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Wyoming doctor, 'extreme environmentalist,' recruits army in Africa to save animals from poachers
AP via Yahoo! News ^ | Sat Oct 19, 9:13 PM ET | JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA

Posted on 10/20/2002 6:37:22 PM PDT by Conagher

JACKSON, Wyoming - Dr. Bruce Hayse doesn't look like a tin-pot dictator.

He favors tropical shirts and Western boots, not camo 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 in Wyoming recruiting his own army 8,000 miles (12,900 kilometers) away in the remote and wretched Central African Republic?

"Don't call it an army," Hayse said, 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. That's 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're an environmentalist.

OK, Hayse concedes, an extreme environmentalist.

But he's not, he insists, an aspiring Third World strongman or a modern-day Mr. Kurtz paddling upriver into Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."

All he's trying to do — with, he emphasizes, the written blessing of the C.A.R.'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 fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

It's not hunting. It's extermination.

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, Hayse says, President Ange-Felix Patasse ceded authority over the entire Chinko River basin — 60,000 square miles (153,600 square kilometers) — to Hayse's paramilitary forces, some of them recruited from villages that have been terrorized by poachers.

Hayse is personally funding the effort, spending more than $150,000 so far.

Today, his rangers are starting to patrol the Chinko region as the dry season begins — high season for the animal slaughter.

Hayse has hired a shadowy former South African commando who fought in civil wars in Angola and Zimbabwe to lead the armed patrols. Hayse calls him "Dave Bryant," but his true identity is a secret.

An article about Hayse in the October issue of National Geographic Adventure asserts that one patrol recently captured and executed at least three poachers, and that seven more were captured and turned over to the government. Hayse said he was aware of the incidents but still is seeking details.

Attempts by The Associated Press to independently confirm those events, and to confirm Hayse's agreement with the C.A.R government, have been unsuccessful. C.A.R.'s ambassador to the United States and officials in the country's capital of Bangui have been unavailable for comment.

"The goal is not to kill people," 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."

Large conservation organizations initially were intrigued by Hayse's bold move, but now are backpedaling.

"Allowing a private militia run by expatriates to control the situation using lethal force against Africans will backfire on the government and hurt conservation in the region," said Richard Carroll, who directs the World Wildlife Fund's programs throughout much of Africa, including the C.A.R.

Others said conditions in the C.A.R. are a "no-win situation."

"If conservationists support killing poachers, they will be viewed as preferring animals over people" said Michael Hutchins, conservation director for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which operates an international task force on bushmeat hunting.

"However, if the region's wildlife is hunted into extinction, then many people may starve to death and who will be blamed?" he asked. "The conservationists, of course."

"It's difficult," Hayse acknowledged. "I don't go to bed at night feeling that I'm doing exactly the right thing."


Poaching in Africa is on the upswing again — 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 like 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 C.A.R. has been a forgotten Eden.

A Texas-sized land with only 4 million people, the former French colony 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 in, sharing the waters with hippos and crocs.

Vast herds of buffalo, giraffe and antelope migrated through a savannah three times larger than 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 bushmeat are smoked black and crusty on campfires. Then it's 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.

Even in the chaotic C.A.R., where the presidential palace is guarded by Libyan paratroopers loaned by Moammar Gadhafi, the government offers certain wildlife some protection in parks and reserves to the southwest with help from organizations like the W.W.F.

But on the eastern frontier, where schools, hospitals and even roads are rarities, the responsibility apparently is being left to the burly, 53-year-old Hayse.

It's a bizarre, but somehow fitting role for the iconoclastic Hayse and his home base of Jackson, Wyoming, a staggeringly beautiful playground for tycoons and celebrities that still likes to show off its roots as independent outpost of the old Wild West.

Just up the road is Yellowstone National Park, North America's version of the Serengeti. In the 19th century, before it came under federal protection, hunters all but wiped out its bison, wolves, grizzlies and other predators.

In the 1970s, Hayse was a founding member of Earth First!, an underground environmental movement known for acts of sabotage, tree-sitting and road blocks.

Hayse opened a medical clinic in Jackson in 1983, before the average house cost $1 million and before baristas were pouring steaming espresso drinks on every street corner. As newer medical plazas filled with plastic surgeons and orthopedists, he has continued to treat working-class and immigrant patients, often free of charge. In 1992, the Chamber of Commerce named him Citizen of the Year.

In his spare time, Hayse pursued high-octane adventure, leading rafting parties on wild rivers around the world, surviving whirlpools, killer bees, malaria and crocodiles.

