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Book Review: Elephant Dawn by Sharon Pincott

Every now and then a book comes along that breaks through the wallpaper of my own life and delivers its message intravenously. Elephant Dawn by Sharon Pincott did that for me – an intense read, inspiring and moving.

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Sharon Pincott made the life-changing decision in 2001 to forgo her jet-setting job and comfortable Australian home to make a difference in the world. Having sold her possessions, and later her home, in order to fund this project, she arrived in Zimbabwe during a tumultuous time in this country’s history – to spend time with a herd of elephants that in 1990 was granted protection under President Mugabe’s decree.

These wild elephants roam over a large unfenced area that includes the magnificent Hwange National Park and the adjacent Hwange Estate. The presidential protection turned out to be a paper tiger, and to this day the elephants face the same threats that elephants face all over Africa – primarily poachers and trophy hunters – exacerbated and fuelled by Mugabe’s controversial and destructive land reform programme.

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Sharon is one with the elephants. ©NHU Africa

This book chronicles Pincott’s roller-coaster journey, and follows the lives of several of the matriarchs that she got to know.

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Sharon with the gentle Misty. ©NHU Africa

Over an incredible 13 years this tough-as-teak lady developed a valuable understanding of all 17 extended family groups that make up the greater 500-strong herd. She also became the public figurehead of this herd in their battle against the deadly intentions of the poachers and trophy hunters. Her deeply personal bond with some of the matriarchs (who would come running when she called) really struck a chord with me, although the touching and caressing of some of the elephants would surely have attracted criticism from the usual coterie of arm-chair experts and haters.

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Willa and Sharon share a tender moment.

And yet, here we are – Zimbabwe’s Presidential Herd of elephants is now famous and under intense international scrutiny. Job done. Well, partly. Will Zimbabwe take advantage of this marketing godsend and capitalise on high levels of tourism interest? Time will tell.

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It was a very different life in Africa for Sharon. ©Brent Stapelkamp

Sharon Pincott is, at time of writing, currently back in Australia taking a break from the pressures of the intensely political world of wildlife conservation. Hopefully her energy and passion are not lost to Africa, and she will soon be back. Again, time will tell.

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Sharon spent hours every day sitting on the roof of her 4×4 recording the lives of the Presidential Elephants ©NHU Africa

Elephant Dawn is available at selected bookshops throughout South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Print editions can be ordered online here while the Kindle edition is available on amazon.com (print available in November 2016). Elephant Dawn is published in South Africa by Jacana Media.

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Sharon with some of the elephants ©NHU Africa

Simon Espley

Simon Espley is an African of the digital tribe, a chartered accountant and CEO of Africa Geographic. His travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, real people with interesting stories and elusive birds. He lives in Cape Town with his wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells, and when not travelling or working he will be on his mountain bike somewhere out there. His motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". The views expressed in his posts are his own. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

  • Milly

    This is such a memorable book by Sharon Pincott. It has been said already in other reviews I have read, but you really do experience so many different emotions, all at the same time, when this book is in your hands. There is so much to learn and savor within its pages. I was so unforgettably on the roller-coaster ride of Zimbabwe, elephants, corruption and greed with Sharon, with every page, yet I also fell in love with so much. Thank-you for honoring her work and making this audience aware. So many here will love the read as I did, and even the tears that you will be sure to shed in places. If they could know, elephants everywhere would rejoice in having this lady on their side. Soon may she return to Africa.

  • UnoNoone

    I have read all of Sharon Pincott’s books – and Elephant Dawn peels the careful-filter off her earlier books. She is an amazing individual – what I felt most saddened about with her leaving is ALL that research, the identity photos and notes – no one in Zimbabwe wanted them. At the same time as this book was released the Zim government is once again preparing to capture and send 30 (numbers need to be corroborated) wild caught calves to China. The utter lack of interest in the science behind these incredible sentient, social and familial animals is appalling. In just one Book Sharon’s story TELLS the elephant’s stories – we are just like them, except… us humans are also maleficent.

