IF THERE'S one animal that symbolises Africa more than any other, it’s the elephant, yet within our lifetime, researchers predict, the last wild herds of this species will most likely disappear.
One of the most vulnerable elephant populations is in Zimbabwe, a country whose chronic social, political and economic conflict relegates wildlife conservation to the bottom of the priority pile for desperate subsistence game poachers and greed-crazed government officials alike.
Undaunted, in 2001 elephant-lover Sharon Pincott gave up an executive IT career in Australia and moved from inner-city Brisbane to the sparsely populated wilds of Zimbabwe’s western bushland. There, she set out to observe and then name and catalogue the hundreds of individuals that make up the Presidential Elephants, a group of 17 extended families ranging over a mix of private and public land adjoining Hwange National Park.
Elephant Dawn documents Pincott’s experiences, from her frustrating struggle to obtain a Zimbabwean entry visa to her brushes with the scorpions, black mambas and baboons that from time to time made themselves comfortable in her native-style hut. Most of all, it describes the author’s attachment to the elephants –young or old, newborn or battle-scarred – that, despite the supposed protection extended to them by President Robert Mugabe, 15 years after Pincott first began to identify them continue to face bullets, snares and poison as their numbers dwindle.
Her story is both a personal record of one woman’s endeavours and a first-hand analysis of the factors that together triggered the most self-destructive period in Zimbabwe’s history.
Elephant Dawn summons laughter and tears, smiles and grimaces, anger and pride at the determination with which Pincott carries out her mission, funded through her own efforts and in the face of considerable – at times life-theatening – opposition from parochial Zimbabweans determined to see white residents expelled from the country.