In 1998, his activism was rekindled when he led the first raft trip down 300 miles (483 kilometers) of the muddy Chinko, a place "as wild as you'll ever see," he recalled during a late bistro dinner.

At first, he exulted in the Chinko's isolation, he said. But he soon realized the surrounding forest was silent. The wildlife he expected was missing in action.

His party found a few burned-out campsites littered with elephant pelvises and handfuls of spent ammunition.

"I was so depressed," he said. "It was a paradise. Yet day after day on the river, we saw nothing."

The only populated village was Rafai, at the Chinko's mouth. Tribal elders greeted the rafting party with tales of terror at the hands of poachers.

"It's fine to float down an unexplored river, but at a certain point there is an ethical obligation to do something more," he said.

He and his friends created African River and Rainforest Conservation, a nonprofit group. In addition to the mysterious mercenary "Dave Bryant," Hayse hired a political liaison and a community development specialist. They are arranging for well-drilling, medical care and loans for small business.

If the poachers are defeated, Hayse and wildlife biologists agree there probably are sufficient remnant populations of elephants and other species to repopulate the Chinko basin over many years.

Ecotourism, or even regulated big game hunting, could help raise money.

ARRC estimates its paramilitary patrols and humanitarian programs will cost $600,000 annually. Wealthier mainstream conservation groups have not rushed to help, fearful of the ARRC's tactics.

At least one private donor in Wyoming backed off, citing her attorney's advice that "the use of deadly force is not a charitable activity."

Hayse is in too deep now to bail, but he's exhausting his finances.

"I've put in most of what I have to my name, and I can't keep doing that," Hayse said. "It feels really scary. It could turn into a total quagmire."

That's not the only swamp here. What about a physician's pledge to do no harm? How does Hayse square that with armed conflict?

The Chinko ecosystem is dying, he said, and the poachers are an infection that will require strong medicine to cure.

Hayse is a member of the Wyoming Medical Society. A spokeswoman for that group said Hayse's activities are not the sort of issue the group addresses.

The doctor wishes people would focus less on the mercenaries and guns and more on the humanitarian and scientific programs he has planned.

Fat chance. He nods, wearily.

"I'm doing something I believe in — protecting wilderness," he said. "On the other hand, it means doing something that means other people will get killed."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events; US: Wyoming; Unclassified
KEYWORDS: earthfirst; environmentalism; poaching

1 posted on 10/20/2002 6:37:24 PM PDT by Conagher
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To: Conagher; Carry_Okie; comwatch; B4Ranch; SierraWasp; countrydummy; AAABEST; madfly; sasquatch; ...
Does anyone besides me find this scary?
2 posted on 10/20/2002 6:54:32 PM PDT by farmfriend
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To: Conagher
"I'm doing something I believe in — protecting wilderness," he said. "On the other hand, it means doing something that means other people will get killed."

I couldn't help but notice that he isn't volunteering to pick up a gun and go in, too.

3 posted on 10/20/2002 6:56:37 PM PDT by Excuse_My_Bellicosity
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To: farmfriend
I don't find it one bit scary. Many of us would love nothing more than for the green-creeps to pick up a gun in anger.

It would give us a most perfect excuse to send them to gaia hell in a wholesale fashion.

4 posted on 10/20/2002 7:06:42 PM PDT by AAABEST
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To: farmfriend
Why do ya find this scary?

These liberal defenders O' nature are gonna shoot each and the poachers are gonna kick their pu--y middle class asses as soon as the get into the the 1st firefight.

That's only gonna happen if they are lucky enough to catch some 3rd world disease and get saved by an already overcrowded hospital.

Whats the problem?
5 posted on 10/20/2002 7:13:19 PM PDT by kennyboy509
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To: Conagher
I'd like to see Dr. Doofus' crackpot militia met at the airport by gun-toting goons who took them all out behind the hangar and machine-gunned them to death as terrorists. Because that's all they are.
6 posted on 10/20/2002 7:35:52 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: Conagher
Personally, I have no problems with what this guy is now doing. Considering his previous escapades, there are a lot worse ways he could be spending his time.

I wish him all the luck in the world.

7 posted on 10/20/2002 8:35:01 PM PDT by Skibane
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To: IronJack
Whats to keep this "anti-poaching patrol" from running out of control (they probably will)and ending up just like the punks running the streets of Mogadishu?
8 posted on 10/20/2002 8:46:44 PM PDT by virgil
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To: farmfriend
bookmarked for later
9 posted on 10/21/2002 12:23:15 PM PDT by countrydummy
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