CRY OF THE KALAHARI by Mark & Delia Owens Owens
Kirkus Star


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This is not the Kalahari of Bushmen or other natives moving inexorably toward modernity. It is the remarkable and beautifully told story of a pair of young American zoologists who came to study the wildlife in 1974. The immediate area--a fossil river bed, edged by scrubby dunes and woodland--would be their home for seven years as they watched lions and hyenas, wild dogs and antelopes, the only humans for miles around. The climate is extraordinary: summer temperatures reaching 120 degrees, and so dry that perspiration has no time to form. Winter nights in contrast can drop to 14 degrees. Life depends on the vagaries of the brief rainy season, which could turn the fossil river bed to green velvet and fill the mudholes sufficiently to sustain animal life through the year. The Owenses' main purpose was to document how species adapt to the harsh terrain and how the drought, in particular, affects ecosystems. The brown hyenas and Kalahari lions were the main targets of their research: the hyenas live as dependent scavengers on the lion kill, but proved resourceful when the lions migrated or dispersed. The Owenses have produced a wealth of material on both species: how hyenas raise their young communally, for example;how lion prides intermingle and enormously enlarge their territories in dry times. Much of the couple's observation necessarily took place at night, tracking animals by truck. Later they were able to use telemetry and track tagged animals by day in a bush plane. Often they were critically short of money or supplies and just as often were miraculously rescued--early on by an old-timer and a friendly banker, later by a variety of grants. Their day-to-day existence, the personal relationship with the lions and hyenas (all known individually), the chatty birds, the mice, lizards and other wildlife that shared their camp are as much a part of the story as the ecological data, and equally engrossing. At present the Owenses are completing doctoral dissertations and trying to publicize the need for better conservation policies to protect the dwindling Kalahari species and the intricate ecological balance. Their book should do much to further that cause--so effective and moving is their account.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1984
ISBN: 0395647800
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin