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Sunday, August 18, 2013


A must-read by one of the world’s great wildlife pioneers. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Growing up in Kenya, one of my heroines was a long-legged tall blonde young woman by the name of Joan Thorpe whose knowledge of animals – both domestic and wild – as well as flowers and plants utterly fascinated me.

Our parents were close friends and we often used to come down from the misty belt of Limuru to spend time at their home in Nairobi. I must have driven Joan crazy pattering along behind her asking endless questions. Her passion inspired me and her patience was endless.

The last time we met was when I was part of an SABC television team which went to Nairobi to film an arts programme. She generously offered to put us up at her home on the shores of Lake Naivasha and we got some glorious footage of this bird-filled paradise.

However, a paradise it was not to be because it was here that she was brutally murdered in 2006, a life dedicated to preserving and documenting wildlife snuffed out long before its time.

For a major part of her life, she was married and worked in partnership with Alan Root who has been described as one of the great wildlife pioneers. Their filming adventures on land or in water and sky are documented in his excellent book Ivory, Apes & Peacocks. Among their documenting “firsts” were tracking the wildebeest migration from a balloon, then flying it over Kilimanjaro, filming inside a hornbill’s nest and diving with hippos and crocodiles.

No adventure was too challenging or dangerous to tackle. He’s been described as “one of Africa’s most bitten”, having been mauled by a leopard, a silverback gorilla and a hippo, and almost lost his life to a deadly puff adder which claimed one of his fingers.

Alan is a world-renowned and multi-award winning naturalist and wildlife filmmaker. The front cover of the book shows him relaxing in his garden with cup of tea in front of him and lying with his head against a young hippo. David Attenborough’s comment says it all: “Alan, almost single-handedly in my opinion, made wildlife films grow up.”

Alan was born on the same day that George VI of England was crowned. Along with the mothers of other Coronation babies, his mother was presented with five pounds and a royal blue pram. A true Cockney, having been born within the sound of the Bow Bells, his beginnings couldn’t have been further removed from the work in which he was to receive international acclaim.

His passion for birdlife started in England and when his family moved to Kenya after the war, a whole new world of wildlife and birdlife opened up for this young enthusiast. He went on to work with Armand and Michaela Denis, filming animals of the Serengeti for their BBC series, On Safari, and later collaborated with the father and son team Bernhard and Michael Grzimek.

For anyone interested in wildlife and its conservation, it is an absolute must-read. Alan Root allows readers to share in his experiences as well as the pain of the tragedies that befell his personal life. His narrative is warm-hearted, humorous and resonates of his passion for his work.

Ivory, Apes & Peacocks is published in paperback by Chatto & Windus. ISBN: 9780701186043. Recommended retail price R275. – Caroline Smart