69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Back to the Wild,
This review is from: Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story (Hardcover)There must be some reason that we love elephants so. The big, strange beasts are among the most popular exhibits at circuses and zoos, for instance. Their participation in such venues may not have done the elephants much good, and neither has the relentless poaching for their ivory. One person who has harnessed a love of elephants in order to benefit the animals themselves is Dame Daphne Sheldrick, a conservationist who has special expertise in raising orphaned elephants and reintegrating them into the wild. The poachers have made lots of orphans, and Sheldrick has had an enormous amount of work to do within Kenya's Tsavo East National Park to try to bring some sort of balance. Elephants naturally loom large within her biography _Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story_ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), but so do the humans she has worked with, and sometimes against, as well as rhinos, zebras, dikdiks, civet cats, ostriches, mongooses, and more. It is a delightful book, with plenty of funny and sad stories, and a charming reverence for fellow creatures. Sheldrick has had a unique and useful life, and her looking back on it for us is generous and instructive.
Sheldrick was born in Nairobi in 1934, and was brought up with animals, and was fascinated by them. Her family put her in charge of an orphaned baby bushbuck when she was four, and her life changed. She was to go on to care for many other animals, eventually meeting David Sheldrick, Tsavo's principle warden. He had superb knowledge about African wildlife, and he had the looks of a movie star, and she lost her heart to him. The two of them both got divorced from their then-spouses, married, had a daughter of their own, and worked incessantly for Tsavo's wild beauties. Her main enthusiasm was elephants, and she and David were to work jointly saving orphans and thwarting poachers. They also had to battle against corrupt politicians and well-meaning scientists who believed that elephant overpopulation in the park was hurting its overall ecology and that profitable culling of the herds was better than natural solutions. David was to have a premature death from heart attack in 1974; Sheldrick was bereft and shattered, but felt that she had learned from her beloved elephants, who do have their own process of mourning. She was to soldier on by herself, becoming especially adept at bringing up elephant orphans. It is the sort of work that no one had done before, and it was trial and error for many years, with the errors sadly being the little elephants that didn't make it. There was no other way to learn the right way to do it. One of the secrets is coconut milk, which has the right fats for a nursing elephant calf and none of the indigestibility of cow's milk. Raising an elephant child is hard, with every-three-hour feedings using a huge container with an artificial teat, and the calf is dependent on milk for three years. It wasn't just elephants, but other creatures such as rhinoceroses. It is interesting that although the aim was the same for both rhinos and elephants, to get them back into the wild, the strategies had to be completely different. "Whereas elephants were very difficult to rear but easy to rehabilitate, the rhinos were the opposite - easy to rear but extremely difficult to reintegrate back into the wild system." Antelope orphans, by contrast, were a cinch.
There are many funny stories here, like the time a worker from the park came upon poachers doing their evil work. He called upon them to stop, whereupon they would have fled, but they became incoherent. Behind him, walking along in companionship, were an elephant, a couple of rhinos, buffaloes, and ostriches tended by the park. The poachers begged on their knees for mercy; they were sure that they were being captured by a witch. And who knew that ostriches enjoyed military formations? They would hear the sergeant-major calling the rangers to a drill inspection, and would hurry along to join the ranks. There is an absurd picture here of men with arms a-shoulder, watched carefully by a platoon of ostriches. There are heartbreaking stories, too, and throughout there is a moving resolve to help out, to get things done for animals betrayed by our silly covetousness for ivory, or the even sillier desire for "medicines" made from rhinoceros horn. It's going to be a tough fight. Modern poachers use machine guns, there is increased demand from China, and global warming is threatening the environment of the park. Anyone reading this heartfelt volume will hope that the work of Dame Daphne and of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will continue.
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Initial post: May 24, 2012 3:50:57 PM PDT
Very, very nice review. This book was recommended in this month's Smithsonian magazine and I am intrigued; I love true stories like this. Funny about the poachers scared of capture by a "witch" with batallions of ostriches!
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