Cry of the Kalahari: Seven Years in Africa’s Last Great Wilderness – Review
PoachingFacts rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cry of the Kalahari by wildlife researchers Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens (Delia Owens) goes into great detail about animal behavior and living in the wilderness in a way that will capture the imaginations of casual readers and veteran wildlife watchers alike. It encompasses in vivid detail the wilderness of Deception Valley, their home for seven years, as well as the small rural town of Maun, roughly one hundred miles away, which has since grown to be the fifth largest town in Botswana. A large part of Cry of the Kalahari relates to the tedium of setting up an in-situ research station in the middle of preserved wilderness while balancing the Owenses’ own needs for basic supplies and shelter. The other significant portion of the book is about carrying out research and observing wildlife in their natural habitat. While some people would not find either of these topics alone to be very interesting, the way that these two experiences are woven together into a comprehensive view of “Africa’s last great wilderness” is both impressive and creates a narrative that is easy and enjoyable to read.
The authors also go into detail about their difficulties in finding a research location and place to live, which they did illegally. It’s bold of them to have written this (albeit after the fact), but readers should know that this type of behavior is not characteristic of conservationists as a whole and that the legal red tape that the Owenses circumvented is exactly the sort of thing that prohibits successful conservation efforts all over the world. Overall it is disappointing to see that part of the Owenses’ success was not due to changing the laws that were a barrier to their conservation efforts, but by thwarting the system without attempting to change it themselves and future conservationists.
It would have been nice to see more explanations of current events in Southern Africa during that time as a point of comparison for readers not familiar with 1970s southern Africa. However Cry of the Kalahari does an excellent job of emphasizing how information-starved the Owenses were in the raw remoteness of their research base. Adding background or even a short history of Botswana’s people and parks might have added some depth to the book, but also taken away from the unique qualities of the memoir.
Great photos from the Owens’ time in the Kalahari accompany the book. One section is black-and-white and focuses more on the Owens’ early research topics as well as showing what the make-shift camp looked like and some of their animal visitors over the years. The second section are wonderful color photos giving life to the terrain, wildlife, and wildlife behaviors that fascinated the Owens’ for seven years. Among the more interesting photos are those capturing the research subjects incapacitated as they are tagged, given medical help, or simply moved to a more comfortable position while they recover; photos of various carnivores with their prey; and one which shows springboks “pronking,” a behavior that might be a type of “honest signal” designed to show off to predators how hard the antelope would be to catch and to look elsewhere for an easy meal.
The book concludes with an epilogue, but doesn’t go into detail about what the Owens’ were involved in after leaving Botswana’s Kalahari. For that, readers will want to follow up with The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness which picks up in the Kalahari of Botswana and shifts over to the couple’s time in North Luangwa Valley, Zambia.
Cry of the Kalahari also has three appendixes pertaining to suggested conservation measures for migratory ungulates (largely wildebeest), lions, and the brown hyena which were the Owenses’ primary research topic. While this section may not seem of interest to casual readers, it provides a brief and insightful glimpse of the reports written by NGOs and governmental organizations concerned by a multitude of national security concerns including: environmental health, park and wildlife tourism revenue, resource security, and quality of life improvements for humans in rural regions.
Other Books by the Authors:
Mark and Delia Owens have co-written two other books that are highly recommended. The Eye of the Elephant picks up after Cry of the Kalahari when they journey to Zambia and Secrets of the Savanna contributes further details about the couples’ experiences in Zambia with a focus on the human element of conservation.
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.