This is CSI Africa
Johannesburg - The man with the big feet would leave his flip-flops at the fence. Barefooted he’d slip across the fence into Kruger National Park, alone, carrying a .375 calibre rifle fitted with a silencer. On his back was a bag filled with bread, water and an assortment of pills he would later crush up and smoke with tobacco.
Some of the pills were for heartburn, and he never really explained why he smoked it.
For protection against the rangers, a muti string hung from his rucksack.
On the Mozambican side of Kruger National Park, the poacher’s big feet were well known. His barefooted tracks in and out of the park had been seen often.
Anti-poaching units working the Mozambican side of Kruger had wanted to catch the man to see if he was as big as his feet promised.
But before the poacher with the big feet got near the fence, he had to pass a test.
As a young man wanting to earn money as a poacher he headed to the shebeens of Mugude. There he met the middlemen who looked for recruits willing to chance the section rangers, dogs and helicopters.
But could he shoot? In the bush he was handed a rifle and told to shoot at a Coke bottle. He hit the bottle, so was asked to demonstrate his tracking skills. Children learn to track from an early age in this part of Mozambique. As herders they know their cattle not by name but from each unique cloven imprint left in the dust. Bigfoot knew how to track.
In the area where Bigfoot operated, Kruger’s rusting fence is sometimes nothing more than four strands.
After slipping off his flip-flops – barefoot is quieter – Bigfoot would make his way to a pre-arranged meeting site to the other two members of his poaching crew.
They had crossed into the park from other points along the fence. Their foray into the park could be at night, or sometimes even in the middle of the day. Once together, their search for rhino spoor began. They had to be careful, not only of the rangers, but of other poachers.
If Bigfoot had bumped into other poachers, he said he would have killed them, and taken their horn.
But he claims he never did meet any poachers in the large park.
When he moved at night, Bigfoot picked out stars in the expanse of the Milky Way and used them to find direction. But even for someone with Bigfoot’s bush skills, finding a rhino was potluck. He said he only shot one rhino. The kill was at close range in thick bush, he was less than 30m away. A hatchet was used to hack the horn off and they raced for the border.
Bigfoot made 10 sorties into Kruger. His luck ran out on the 11th.
A rival syndicate ratted him out. Night ambushes and roadblocks were set up.
The following morning the tired officers were drinking tea during a break when one of them noticed Bigfoot and a friend walking towards them.
Bigfoot gave up easily
The anti-poaching unit discovered he was as tall as his feet had suggested – nearly 2m.
Then Bigfoot did something unexpected – he snitched.
He told his captors where the pick-up car would be netting two of his accomplices in a Hilux bakkie with an anti-poaching sticker on the vehicle.
And Bigfoot wasn’t finished talking.
He told how he would slip across the border, how he was recruited, how he used those stars.
Bigfoot was handed over and arrested by Mozambican police.
He has been sent to Maputo to stand trial for possession of an illegal firearm.
If the charges stick, his large feet may have left their last spoor on those tracks leading to Kruger. - The Star