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Kambale Mate huddled beneath a tangle of grass, looking up at bright stars in a moonless sky, a tumble of chaotic events cascading through his mind.
Where were the other wildlife rangers, Jean de Dieu Matongo and Joel Meriko Ari? Were they alive?
He had been a ranger for only five months at Garamba National Park, the last remaining preserve for disappearing populations of elephants and giraffes in this part of Africa. Yet here he was with two comrades, hiding like small, petrified mammals in the grass. If any of them moved, a large band of poachers nearby could find and kill them.
A hassock of grass cradled his back as he looked up. He couldn’t remember quite how he had escaped the shrieking storm of bullets. What he remembered was the crunch of the crisp, dry leaves as boot steps crept through the dusk.
The world is experiencing an epidemic of environmental killings. Last year 200 environmental defenders — citizens protesting mining, agribusiness, oil and gas development and logging, as well as land rights activists and wildlife rangers — were killed, according to the London-based nonprofit Global Witness. In the first 11 months of this year, the number was 170.