Once upon a time, as late as the last Ice Age, the woolly rhino roamed as far as Europe. At the beginning of the 20th century only 500 000 rhinos were left in Africa and Asia. Today, only 27 000 rhinos are left in the wild, says WWF. Out of the 20 000 white rhinos and 5 000 critically endangered black rhinos still living on the African continent, approximately 80 percent are found in South Africa.
But the situation is dire as here, in sunny South Africa, between 2008 and 2018 over 8 000 rhinos were poached in nature reserves such as Kruger National Park – that conveniently borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique making it easy for the illegal huntsmen to escape law.
Whenever a rhino is poached its horn will reach the smugglers in Asia in the blink of an eye, all the middle men taking their hefty profit… while its carcass is left to rot under the African sun where it first saw the light of day.
That’s why the free-running hounds of Kruger National Park entered the wildlife scene. But who are these dogs?
They are beagles, short-haired pointers, bloodhounds, spaniels, German Shepherds, and Malinois (the same Malinois who make great military working dogs), and other breeds of hounds, but what they all have in common is their passion for following the trail, their love for chase, the stamina, and their deadly… olfactory abilities. For these free-running hounds catching the scent (meaning following it till they seize it – and apprehend the poacher) is a way of life. Is what’s on their mind when they get up in the morning, and what they dream of while they nap.
In their spacious, open-air pens – where they are kept for protection against the African beasts as well as to restrict them from going on a wild chase on their own, out of too much excitement – you almost never see them laying down to rest. They are either standing, alert as soon as their handlers approach, springs of pent-up canine energy with focused eyes, pointy ears and quivering noses, or sleeping in blissful exhaustion after a day of training or poacher-hunting.
They say if you love them, let them go… Let them catch the scent. Let them run.
These pack dogs are like this, chasing together over any kind of tricky landscape at 40km per hour, while each one longs to be the first to reach the target. And if they don’t, when another hound is first to lounge at the petrified, cornered insurgent, baying and barking in a spray of foamy drool, they still feel the same thrill and celebrate the group effort and the shared victory with a song of yipping and howling, and a storm of wagging tails. A chorus of shared joy for a job well done, the capture, and not in the least to celebrate a planned slaughter… For these free-running hounds the chase is what fills their heart, and what their hearts beat for.
They bolt from their shelters after a feint scent, even a couple of hours old, race across the golden African plains, often under an unforgiving sun, speed past herds of undisturbed impala and fierce wildebeest, dart through thickets, dodge thorny Acacias, and jump over fiery termite mounds. On and on they run, their eyes focused through a tunnel-like field of scent that only their noses can pick up. The scent of the poacher, and it pulls them like a magnet. The stronger it gets, the faster the hounds chase and the louder they cry – even after a 15 kilometers chase – as if they are one with it until they get their fill, and the target is apprehended. Before it reached the border, and made it for freedom.
The triumph is always shared, as are the yips and barks, the signals they send to one another during the chase, the cries indicating that they’re on the right track and they are making good time, as the scent gets stronger. Shared are their meals too, the lengthy walks meant to relax and keep in shape, and the sleeping quarters. But mostly, these free tracking dogs share the mind-set to bring it all together. Each time. Affectionate towards their human handlers, fearsome when following a poacher’s scent. They are like a platoon of Marines fighting not rebels but poachers (in Kruger National Park) or escaped prison inmates (in Texas, USA, where they were first introduced.)
In the Kruger National Park these dogs form a K-9 unit fitted with GPS collars that tracks the poachers and scares them to death into a tree, where the field rangers make the arrest, while all the time being supervised by aerial pilots (to drive off dangerous predators or shoot before a poacher starts a gun fight.)
Why free-running hounds? Because no human can keep up with a hound dog chasing a scent on a leash, both exhausting themselves too soon – the human from sheer racing exertion, the dog from tracing a scent while dragging a clumsy human on a leash.
Before the first free-running hounds were introduced in the Kruger National Park (from ‘Texas Canine Tracking and Recovery’ USA), an average of 3 to 5 percent of poachers were caught. The rate increased to 54 percent with the aid of the K-9 unit.
