From journalist Walker, a story of the sable antelope and the varying efforts to protect it in war-weary Angola, as well as an intelligent explanation of that country’s tribulations over the past decades.
The great sable was the last of the large quadrupeds of Africa to come to European attention: not only is it a wary animal, but its human neighbors—the Songo and Lwimbe—held it in esteem and kept it a secret. Once known, it became a prized object for every natural-history expedition and, unfortunately, every big-game hunt (often one and the same thing in the early 20th century). Walker, choosing his words carefully, follows the intrigues of those drawn to the creature in hopes of atavistic, scientific, economic, or political glory. That the antelope lives only in the Angola heartland demands that Walker pay heed to the colonial and civil unrest that has pounded the country since the 1960s, for those wars necessarily have a direct impact on the great sable—the animal is, after all, edible and in a starving nation—and also keep conservationists from getting to the area. But profound effects have also come from other forces and circumstances, such as reserves that are opened to big-spending hunters or to those with the right political connections. Warring camps of conservationists can range, on the one hand, from big-game hunters willing to finance new reserves in exchange for a chance to shoot one of the bulls to those, on the other, who believe the animal can survive only in its unique habitat. Both are given voice by Walker, who makes it clear there’s as much ego as conservation ethic at work in deciding the fate of the great sable.
Almost without doubt, the sable will become a pawn in the politics of wildlife conservation, but Walker’s study will, at a minimum, bring greater awareness of its plight.