Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fox Chapel Man Works to Save Rhinos, Elephants

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fox Chapel Man Works to Save Rhinos, Elephants

Article excerpt

When Matt Bracken was 12, his grandfather took him on an African safari - the kind where no animals were shot or captured.

"I looked into the eyes of a wild elephant, and I have never been the same," Mr. Bracken said. "I got the Africa bug."

Since graduating from college, Mr. Bracken, 44, has spent more than half of his life in Africa. He has worked on nonshooting safaris. He volunteered for two years as an anti-poaching ranger, tracking and capturing poachers who kill elephants and rhinoceroses.

In 2014 he founded the Wild and Free Foundation, which is working to stop poaching, especially of the highly endangered rhinos. Poachers kill more than 35,000 elephants and 1,000 rhinos each year, according to the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos.

A native of Minnesota, Mr. Bracken lives in Fox Chapel. You can meet him next Saturday when he speaks in Lawrenceville at its Global March, one of the 138 that will be held in cities around the world that day.

The march starts at 11 a.m. in the parking lot behind Allegheny Valley Bank, 5137 Butler St. Marchers will go along Butler Street and 40th Street to Arsenal Park, where Mr. Bracken will speak.

Poachers are hard to catch because "they are incredibly organized and well-funded," Mr. Bracken said.

They're also heavily armed, which makes tracking them a dangerous proposition. Mr. Bracken got professional training from the African company Pro Track, whose graduates are hired by governments, private individuals and companies that maintain safari preserves.

He volunteered in South Africa and Mozambique because, he said, "it's virtually impossible to get a work permit." His visa only allows him to spend 90 days at a time in Africa, and then he has to come back to the U.S. for a while.

In Africa "a rich white person is called a hunter," Mr. Bracken said. …

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