With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work our grandchildren might get the chance to see rhinos in their natural habitat. I do ask myself, though, if it is fair towards these free-running dogs. But dogs are happy being with their humans, happy when chasing a laugh and the wind together… Dogs stood by our right side, right side of our hearts, from immemorable times. To take care of us.
“Early in the morning as the sun comes up And heat and war engulfs the land, A man and his dog walk side by side And know that none is all alone.”
South Africa is not the only country in Africa to fight rhino poachers. Kenya does too and part of their dogs forming the elite K9 unit are trained in Suffolk, UK. The Kenyan Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to 144 rhinos. Ol Pejeta prides itself that none of its animals have been poached since 2018. The hard work of the free-running dogs pays off.
SAS Red Notice might be full of explosive situations, but the only real fuse burning through its story-line is Sam Heughan ‘s performance.
What is SAS Red Notice about? Spoiler Alert
We jump into action in the Republic of Georgia where a handful of guerrillas nicknamed the Swans “clear” a village whose inhabitants don’t want to sell their land to the investors into a new gas pipeline. Three of the Swans are brought forward, William Lewis, the father (Tom Wilkinson, solid in his role), his daughter Grace (Ruby Rose), and his son, Oliver (Owain Yeoman).
It is the Swans decision, Grace’s to be precise, to “kill the men and the boys. Let the women spread the fear.” But one Georgian girl shoots a video of Grace Lewis on a backdrop of explosions, burned homes, and torched innocent villagers, and the video goes viral, Grace’s image filling the newspapers.
The Swans are now labeled as terrorists and must be arrested for crimes against humanity, everyone points at them, including those who hired them, the British Government. Chased out of their mansion in Hampstead, the Swans take over the Euro train, bringing it to an abrupt halt under the English Channel. Their demands are clear. The UK Prime Minister must acknowledge on Live TV that the British Government is behind the “clearing” in Georgia and has ordered Special Air Services, SAS, to hire the Swans to do their dirty job, as well as to wire 500 million dollars into the Swans bank account OR… Or an incriminating video exposing the chain in command and linking the UK Prime Minister with the Swans will leak on social media platforms.
There is only one man to do the job and he falls into it willy-nilly, Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan).
Tom Buckingham is a SAS operator. We meet him on his breathtaking estate (and it does make you wonder why he is an SAS member since he’s got all those money). But Tom is a softie, or he just looks like one in the beginning. He plans to propose to his girlfriend, Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen), with his grandmother, his Nana’s ring. It is a special ring, that “great Henry Buckingham chopped from the finger of the Maharajah during the great mutiny,” and then offered it to Nana. (Here I wondered if the ring was special to Tom because it was his Nana’s, or because of its bloody story – which would tell us something about Tom’s character).
Tom and Sophie’s plans to fly to Paris (where he secretly wishes to propose to her) are blown off by his last-minute involvement in the tracking of the terrorists, the Swans. So Tom and Sophie take the train instead, the Eurostar, to Paris. It is the same Eurostar the Swans took to fulfill their plan, force the Prime Minister to pay them the ransom, and clear their name.
After the Swans high jacked the train and passengers got wounded, Dr. Sophie jumped to their aid. Already aware of whom he has to deal with, Tom Buckingham fights the terrorists single-handed, explosions blasting left and right. Eventually, a team of SAS is sent to assist, while more terrorists arrive on sight, in the tunnel.
The UK Government (represented by Sir Charles Whiteside with a personal interest in the British Gas pipeline) agrees to pay the ransom money (but without broadcasting it) and all that’s left to be done is for Grace Lewis to be killed by SAS so that no word ever escapes of the SAS involvement and chain of traitors.
Tom’s only wish is to save his girlfriend and to propose to her, but knowing that she will never leave casualties behind he knows has to save everyone on the train as well. That’s why when Grace Lewis reels him in Tom goes willingly, to save his girlfriend.