  • AnnaJ

    Some words stay with you for evermore after reading a book like this. These ones of Sharon’s
    still ring in my ears, “I feel like I’m trapped in my own personal adaptation
    of Groundhog Day. Year after year after year, it’s the same gut-wrenching
    problems over and over and over again. It’s just a different day”. My stomach
    churned with your pain, Sharon, and leapt with the pleasures you shared. I am
    left with no doubt that Zimbabwe can be implausibly foolish and senseless as has already been widely reported. And these unnerving words must ring true not only for Sharon’s heartrending commitment to elephants but for the few others who, like her, dedicate their
    lives, unabridged, and endure immeasurable struggles along the way. I salute
    you all, in this world of elephants and in this grand world of wildlife. It was
    pure pleasure to read this book.

  • MY&JY

    So many insights into elephants and my own country Zimbabwe in this book. Mugabe and his men Mutasa, Kasukuwere, Nhema. Fascinating from the diaspora. Take heart, indeed, that you did everything you could Sharon. I am also happy to see you out of there. Those elephants owed you a trunkful of gratitude for your untiring years of work and caring and they repaid you in kind. You will always be their special guardian angel, even if it is from far, and the one who did more than anybody for them with little help and even less thanks. This is such a vital book for elephants in general. How do my own people, my own tribe, my own country, be trusted with their future? It is not just our greed and corruption, too many egos and envies reign supreme there, too often bringing nothing but unncessary and selfish ruination.

  • Janet&Ray

    Sharon Pincott has well and truly earned her place as an elephant legend, right up there among the pioneers, and respected by them too of course as evidenced by Cynthia Moss’s endorsement of this wonderful book. Good to see Gareth Patterson’s words there too. We have to admit to getting choked up in parts. Sometimes it is sad beyond words not just for the elephants but for this woman who worked for no monetary reward and achieved so much year after year, in what was an environment of ignorance and probably envy. We frequently wanted to jump out of the pages and shake somebody to their senses. Deepest gratitude and respect Sharon, your resilience and passion is beyond inspirational. “You will be back.” ?? We hope when sanity prevails, you will be, one day. Your friends, these elephants, must wonder where you are, return to them one day if you feel able, if just for a short while. In spite of it all, we enjoyed this book immeasurably. Godspeed.

  • Evelyn

    I don’t know how Sharon managed to write this book at all. It is easy to overlook how agonizing that must have been. Yet another accomplishment for her. I relished it just as she did her time helping these elephants.

  • MyZim

    This book is unbelievably sad in places but is so very beautiful too. Thankyou Sharon for giving it your all for so long. Yours is the reason that we keep special books forever, even in Zimbabwe.

  • TobyB

    What holy hope do our elephants have when a country can treat somebody so worthy and dedicated to the cause so appallingly? I found some segments of this book tragically sad and infuriating. There are some excellent messages within, but far and away the most compelling is that Zimbabwe and some of the personalities there need a good shakeup, and a big wakeup call. Unbelievably, they could not see over their own obliviousness, and their own selves, to know what they had. Having said that, my respect for elephants and their problems has increased dramatically from this compelling read, which may not have proven possible had Sharon Pincott stayed.I also have a new measure in my mind for the word resilience. Thank you Sharon, and Africa Geographic.

  • Julie Drury

    I just closed the cover on the last page of this book and sat there sobbing into my tissues. I took to the internet to learn even more and found your beautiful book video. Those words in the song – you will live forever with me. For me listening, it is this book, it is this woman, it are these elephants, it is this entire story. They will live forever with me. It was a harshly beautiful story.

  • Doug Healy

    I can only say I love this lady, her drive and courage is something else, all in the face of adversity. This level of knowledge of elephant families is rare, there is no surprise that Zimbabwe didn’t value that, probably didn’t even know or care how to understand it, it gave away too many truths of course for them to want to know. Already Sharon is influencing new generations, my own children want to go and experience it all for themselves after reading, who can tell how they might decide to spend their lives after that. These are big shoes to fill.

  • genesis19

    Awesome! Thank you for writing this book and for all the work that you have done to help teach us about these wonderful animals!

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