I love my life here in the UK and feel incredibly blessed to be able to make a living. This journey I am on and the wonderful people I am meeting in person and also through face book all adds to the excitement of taking a stance against wildlife crime in the best way I know how. I work in an Assisted Living Complex and over the last three years have made time to get to know and respect our residents. I am amazed at how many of them have ties of some sort to my beautiful home country, Zimbabwe. OF course, the conversation strangely enough gets around to elephants, and at least half of them have had the wonderful experience of seeing these animals in the wild. However, very few of them were aware of the rampant poaching sweeping through Africa, until I started my journey. Since I started sharing my precious memories with them all, I now receive newspaper cuttings, magazine cuttings and all sorts of tidbits concerning Zimbabwe’s beleaguered elephants, rhinos and other endangered species. Sometimes I end up with three of four cuttings of the same article, and I just smile and thank each of them. A few of them call me ‘elephant girl’ which makes me at 55 years of age smile.
‘What is the bush like?’ is a question I am often asked and I have to admit that I do feel a painful stretching of my heart.
‘Zimbabwe is a wild garden pulsating with life.’ I again feel the hot dry air rushing into my lungs and the warm sultry heat that saturates every inch of my body. I smile at the memories of the african people with their dark tightly knitted curls, solemn dark eyes and ready smiles. There is not a night that goes by where the setting sun does not whisper a promise for tomorrow and the golden horizons herald a new morning. The vast blue skies smile down on this Eden teeming with wildlife of every description.
‘Have you camped in the bush?’ Blue eyes, worn over time stare at me.
‘The morning mist rises with summer laziness and the wild sweet decay of elephant dung fills your nostrils. Our favourite fishing spot in the Zambezi valley is a place that steals your heart. I have slept out side under a mosquito net, all be it with a thumping heart. A myriad of stars light up the night sky and the serenading of crickets and birds lulls you into a deep sleep. A low frequency purr that you can feel rather than hear alerts you to the fact that a gigantic presence is blocking out the night sky. Fold upon fold of wrinkled skin is close enough to reach out and touch. My heart bolts like a runaway train and my mouth is so dry that the inner folds are stuck to my teeth. The earthy sweet odour clogs my nostrils and the elation of being in the presence of an elephant fills me with a life changing euphoria.’ I shake my head, holding this particular memory close to my heart.
‘You have to see the golden dawn and the hear the liquid murmur of the fast flowing Zambezi river. There is nothing more enchanting than a steaming hot cup of tea and a vast river to leave you with summer contentment and idle thoughts. The grunts from the aquatic ballet dancers (hippos) as they frolic in the water ,watchful and at times bad tempered. Along the bank the old dugger boy (buffalo) slurps thirstily, a mean look in his rheumy old eye. He is a walking smorgasbord for the tick birds that in turn provide him with a free bug and tic cleaning service.’ I smile. ‘You have to hear the baboon cursing each other with loud angry barks. You have to see to appreciate the weaver bird nests decorating low hanging branches and African skimmers and white fronted plovers. Mosquitoes, sun creams, biltong and beer all form a delightful partnership with camping on the Zambezi river. Beware the crocodiles with their slit eyes and lethal jaws.’
I continue to enthuse, my eyes lighting up and burning as bright as the African sun. There is a powerful pulsing of African through my veins as I think of this vast continent. My eyes dull as I think of the troubles facing the continent. A continent that is also weeping. The continent with an emptiness at her centre that I find disturbing.
I tell them that behind every piece of ivory there is a story, a bloody barbaric story. I talk about the callous way these animals are slaughtered and left to rot in the sun. We talk about how sentient these animals are and what it does to young animals who witness these fullscale killings. The plight of the rhino is also a subject that is foremost on my mind. I tell them about Thandi the rhino and show them the link. Then we also talk about canned hunting and the fact that these lion cubs are hand reared for shooting and I can see these old folk shake their heads, a horrified look in their eyes.
‘You are doing a good job.’ They tell me.
‘Thank you, but I need to do more.’ Is my reply.
An arthritic hand with dry crepe skin reaches out, cool to the touch and a gentle voice brings me back to the present. ‘Thank you for sharing those precious moments with us.’ She coughs gently, clearing her throat. ‘Who will look after these places that you describe? How many animals are left now? It is such a long time since you were home.’
‘There are so many amazing people out there putting their lives on the line to protect this heritage.’ I pull out my phone and show them the photos of Rory Young and Chengeta Wildlife. (Their face book page. Please like and share.) I tell them that Rory has already volunteered much of his time in providing much needed training to wildlife protection teams. Violent groups in the region have now started to look to the ivory trade to fund terrorist activities. Rory is implementing a full time, comprehensive training program to provide the rangers with the resources they need to carry out their important work and has now formed a partnership with ALERT.
It is a life changing experience for the rangers who are witness to the ‘desolation’ long after the poached animal has unburdened its enormous wrinkled body into a spiritual updraft of lightness. Sadly for these animals death does not always come in a single violent stroke.
For me, I am going to continue to raise awareness on the plight of the elephants, rhinos and other endangered species through my poetry and blog. The Baobab, A silent witness (my poem)