POACHING’S certainly nothing new in Africa, where entire species are being driven fast towards extinction by an ever-intensifying illicit trade in body parts.
Against this backdrop a relic from the age of dinosaurs has been rediscovered. This is the priceless breeding partner that a lone specimen preserved in London has been lacking – the missing link that could kick-start this living fossil’s resurrection.
Throughout South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and beyond, the slaughter of animals for their tusks, heads, hides and bones is catastrophic.
Almost entirely unknown is the equally furious targeting of the slow-growing, leather-leafed cycad: the rhinoceros horn of plants. Stripped illegally from the wild, these palm-like throwbacks are being smuggled to collectors around the globe, changing hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more.
In the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in England, the rarest of all cycads sits in a glasshouse: a single male Encephalartos woodii. Until now it’s been without a mate.
No longer: in Zimbabwe the most remarkable of rarities – a female woodii – has been found.
Almost as suddenly, though, it’s been stolen from the heavily guarded garden of its Kuwaiti owner, Prince Faisal. All evidence suggests the thief is part of the Pretoria Cycad and Firearms Appreciation Society, a club whose members meet every week to discuss horticulture and then fire off a few rounds. Joanne Flack left the country at the same time as the woodii vanished and has been ignoring her friends’ desperate messages.
But when Joanne resurfaces only to find herself in the sights of snipers, it seems there’s more than simple plant envy at play.
Fresh from a shootout with fundamentalist terrorists in Mali, CIA operative Sonja Kurtz is exactly the bodyguard Joanne needs – and perhaps the only person who can save not only this presumed thief’s life but also the future of the irreplaceable woodii.