The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness – Review

The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African WildernessPoachingFacts rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness is a direct sequel to the memoir Cry of the Kalahari by husband-and-wife wildlife research team Cordelia Dykes Owens (Delia) and Mark James Owens. It picks up right where the latter book left off, but continues the saga in Zambia where the Owenses go to continue studying and protecting African wildlife. The overall presentation and structure of the narrative is more suspenseful and designed to impress upon the reader the struggles faced by the authors and the struggles that portions of Africa continue to deal with in the face of poverty, apathy to change, systemic corruption at all levels, and coexisting with wildlife in a place that has been forsaken by globalism.

Although the book is very much a direct sequel, it is written in the present continuous tense, which takes some getting used to and is different from the present tense used in some works of fiction, memoirs, and the past tense used in the Owenses’ prequel Cry of the Kalahari. Some readers may find this book less compelling to read as a result, however the ordeals that the Owenses experience and work to overcome are no less real or challenging.

Like Cry of the Kalahari, a major focus of the memoir is the way in which the Owenses live in the wilderness and the challenges they have as foreigners and researchers in accomplishing their goals. Unlike the prequel, The Eye of the Elephant deals significantly less with animal interactions and behavior and instead focuses on the interactions and behavior of the people living in villages in and around North Luangwa Valley. Great lengths are taken to accurately portray the characters and beliefs of the diverse peoples of this area, despite sharing some of the same cultural traditions and backgrounds. The Owenses do a very good job of bringing their surroundings and accomplishments to life and over 20 color photos add further examples of the wildlife that they routinely encountered and some of the successes and failures that the Owenses had during their years in Zambia.

The Eye of the Elephant concludes with a postscript reflecting on the couple’s efforts in both Botswana and Zambia. There are also two appendices, one reiterating the Owenses’ suggestion on conserving Kalahari wildlife and the other detailing the 1989 international ivory trade ban and its immediate impacts on elephant poaching, populations, and ultimately their conservation in Africa. For more background information about the Owenses and their experiences in Africa, including synopses, quotations from the books, and interviews with people in that area, please see the April 5, 2010 New Yorker article titled “The Hunted: Did American conservationists in Africa go too far?

Other Books by the Authors:

Mark and Delia Owens have co-written two other books that are highly recommended. Cry of the Kalahari is the prequel to their journey to Zambia and takes place in Botswana’s robust Kalahari Desert. It is a necessary read before picking up The Eye of the Elephant and may be more fascinating to casual readers. Secrets of the Savanna: Twenty-three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People contributes further details about the couples’ experiences in Zambia with a focus on the human element of conservation. The Eye of the Elephant is published under the title Survivor’s Song: Life and Death in the African Wilderness in the United Kingdom.

Further Reading:

Those interested in some lighter reading relating to living in the wild and wildlife behavior would be wise to look up Kobie Krüger‘s The Wilderness Family, a warm and vibrant depiction of the reality of the South African Lowveld as experienced by her game warden husband and their family living inside the world famous Kruger National Park in South Africa. The Wilderness Family combines the same sense of freedom in the wild as well as anecdotes about coexisting with wildlife and animal behavior as Cry of the Kalahari and in an even more readable format.

Readers who enjoy reading about wildlife behavior and conservationists in Africa may also be interested in Gareth Patterson‘s continuing work in Africa. Patterson has written several books including To Walk with Lions, Last of the Free, and My Lion’s Heart: A Life for the Lions of Africa, which detail lion instincts, behavior, and the challenges involved in raising lions and what considerations must be made before lions can be considered for release back into the wild.


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