A novel recounts the experiences of an eclectic group of conservationists, scientists, and safari guides sent on a dangerous expedition to Tsavo National Park in Kenya.
It is 1979, a decade after overpopulation followed by a major drought resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000 of the 30,000 elephants in Tsavo. In their search for food and water, the elephants knocked down trees and trampled foliage, leaving behind a barren wasteland. Now the animals appear to be back. Nobody knows how many there are, but they are once again being hunted by poachers. The International Endangered Species Consortium is funding a safari to count the herds and to determine whether the environment is viable as an elephant sanctuary. Four scientists, two leading conservationists, three experienced guides, and one Maasai game warden make up the diverse coalition of American, British, and African adventurers crossing into the hot and dusty plains of Tsavo to save the elephants. Bruce Airley, a British-American in his mid-40s who was raised in Africa and has a complicated backstory, leads an ensemble cast of characters who find themselves threatened by lions, leopards, deadly poachers, and a hostile indigenous tribe (the Waliangulu) fond of shooting small poison arrows. Plus there are personal challenges—conflicting egos, long-standing rivalries, inner demons—that must be overcome if the group is to survive. Botkin (25 Myths that Are Destroying the Environment, 2015) and debut author Melcher weave together the former’s own field experiences and observations, creating a realistic fictional overlay for the discussion of ivory poaching and human interference with nature. The most beautiful—and most painful—passages center on the magnificent “jumbo” elephants, especially Zamani Baba, the biggest of the big, oldest of the old. He is powerful, fierce, intelligent, and tender: “As the old bull approached, the other two turned their heads toward him. He came alongside and stopped, and, putting his trunk over each, one at a time, rubbed their backs.” The human drama is action-filled and engaging, but it is the elephants that will likely bring readers to tears.
In this day of trophy hunting and ivory poaching, a timely and soulful elephant tale with complex characters.