It is now that we witness what else the British Government has been hiding in their side of the tunnel, as well as how long the chain of SAS traitors is. And one of them will have to be the UK Government’s scapegoat. But which one?
On the outside, the SAS and the UK Government comply with the terrorists’ plans and it looks as if they will save the passengers, and they will be successful in capturing the terrorists, the Swans.
While from the inside of the tunnel Tom Buckingham realizes that “this isn’t about the money, it’s about revenge,’ and that Grace Lewis will never keep up her word, save the civilians, yet she will never surrender either.
In the end, only Grace Lewis, Dr. Sophie, and Tom Buckingham are left standing, with Tom, wounded and on foot, chasing after Grace through snowed woods. In one last attempt Grace tries to convince Tom and bring him onto her side, turn him into a (black) Swan.
She seems to fail, as Tom finally kills her, but what we are left wondering, well, that you will have to read further.
How Sam Heughan’s performance saved the SAS Red Notice movie. Spoiler Alert
The opening scene warns us that “Psychopaths that can learn to love are even more rare than a black swan.” And this is the premise of the movie SAS Red Notice.
It is clear from the beginning that William Lewis and Grace Lewis, father and daughter, are psychopaths. To finish their mission William Lewis asks Grace to “make a decision. Do it now,’ and she chooses to blow torch innocent people to send a message. In a later scene, William admits that “Grace is special. She’s like me, only better,” namely a psychopath like he is (both William and Grace admit to never having loved anyone else in their lives).
But we learn this from the start, so I asked myself, what was the point of the opening line since we already know who the psychopath is?
We meet Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan) planning to propose to his girlfriend with his Nana’s ring. But the ring has a rather bloody history, and although I found the idea romantic, I shuddered at the thought. And the shudder stayed with me. What kind of a man does something like this? But he’s the good guy, right?
It also caught my eye that Tom is pretty much a loner, he seems to have only his butler in his life (did Andy McNab had a little nod towards Batman here?), oh, and he has one friend in the SAS team.
It is to his friend, Declan Smith (Tom Hopper) that Tom Buckingham admits to loving his girlfriend Sophie (although he never, ever, loved anyone in his entire life) and that he plans to take off to Paris and propose – just like that, after all the killing they just did. And Tom is all smiling about his plans, no pains there for the lives he just took.
Sam Heughan is brilliant here in creating the illusion that this time is different, with Sophie, although he can’ quite explain it in words, not even to his only friend. And he does leave us with the shadow of a thought, could he be a psychopath too? But he’s a good guy, right?
Tom appears to be able to switch himself on and off quite easily; now he visits his girlfriend, now he hunts and kills terrorists, then he’s the perfect boyfriend again. At one stage, when Sophie gets to nurse his wounds, she asks him if it didn’t bother him that he had to kill a woman, and if “everything ever affects you? Ever?’ and he candidly answers ‘no”.
Sam Heughan brings this scene so well together, playing the cool and collected SAS soldier who had learned to lock away his feelings so well that he doesn’t even notice them anymore, to protect himself… or not? He doesn’t seem to understand why Sophie is so upset about, that he isn’t bothered by his job, by the killings it involves.
So I asked myself again, after this scene, who is the psychopath in this movie?
The fact that Tom Buckingham single-handedly took on the terrorists in that tight tunnel was hard to buy, but then so many heroes do it, right? James Bond does it and we kind of expect that from him.
Tom’s character is rounded up by the fact that he can speak French (well, he is SAS after all) to the girl, Emmeline, he rescued from the train, and that he makes her feel secure. I thought that this scene showed some of the character’s soft side, although the girl concludes to Tom that “there are lots of things you can’t explain.
I liked how Sam Heughan made us believe that he bought the “come get me” text message supposedly sent to him by his girlfriend Sophie (but typed by black Swan Grace Lewis), when he knew Sophie too well, knew that she will never choose to save herself and leave casualties behind.
But it was the final scene between Grace Lewis and Tom Buckingham that showed Sam Heughan’s portraying skills. Although it took him a rather long time to knock Grace down (he’s twice her size, but wounded, plus she’s a certified psychopath so this should give her extra physical strength, right?).
After previously telling Tom “we are more alike than you know,” Grace tried again to lure Tom to her side, telling him how he enjoyed the game they played, and how he wouldn’t think twice before killing a human being, just like she.
It is in this scene that Tom realizes that he was acting like a psychopath without being one. And he finds it hard to put it into words. Yet we see that on his face. But the fact that he knows Sophie is on his side saves his life in this scene, for he doesn’t give in, doesn’t fall into Grace’s dark side. We can almost see his skin crawl as he realizes the extent of Grace’s psychopathy. Yet he smiles at her, acknowledging that he is one, a psychopath. Looking as if he setts her a trap.
Yet as he waits for her to die, after sliding her throat, she stares into thin air.
What just happened here? Heughan takes us from one extreme to the next. And I’ve changed my mind again, I still can’t tell whether he’s a psychopath or not.
But we’re soon to find out.
It is the scene when Tom will propose to Sophie, just a little later.
“Will you marry me?” he asks hopefully and then we see on his face how terror sets in for she doesn’t answer. “You’re not meant to be married,” Sophie says. “I thought you understood,” he says and there is so much pain in his eyes that he can barely speak. “I do,” she says, although this is the wrong “I do” and her eyes say something else. They say I do understand that you’re a psychopath. (Oh, no!).
Really? Is this it? – goes through my mind.
Wait, next he staggers backward and he cries. And calls her name.
Brilliant work here, Heughan, showing one single, powerful emotion to let your girl know that you do experience feelings, and you are not the psychopath so many thought you were (and sorry for believing it too).
My thoughts on the SAS Red Notice movie. Spoiler Alert
There were a few clichés and plot ideas I didn’t buy
I thought it was a little bit of a cliché to open up with such a clear image, these are the terrorists, and they are psychopaths too. But it’s an action thriller, right?
We get it early that Grace is a psychopath, and she proves it again when she decides later to shoot one passenger for not handing in his cell phone. Yet why would she choose to save the bystander child, wounded in the arm? I know why; it helped the plot later. But it didn’t fit her character.
Grace seems to be walking around quite a lot with her hands pushed in her pockets. If she does this to show us that she’s a psychopath, I didn’t believe her. I’d imagine a terrorist rather walking as if he’s always ready for action, especially during an attack.
The gas pipeline
I also thought that the image of the poor Georgian village forced to sell its land for a gas pipeline to run through it was a little bit overdone. But the book came out in 2012, so maybe Andy McNab was one of the first to use it. The subsequent idea, that the Brits hid a gas pipeline inside their half of the Eurotunnel, was unexpected.
The involved government people
George Clements (Andy Serkis) I found to be a transparent character. For once, he knew William Lewis since their time together in Rhodesia. Yes, their paths could have split at some time, Clements staying with the good guys, Lewis taking the dark side. But Clements admits to Lewis that he’s still going, and that “politicians come and go, I’m the consistency” and he admits to cleaning Lewis’ mess more than once. So I doubted him from the beginning. Clements is also too visual in showing us how he keeps an eye on Declam Smith, later in the movie.
We also learn quite from the start that the Prime Minister is corrupt; he’s the one who ordered the Swans to clean the village. I would have liked to discover this later, and I would have liked a PM with more power.
I suspected Major Bisset quite early on, his character was rather thin too.
The PM, Major Bisset, and Clements are worried, too worried and that’s most of the time, that Grace Lewis will expose them.
Throughout the movie it felt like the only character developed at all was that of Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan).
There is a lot of blasting and bombing, the special effects were rather entertaining, as was Tom’s and Sophie’s chat through the loo hole…
The poetry of one final scene stood out for me
Sophie Lewis, the Black Swan, runs through a snowed forest, wearing her dark clothing.
Tom Buckingham is chasing after her, in shades of gray, and only his wound, covered in blood, stands out red against the white background.
Like a White Swan chasing the Black Swan.
