Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This story is not meant to judge Zambia’s past conservation practices so much as to project hope for the future. The events described in this book occurred under the previous one-party Marxist government in Zambia. In 1991 the Zambian people elected a truly democratic government, which has taken positive steps to address the conservation problems of the country. It is only because of this change in government that we have the freedom to tell our story. Scientists and conservationists have the responsibility and the right to report their findings. By telling the truth, no matter how controversial, they incur a measure of personal and professional risk; by not telling it, we all risk much, much more.
The names of the innocent in this book have been changed to protect them from the guilty; the names of the guilty have been changed to protect us. The rest of this story is true.
DAWN IN LUANGWA. I hear the elephant feeding on marula fruits just outside the cottage. Quietly pushing aside the mosquito net, I rise from the bed and tiptoe through the dark to the washroom, which has a tiny window high under the thatched roof. All I can see in the window is a large eye, like that of a whale, blinking at me through the pale morning light.
One step at a time, I ease closer to the window until I am just below it. Then, standing on an old tea-crate cupboard, I pull myself up to the sill and see Survivor’s eye only a foot away. Long, straight lashes partially cover his pupil as he looks toward the ground searching for a fruit. Then, as he picks one up with his trunk and puts it into his mouth, he lifts his lashes and looks directly at me. He shows neither surprise nor concern, and I stare into the gray forever of an elephant’s eye.
Such an incident may take place in other areas of Africa, but not in the northern Luangwa Valley of Zambia. In the last fifteen years, one hundred thousand elephants have been slaughtered by poachers in this valley. Here elephants usually run at the first sight or scent of man. I want to remember always the deep furrows of folded skin above Survivor’s lashes, his moist and glistening eye, which now reflects the sunrise. Surely this will never happen to me again; the memory must last a lifetime. And I must never forget the way I feel, for at this moment I can see everything so clearly.
We first came to Africa in 1974 and settled in Deception Valley, a dry, fossilized river in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. For seven years we lived in tents among the bush-covered dunes, the only people other than a few scattered bands of Bushmen in a wilderness the size of Ireland. The lions and brown hyenas there apparently had never seen humans before. They accepted us into their prides and clans, revealing previously unknown details of their natural history. Our tree-island camp was in the center of the Blue Pride’s territory. These lions—Blue, Sassy, Happy, Bones, and later Muffin and Moffet—often sat beyond our campfire or raided our pantry. Once, when sleeping on the open savanna, we awoke to find ourselves surrounded by lions an arm’s length away.
We left Deception at the end of 1980 to complete our graduate work and returned in 1985, when this story begins. Our greatest hope was to find whichever Blue Pride lions might still be alive, and to continue the research for another five years. We would search every dune slope, dried water hole, and acacia grove until we found them.
But we had another objective, too. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve—long forgotten and ignored by the outside world—was now the center of controversy. Powerful cattlemen and politicians wanted to dissolve the reserve and divide it into large private ranches, even though the sandy desert savannas could not sustain cattle for long. We had a quite different recommendation: that the area be conserved for the benefit of the local people through wildlife tourism.
Despite the pressures on the Kalahari, surely few places on earth had changed so little during the four years we were away. There was still no development of any kind in the reserve. At our camp we would still have to haul water in drums for fifty miles, live in the same faded tents, drive on the one bush track we had made years before. Once again our only visitors would be lions, brown hyenas, jackals, springbok, giraffes, hornbills, and lizards.
Lost again among those dunes, we failed to realize that even though the Kalahari had remained much the same, the rest of Africa had changed. We had survived drought and sandstorms. Now we would be caught in another kind of storm—one that would uproot us and blow us like tumbleweeds across the conti nent in search of another wilderness. And there the storm would continue.
Survivor lowers his lashes again as he feels around for another fruit, finds one, and raises it to his mouth, smacking loudly as he chews. He looks back at me again. I can see not only into his eye, but through it. Beyond are thousands of elephants in massive herds wending their way along mountain trails and down into the valley, there to stroll slowly across stilled savannas surrounded by thick, luxuriant forests. Giant, gentle mothers and playful youngsters romp and bathe in wide, sweeping rivers, unafraid. Powerful males push and shove for courtship rights, then stand back from each other, shaking their heads, their ears flapping in a cloud of dust. Through Survivor’s eye I can see the wilderness as it once was. The storm continues, but a ray of hope shines through. Because of it, some of wild Africa may be saved.
Slowly Survivor curls his trunk to the windowsill and takes in my scent as he looks directly at me again. I wiggle my fingers forward until they are pressed against the flyscreen, only inches from his trunk. I want to whisper something, but what could I say?
The eye of the elephant is the eye of the storm.
Table of Contents
Title Page Table of Contents Copyright Dedication Authors’ Note Principal Characters Mpika Districk North Luangwa National Park PART ONE 1. Flight to Deception 2. Home to the Dunes 3. Against the Wind 4. Beyond Deception PART TWO 5. Into the Rift 6. Floods 7. A Valley of Life 8. The Heart of the Village 9. Survivor’s Seasons 10. Eye of the Dragon 11. The Second Ivory Coast 12. A Zebra with No Stripes 13. Chikilinti Juju 14. The Eagle 15. Moon Shadow 16. One Tusk 17. The Eye of the Storm 18. Nyama Zamara 19. Close Encounters 20. The Last Season 21. Cherry Bombs 22. Scouts on the Prowl 23. Mwamfushi Village 24. Sharing the Same Season Epilogue Postscript Appendix A Appendix B Appendix C Notes Acknowledgments Index The Owens Foundation for Wildlife Conservation About the Authors Footnotes