Native tribesmen called the tumbling, chocolate-brown Chinko River the "River of Elephants" because tens of thousands would wade and trumpet in its riffles, sharing the waters with hippopotamuses and crocodiles.
Vast herds of buffalo, giraffe and antelope of every stripe migrated through a savannah three times the size of the legendary Serengeti, stalked by lion and leopard.
But for the past several years, while the world wasn't looking, poachers have swept across the eastern border from Sudan during the winter dry season.
Scientists estimate that 95 percent of the wildlife in the Chinko region has been lost. But the carnage doesn't stop there.
Tribal women are raped and men enslaved as tons of bush meat are smoked black and crusty on campfires. Then it is packed on horses and camels to be peddled in Sudanese markets and offered on menus in African and European capitals all despite international restrictions on game trafficking.
Anti-poaching patrols with shoot-to-kill authority aren't new. Throughout Africa, Asia and South America, governments have created national parks and mobilized their armies to capture poachers and secure their borders.

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