Sadie’s Alaafia Elephant Sanctuary* cap slid down her sweat-covered forehead. She grabbed it with her gloved hand and removed it, wiping the sweat on the sleeve of her soiled t-shirt before tucking her dark, brown locks back into the hat’s depths.
“That hat is dirty as hell,” Johnny commented. “I guess it really is true what they say: You can take the girl out of the country…”
“But you can’t take the country out of the girl. Ha. Ha. Ha.” Sadie rolled her eyes and stroked Candy’s broad trunk. The massive elephant gently pressed her forehead against Sadie’s before sauntering towards her shallow pool of muddy water.
“They don’t stay clean for long,” Johnny teased. His combat boots squelched through the mud.
“Looks like you could use a bath yourself, Johnny,” Sadie jeered.
“Go right ahead,” Johnny teased. He pulled his white t-shirt up to his dog tags.
“Ugh, don’t make me hurl.” Sadie tossed the hose on the ground and gathered the rest of her bath tools.
“Heading over to see Rose, now?” Johnny ignored Sadie’s insult.
“She’s my last stop every day, Johnny. Since when is this new information?”
“True. Why did you name her Rose anyway?” Johnny kept pace with Sadie’s quick feet.
“She reminds me of someone I knew once,” Sadie responded.
“Someone from your super-secret ‘previous life’?” Johnny joked.
Sadie rolled her eyes and kept walking. He knew nothing of the past life she had suffered through to get here. All he saw was a woman with a doctorate in veterinary medicine at one of the largest and most dangerous elephant sanctuaries in the world. He didn’t see the path she was forced to take to get here.
“Sadie!” Anike shouted from Rose’s enclosure. “Dr. Babatunde is looking for you!”
Sadie glanced around at the sanctuary as she jogged towards Rose’s enclosure. The empty enclosures to her right were decoys, set up to throw off the poachers who threatened the sanctuary on a daily basis. Each enclosure twisted and turned in catawampus fashion, making it hard to determine where one ended and the other began. They all connected to a massive pole in the center of the sanctuary. Not much bigger than a fireman’s pole, the Nigerian police used to climb to the perch at the top to monitor the surrounding land for poachers. Since the poaching community grew, however, the police stopped offering their assistance.
“What’s going on?” Sadie demanded. Anike stood over Dr. Idowu Babatunde’s shoulder who was kneeling next to Rose’s body.
“She ripped open her sutures again,” Dr. Babatunde explained. “I think it might be infected.”
Sadie cussed under her breath and turned away from Rose’s fragile body. For an animal as massive as she was, she was no match for the poachers who attempted to end her life. The cuts in her legs and trunk were so deep when Sadie found her that Dr. Babatunde had ordered her euthanasia.
Sadie refused to allow Rose to become another statistic. Too many elephant lives had been taken by unchecked poachers looking to make a quick buck. Rose was only a calf. Sadie couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her die.
It was no easy task, but Sadie worked tirelessly to bring Rose back from the brink of death. Over the past four weeks alone, Rose had survived four surgeries. She was a fighter.
BANG! A shot rippled through the sanctuary.
“Poachers!” Johnny yelled. “They’re here!”
“Johnny, go back to base and grab two rifles. Meet me in the center of the sanctuary. Idowu – finish cleaning the wound and stitch her back up. We’ll keep the poachers away from this enclosure,” Sadie instructed. She leaned down and quickly kissed her friend’s trunk. “You’re in good hands, sweet girl.”
Sadie sprinted to the control room and checked the cameras. A truck full of poachers barreled through the gate, over the thick fencing, and towards the gates of Enclosure Two.
“Shit!” Sadie yelled, grabbing the binoculars on her way out. “We need a better vantage point!”
Sadie and Anike ran to the towering pole that stood in the center of the sanctuary. Anike attempted to scale it first.
“No! I need you to stay down here. Take this.” Sadie handed Anike a walkie.
Sadie’s first attempt at scaling the pole was unsuccessful. Her soiled clothing left her with little traction. Sadie took a deep breath and contemplated her options. She had always been running from her past, now she needed its training to get her to the top of this pole. She stripped to her sports bra and underwear and began her ascent. Squeezing her knee and foot around the pole, she climbed with an agility and strength she had forgotten she had.
When she reached the top, she clambered into the impossibly small lookout platform and scanned the horizon.
“They’re charging Enclosure Two!” Sadie yelled into the walkie.
Where the hell is Johnny with those rifles?
“Take this,” a voice emerged from nowhere. “Take this and start shooting those bastards.”
Sadie looked behind her to see a half-naked Johnny, his legs locked around the pole just beneath her, a long-range rifle in hand.
“Are you going to take the gun or not?” Johnny growled.
Sadie snapped out of her shock and grabbed the gun. She turned toward Enclosure Two and opened fire at the same time Johnny took his first shot. Two men went down in a heap. Two more shots, two more bodies. The men were no match for Johnny’s sniper training and Sadie’s country upbringing. Three poachers tried to flee, but Sadie picked them up one by one. She was done experiencing the heartbreak they left in their wake.
Sadie radioed the rest of her team. “Call the police. We have seven bodies for them.”
Sadie gazed down over the railing of the platform.
“What the hell was that?” Sadie asked.
“Oh, come on. Did you think you were the only stripper in Nigeria?” Johnny smiled.
*While the Alaafia Elephant Sanctuary is a fictional place, there are many charities working hard across the world to help these gentle giants. I chose the word Alaafia as the name for the elephant sanctuary, because it means 'peaceful' in Yoruba, a Nigerian language. African and Asian elephants are frequently targeted for the ivory in their tusks by both backwoods poachers and wealthy businessmen looking to get richer.
If you want to help in the fight against elephant cruelty, please consider donating to any of the following organizations who are currently making a difference in their communities: