By Jessica Hatcher
They call him bird-man. Martin Wheeler stands on a rocky bluff overlooking an expanse of semi-arid land framed by the mountain ranges of the Northern Frontier District, the "wild-west" for anyone who knows Kenya well. Blood Mountain with its right-angled peak rises out of the scrub a few miles away.
Tiny birds with tremendous songs are raising a ruckus, but otherwise all is quiet. There is no turf war or skirmishes over cattle-rustling today, just a complex billion-dollar global battle over an enduring prehistoric asset: the elephant.
"I'll just see if there are any elephants on my landing," Wheeler says, peering down at the dry riverbed below. His motorised backpack and paraglider allow him to go anywhere. Wearing a harness and a helmet, he looks nervous. The wind has dropped. A GPS handset and altimeter are strapped to his thigh. Standing 50 metres from the edge, with what is essentially a lawn-mower engine and a large fan on his back, a giant kite stretched out behind, he takes a last look at a crumpled windsock, inhales deeply, and runs off the cliff.
Wheeler and a security team look after the Lekerruki group ranch owned by the Mukogodo-Maasai people, 24,280 hectares (60,000 acres) of wilderness in north-eastern Kenya.
Early in the morning one of the team, Laban, found human tracks while crossing a dry riverbed. The former elephant hunter is now a well-trained wildlife ranger, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and the jurisdiction to use it. He reported the details of the tracks to security command, identifying even the brand of shoe. More....