Too high a price to pay for caring for Hwange’s elephants?

It’s been almost 10 years since elephant behavioural specialist Sharon Pincott finally fled Hwange, having lived there, often in fear for her wellbeing, for many years prior.

There were corrupt officials, unethical sport hunters, ivory and subsistence poachers, land grabbers, not to mention those simply envious of the positive attention her persistent efforts for elephants received from around the globe. Time has flown by yet the world-wide awareness Sharon brought to the plight of Zimbabwe’s elephants – and in particular the herds known, somewhat controversially, as The Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe – continues to serve them well today. Eyes were opened and these remain fixed on what Zimbabwe might just get up to next. She clearly remains a beloved member of the international elephant conservation community, with supporters like world-renowned elephant expert Cynthia Moss, according to reviews of Sharon’s best-selling books (such as her most popular ‘Elephant Dawn’), recalling her to be an extraordinary woman.

Sharon spent 13 years, always active in the field and not just behind a desk, battling for the welfare of hundreds of wild, free-roaming elephants who she came to know intimately, in what was at one time considered the most corrupt country in the world. Even more devotedly, she did it predominately alone, funding the vast majority of requirements herself. She shared her and the elephants’ lives in books and the popular press. In a recent Facebook post, where it was revealed that Sharon was currently in a critical condition, suffering from kidney failure related to systemic autoimmune conditions which developed soon after her fleeing Zimbabwe, some of these words, which are included in that post, reveal what is perhaps not yet a fully told story:  “As Sharon would often say – ‘too much Zim stress,’ it reads. It continues on: “[There was] intimidation, threats, apathy, some huge egos, envy, resentment, ignorance – and definitely not only from the corrupt indigenous figures – while she continued to battle for all those years to help keep her elephant friends safe and secure.”

Although not currently available for comment, it is widely known that some of those who were frequently quick to try to make trouble for Sharon, especially during her later years in Hwange, would no doubt surprise you. Perhaps even shock you. Is there any wonder she became so ill? Colleagues like Cynthia Moss likely understand the battles better than most, and wrote sending Sharon “healing rumbles from Amboseli”, something that may well have helped to ease some pain.

“Thandeka Mandlovu” – ‘the much loved elephant woman’ – is what the locals called her, certainly loved by those who take the time to read her informative books that penetrate your soul, and to understand all that she allowed herself to endure every day, for the sake of our elephants. And now, as life would have it, suffering incurable medical conditions that limit her markedly and indeed will very likely shorten her life.

Yet she continues to advocate for elephants as her health allows. After 8 years, while still in Hwange, Sharon made time at night to write several books, one of them titled ‘The Elephants and I’. It was published in South Africa, however back then an Ebook was never made available. It has now been republished with the title ‘The Elephants and Me’, as an Ebook and also in paper form, now available from Amazon. Sharon has previously explained that because she was still living in the country at that time, she needed to be careful about what she included in this memoir. And, on reflection, over the next 5 years in Hwange she fully realised some things simply made no sense at all, and that so relatively few locally truly understood the realities. And she began to realise too who was stirring up much of the resentment. But it is this book, Sharon has stated, that those who love elephants, and are not particularly interested in the politics and upheaval of the country they live in, will certainly enjoy. On the other hand, her most recent book titled ‘Elephant Dawn’ (released in 2016, after she had fled Zimbabwe) tells a much more detailed story about what it was really like constantly fighting for her own life – and the lives and wellbeing of the elephants – that, interestingly, ex-Cabinet Minister Saviour Kasukuwere once said that nobody loves more than her.

Tourists and others choose to share photographs with Sharon, who has spoken of particularly beloved elephants, previously seen often, who she assumes are no longer alive. Will we ever know? Past aerial surveys prove that deceased elephants, regardless of body size, are simply not always seen from the air. Sharon writes about this first-hand, knowing the location of one adult carcass in particular that not even she could spot from the light plane she was scouting from. It is certainly in the interests of Zimbabwe to say that all is well, and we all hope one day that it will be. But “seeing lots of grey does not necessarily mean that all is well within each family group,” Sharon has written.

So was it all worth it? To end up with so many stolen years of ill health?

It is clear that there are so many around the world who believe the answer to this question is a resounding YES.

Post published in: Environment
  1. Arthur Evans

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