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Walking with elephants

While the world came together at COP26 and talked about protecting our planet, slowing emissions, stopping deforestation and controlling pollution we hung our heads in Zimbabwe.
Image: Shutterstock

Under a stormy November sky I headed North East on the highway. It was a very hot day and the humidity was suffocating; the rains are very near. Up a steep and winding mountain road a lone Jacaranda tree was still dropping the last of its purple flowers and around the next bend were five big baboons: heads down, bottoms up, tails arched, completely absorbed in licking up powdered grain spilled on the highway.

At the next corner there was an horrific accident, a huge 30-ton rig had crushed a little car and the sides of the rig had peeled off and lay scattered all over the road. Driving was treacherous as scores of people crowded onto the roadside to look at the accident and I couldn’t help but question how on earth man and nature can keep on living side by side like this.

While the world came together at COP26 and talked about protecting our planet, slowing emissions, stopping deforestation and controlling pollution we hung our heads in Zimbabwe. With shock we saw the embarrassingly bloated entourage of 100 people from Zimbabwe that went to Glasgow from our broke, hungry, impoverished country. We read about the luxury private aircraft that the president hired from Azerbaijan at a cost of almost a million US dollars and I just grieved for the future of our natural heritage.

Nearly 40 years ago I had an unforgettable encounter with our natural heritage when I cared for two orphaned baby elephants that had been rescued from a cull. We named the elephants Rundi and Muku and every day for two years we walked, the elephants and me, as they learned to survive without the nurture, protection and teaching of their herds and I learned about healing and trust. Two years filled with laughter and tears, adventures and misadventures and always the question on my mind, could they, would they have their life of 60 years in Zimbabwe? Would poachers eliminate them? Would the national parks be protected? Would the environment be able to sustain them?

Zimbabwe is currently gripped with a deep moral dilemma.

Zimparks, the government’s department of National Parks, the custodians and protectors of all flora and fauna, has announced that it is considering culling elephants again for the first time in 33 years.

To shine a light on this issue I have just released a new edition of my book ‘Rundi, Walking with Elephants.’ While the story is heart warming and the 47 photographs enchanting, this issue is profoundly complex, hugely controversial and deeply emotive.

More than ever we need thoughtful, measured leadership.

When I met Rundi 10 years after she had left my care she remembered me immediately. Towering over me she walked straight up to me, made her rumbled greeting and laid her trunk in my hair the way she always had when she was a baby; she had not forgotten me and I had not forgotten her.

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When leaders from the huge African continent address the United Nations, the hall is mostly empty. Nobody is interested in what African leaders have to say, because African leaders are weak. When the representative from Israel, a tiny nation, delivers his speech, the hall is packed to the brim and people take note. – Professor Patrice Lumumba, in his speech “Africa is weak and politically confused”.

Thank you for being the beautiful light you are Cathy.

Ian

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