In this final, snowy scene, for the first time, there is no sound of bullets, of explosions, of commands shouted trough phones, only the eerie sound of falling snowflakes, of snow crushed underfoot as life chases death…
On a final note…
I thought that SAS Red Notice was entertaining, although its main story-line / script was thin and predictable. What stood out for me was the gold thread, the fuse that did blow up in the end, namely Tom Buckingham’s story and Sam Heughan’s performance. SAS Red Notice is worth watching one, for action and special effects, and twice to pay attention to the little clues left by Sam Heughan.
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I believe that, just as each one of us has a story to tell, each animal has one, too. It all comes down to the POV (point of view).
As humans, our cultural background and experiences influence the way we understand and interact with the world. We see and perceive animals from a rather self-centered, oblivious point of view, based on personal (humanoid) knowledge (as a human), EQ (emotional intelligence) and, of course, inhibitions and phobias. But there are millions of animal species known to man, out of which over 5 000 species are mammals. Chances are we will only meet and interact with a fraction of them.
About dogs (world’s most popular pets), we known that they respond to human praise, but also choosehuman praise over a food treat. We know that they miss their (human) owners and often suffer when they are away from them. In Kenya, elephant families have been observed to pull together while struggling to survive drought and poaching. In other parts of the world wolf packs have been observed to adopt the cubs left without parents. A calve will stay with its dolphin mother as long as eight years; because they are so social, dolphins live in pods of up to 1000 members. That’s a small town!
Now let’s change the point of view.
How do animals perceive us? As friends or as enemies? What do animals feel? They do look angry at times, they seem to grief, to show empathy, to feel joy. But what goes through their minds? What goes through a dog’s mind (and heart) when one of his puppies is removed from the litter? What is a mother elephant actually saying when she rumbles and trumpets to protect her calf? I love listening to the morning birds, their chirp is peaceful and soothing, but what are they actually saying to each other?
Do animals have beliefs of their own? Do they act on intend? Do they use their knowledge and plan ahead? And if they do so, are we, humans, really “getting it” or do we miss the point all together?
Perhaps our children are the ones closest to finding an answer. Children are naturally open to this concept of “theory of mind” (the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and to others), as well as to learning about it. Attributing an animal desires and intents similar to their own is a characteristic behavior for a child. Children are tuned in and they do “get” the animals’ language.
The fact that children attempt eye contact more often than grown-ups might also facilitate a kid’s closer understanding of animal language. Eye contact between humans and dogs is paramount for a successful social interaction between the two as dogs rely on eye contact when establishing if the communication is relevant and directed at them. Dogs, especially, establish eye contact when they cannot solve a problem on their own.
Watching animals interact and understanding them is a learning curve for any human. It is an exercise on acknowledging that human race is not as superior as we like to believe. Animals do experience the same love and empathy as we do, but they certainly lack the hatred and the grudge that tends to overshadow and hinder us. Perhaps that one of the ways to reduce poaching and animal trafficking is through raising the bar in our knowledge of the animal world around us.
You be the judge, is the theory of mind and the idea that each animal has a story to tell valid?
I’ll end Theory of Mind, Each Animal Has a Story to Tell with this quote from one of my books:
“There was still a cloud of brown dust hovering around the Marines’ khaki shorts, tinting the scene in shades of sepia; a herd of stallions panting, their ears attend, nostrils quivering in expectation.
One of the Marines had picked up the ball, popping it between his arm and hip. Tara’s tail wagged, recognizing her partner and human handler, Seb.
Another Marine slapped Seb’s shoulder in a friendly manner and it was Xena’s turn to snort, recognizing Conde.
Dancing on the spot, Tara blew air through her nose and yapped at Honda in the next cage. Rambo spun around, pacing along the fence. Will Kent get a turn at holding the ball? Will he?
Only Honda cracked a sleepy eye, her tail sweeping the ground once before rolling over onto her back, snorting. Honda enjoyed action as much any dog, but she also knew that the humans did a lot of talking before any action would begin. Until she would sniff Dunn approaching her cage, Honda couldn’t be bothered.”
