Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Twenty-three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People

by Mark Owens & Delia Owens

Pub Date: May 24th, 2006
ISBN: 0-395-89310-0
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Bittersweet sequel to The Eye of the Elephant (1993), chronicling the authors’ efforts to eliminate elephant poaching in Zambia.

As related in their first book, Cry of the Kalahari (1984), the Owenses lived for seven years in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, studying black-maned lions. Expelled from Botswanna in the early 1980s, they relocated to Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park, where they developed a conservation project that “offered jobs to poachers, would-be poachers, and other villagers.” Over the next ten years, the couple provided loans and job training for small businesses such as beekeeping, grinding mills and midwifery. At the time their project began, 93 percent of the park’s elephants had been killed; the Owenses hoped to report a recovery of sorts once an ivory ban was in place. This volume opens in the early 1990s, with Delia and a former poacher measuring elephant tracks for a study intended to reveal what percentage of the group could breed and whether or not the population was growing. In the 1970s, before heavy poaching, 50 percent of the female elephants were of breeding age (more than 15 years old). Twenty years later, Delia discovered that only eight percent of the current female population was old enough to breed. So why were there so many infants in the group: Were the elephants, contrary to all previous studies, adopting orphaned calves? This mystery is paired with development profiles of micro-businesses in 14 different villages. The effort put into the conservation project by the Owenses, the villagers and others is inspiring. But the project’s success generated jealousy; just when its management could been taken over by local staff, so that Mark and Delia could devote themselves full-time to studying elephants, their lives were threatened by corrupt officials. Reluctantly, the couple left Zambia for the U.S., where they now work to help grizzly-bear populations recover in the Pacific Northwest.

A stirring account by two dedicated and courageous conservationists.