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4 Creative Law Enforcement Techniques in the National Parks

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BY BRIAN KEVIN

When the Interior Department decided a few months ago to allow loaded, concealed weapons into national parks, heat-packin' groups like the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms hailed the decision as a victory for public safety. They cited, among other things, "the inability of park officials to provide adequate law enforcement services" due to slim budgets and staff.  But our trigger-happy pals might not be giving the Boys in Green enough credit. Where law enforcement is concerned, national park rangers have historically displayed a consistent knack for doing more with less. Check out these four examples.

1. Poachers Do the Walk of Shame

Picture 2.pngBack in the 1880s, poachers roamed Yellowstone like it was their own personal shooting gallery. Because the National Park Service wasn't formed until 1916, a ragtag company of U.S. Cavalrymen served as the park's first rangers. Unfortunately, they lacked the legal authority to punish poachers in any real way other than booting them from the park and temporarily seizing their gear. So in order to give their rule some teeth, soldiers got creative with logistics. After marching ornery hide hunters to Yellowstone's south entrance, rangers let the poachers know they could retrieve their sleep roll, gun, and supplies from the desk at park headquarters . . . seventy-five wilderness miles away at the park's north entrance!

Of course, that wasn't the only time early rangers relied on the technique. They resorted to similar measures when Basque shepherds were caught illegally grazing on park lands. While the hapless sheepherders got kicked out via the park's north gate, their sheep were graciously escorted east.

2. Smoking Out the Squatters

When Congress formally chartered Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, the crown jewel of the Eastern parks wasn't exactly a pristine wilderness — in fact, there were still a few hundred people living in it. While many Appalachian residents had accepted buyouts in the years leading up to the park's formation, others were too poor or too stubborn to relocate. What's more, the hundreds of empty cabins tucked away inside the park lured hordes of Depression-era squatters. Park rangers made a mission of evicting the unwelcome guests, but when the wily mountaineers wouldn't stay ejected, they simply began burning down any abandoned or temporarily vacated cabins. Not entirely without empathy, the park's first superintendent J. Ross Eakin noted that preventing squatters by torching ancestral homesteads tended to raise "considerable ire among residents."

3. Strong-arming the Kolorado Klan

In the mid-1920s, Colorado was a bastion of influence for the Ku Klux Klan-- a state where the governor, the mayor of Denver, and U.S. Senator Rice Means all openly accepted Klan support. After Senator Means made a publicity tour through southwestern Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park in 1926, local Klansmen sought to convince park superintendent Jesse Nusbaum to grab a white sheet and join the club. When he declined, the Klan showed up with plans to hold a torchlight parade in front of one of the park's most recognized Anasazi ruins. The upright Nusbaum told the Klan they weren't wanted in Mesa Verde, and to show that he meant business, visibly armed the small park staff with pick-ax handles and other improvised weapons. The Klansmen got the message and left the park without incident.

4. Taking Out Snowmobiles, Execution-style

a.snowmobile.pngGlacier National Park ranger Art Sedlack was getting pretty fed-up with snowmobilers cutting through the park along a snow-smothered stretch of Montana's Highway 2. He was pretty clear about this point when he apprehended four sledders one night in December of 1974, warning them not to return by the same route unless they wanted a ticket. When he heard the whine of approaching snowmobiles an hour later, Sedlack hopped on his 4x4 and chased down the repeat offenders. Fearing they'd try to bolt, he reached in to yank out the one of the lead vehicle's spark plugs, but when it proved tricky to remove, he opted to improvise. Drawing his park-issued .38 caliber pistol, Sedlack fired point-blank into the snowmobiles' still-cooling engine.  Man 1, machine 0.

The trespassers paid $25 fines, and Sedlack got a stern reprimand, along with the secret admiration of every ranger who's ever wanted to go Scarface on an exhaust-spewing snowmobile. For years, the Montana Wilderness Association even issued a "Sedlack Award" for creativity in defense of public lands.

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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environment
How Japan's 'Dancing' Cats Predicted a Deadly Environmental Disaster
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In the 1950s, residents of Minamata, Japan, noticed that something was wrong with the city's cats. As the SciShow's Hank Green recounts in the video below, the cats would convulse, make strange noises and jerking "dancing" motions—and eventually die. Soon, these symptoms spread to the local townspeople, and scientists began searching for the cause of the terrifying sickness.

The culprit was soon revealed to be the Chisso Corporation, a Japanese chemical company with a factory in Minamata. About 30 years earlier, the company had begun making an organic chemical called acetaldehyde, using mercury as a catalyst to trigger the needed reactions. Afterwards, the company dumped the leftover chemicals into Minamata Bay, where the mercury came into contact with bacteria that transformed it into the most noxious form of the metal: methylmercury. This toxic substance was absorbed by plants, which were in turn eaten by fish. Eventually, the methylmercury made its way up the food chain and poisoned both felines and humans. Birth defects became rampant, and more than 900 people died. Thousands of victims have since been identified. The neurological syndrome caused by extreme mercury poisoning is now known as Minamata disease.

You can learn more about the worst mercury poisoning disaster the world has ever seen by watching the video below.

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