The best way to forget about the monster heatwave and scorching, hot temperatures outside is to read books set in a chilly location guaranteed to cool you down. Looks like summer won’t give us a moment of respite this year either. With lock-down and social distancing to consider, there is one sure way to cool off during the warmest months of the year and to keep safe from the torments of the heat.
Reading. Chilling crimes, Scottish or Nordic Noir; books set in frozen settings are perfect for cooling off and de-stressing.
One chilling place to start is In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin, just for its hard-hitting storytelling blended with humor. When everyone has something to hide and nobody is innocent, when all trails lead to John Rebus, will he be able to prove his innocence? This book is an ideal heatwave read as it asks for a full attention to keep up with its twists. The 22nd book featuring former detective John Rebus, it deals with two cases; a missing persons’ cold case and a recent murder. A complicated, complex and very satisfying read dripping with banter and some lighthearted humor bouncing between the two main characters. An instant No.1 Amazon Bestseller, shortlisted for British Book Awards, Crime & Thriller Book of the Year.
Summers are for keeps even when the possibilities for outdoor chilling are slashed, forcing us to focus on social media. So I’m looking next at another read, classic humor mixed with chilling crime, All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride because the victim was a Twitter addict. So when he disappears, what are the chances that it was only an innocent act? Logan McRae, here in book 12, is faced with a perplexing case to solve while the story, spun by a master storyteller, is anchored in the present political issues from a master storyteller and a No 1 bestselling author.
For a play of words and on what to read during a hot day, dare touch Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. The book pulls us in a Copenhagen covered by snow where a scientist who lives in a world numbers and science and is faced with solving a murder. If the clues leading to Greenlander are not enough to chill you, read it for the explosive secret that lies beneath the ice. Welcome to Nordic Noir, the bleakest of the bleak crime fiction and a book that won too many awards to even count them.
We remain in the territory of horrors, because they prove to be the best option for a hot day. Read The Shining by Stephen King. Can you say no to the prospect of a luxury hotel in Colorado, snowy and full of ghosts? Surely at least the minus something degrees will already seem bearable, by comparison to the heat outside your window. Danny is a five-year-old with paranormal powers, his father, Jack, is an alcoholic writer, and his mother Wendy is a bundle of nerves. What could go wrong? The book, published in 1977, turned King into a master of the horror genre, but also one of the best-selling writers of all time.
The day’s still too hot for you? How about Moscow, in the middle of the Russian winter? I’m thinking of one of the best crime novel set in Russia, Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park. The book successfully contrasts both Soviet and American societies, as well as the methods of Soviet and American detectives. Police investigates a triple murders set in Moscow’s Gorky Park in the middle of Russian winter and all clues point to a KGB hit. Arkady Renko, the Moscow homicide investigator, finds himself pulled into a web of intrigues connected to powerful American business interests. Chilling and atmospheric, the Arkady Renko series now includes eight gripping novels.
And if everything else fails, a hot drink on a hot day can also cool you down – or a read set in a hot location, temperature hot, action hot, politically hot: Afghanistan.
If you wish to survive through what seems to be the hottest summer in recent memory of the world, conventional wisdom says that you can cool down by drinking a hot beverage. But if you wish to forget the nagging heat outside your window, then escape in a book: Silent Heroes. Chosen one of 5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime. As vivid as a movie, you will share the life of the Marines deployed in an Afghan military base; climb the breathtaking Hindu-Kush Mountains to a secluded Taliban camp; dive in the belly of ancient Qala-e-Bost fortress in the middle of a battle, and experience the culture of the Afghan people. Silent Heroes is a race against time, “an emotional rollercoaster of a read,” a page-turner, a thrilling contemporary story with a vivid sense of the place, history and politics that shines a light on the humanity of the Marines and their special relationship with their canine buddies. The utterly thrilling war fiction read inspired by true events from a Historical Fiction bestselling author – it will keep you gripped until the final page.
Start with any one. You won’t be disappointed and not even the heat will seem oppressive anymore.