The Elephants of Luangwa Valley

When the pace of corporate life gets too frantic, I dream of my favourite patch of earth. Its lies in the heart of Africa in a place called the Luangwa Valley in Zambia. A majestic river runs through the arid savannah and it teems with exotic wildlife.

I picture myself as a teenager, drinking tea in a comfortable chair staring towards the river waiting for the sun to rise. When it does, the sky explodes into a palette of red, orange and yellow hues as the new day breaks. Dawn sets off a cacophony of noise as hippos, elephants and assorted animals take their first drink of the day at the banks of the Luangwa River.

I hear the strange noise of vegetation being ripped from its roots and I turn to see that an entire herd of elephants has gathered behind me while I was watching the river. It is quite a shock. The African elephant is built like the side of a house and has the power of an eight-tonne bulldozer.  And they detest humans who have been poaching them for their ivory tusks for centuries.

My route back to my chalet has been blocked and I recall stories of how angry African elephants have been known to pick up humans in their trunks and dash them to their deaths against the rocks. But this herd is engrossed in shovelling the fresh shoots of new green grass into their cavernous mouths and is happy to keep a wary eye on me as I slip past them to safety. I was left with a feeling of respect and awe for these magnificent creatures that has stayed with me for the rest of my life.

I stumbled upon this entrancing video of the same family of elephants who trek through the reception of the Mfuwe Lodge in the Luangwa National Park as if they own the place. They emerge at the other side of the building where they gorge themselves on ripe mangoes. The lodge was built on an ancient elephant path and they see no reason to walk around the building and who is going to stop them?

It is a perfect picture of man and nature living in harmony and long may it continue. But unfortunately, it is a rare example. I found myself wondering how I would feel if this oasis of paradise was threatened by development. And so began the premise for my latest book, The Last Oracle which is due for release in September. The book takes the small acts of destruction of our natural environment to its natural conclusion, but luckily the book’s hero Sam Jardine is there to save the day once again.

We are all too consumed by the idea of progress for progress’ sake rather than balancing what progress can sometimes take away from our lives. A perfect example from our recent history was the ever-rising production quotas imposed on the whaling fleets of the Soviet Union in the sixties and seventies. The captains who achieved the tough production quotas were lauded as heroes. The Soviet Union had little use for the dead whales but their exploits almost wiped out the largest species ever to have graced the earth. It would have been a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, but luckily the world woke up at the eleventh hour and stopped the mass slaughter. In some ways, it is still happening today with our nostalgic love affair with dangerous and dirty sources of energy when cleaner and cheaper alternatives exist.

My research for The Last Oracle has changed my view of the world completely. It started by watching a three-minute video of my favourite place on earth and imagining what would happen if an oil rig was planted in the middle of the elephant’s mangrove plantation.

We all have our perfect patches of earth from our childhood stored in the depths of our memories. Take a minute to retrieve those memories and imagine what would happen if an oil rig was planted in the middle of that patch in the name of progress. Then consider what you could do to achieve a better balance between progress and protection of the places we love. It could change your life.

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