Review

Elephant Dance

Inspiration

Elephant Dance

Product details

Product name: Elephant Dance: A Story of Love and War in the Kingdom of Elephants

Reviewer: Kate Arneman

Author: Tammie Matson

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Price: $34.99

G Rating:

5

Australian-born Tammie Matson became captivated with Africa as a 15-year-old on safari with her Dad in Zimbabwe. The experience set her on a path to becoming a zoologist and conservationist (not to mention the author of two autobiographical books!) who would return to the vast, mesmerising continent time and again.

Her gap year working on that same safari ranch, a stint teaching English in Zimbabwe and researching the endangered black-faced impala in Namibia are recounted in her first book, Dry Water. Elephant Dance is the second installment of an enviably adventurous life - and the protaganist is only in her early thirties by the end of it!

In a style that is effervescent and chatty, Matson deftly weaves observations of landscape, wildlife, the interaction of cultures, the legacy of colonialism in India, Africa and Australia and relationships between the sexes together with her personal story.

Following the break-up of a long-term relationship and feeling "thoroughly impala-ed out", Tammie jumps at the opportunity to work with a different species: elephants. Her mission is to investigate the causes and potential solutions to conflict between these not-always gentle giants and Bushmen (the diminuitive tribe portrayed in The Gods Must Be Crazy) in Namibia.

A rapidly expanding elephant population coupled with human settlement in what was once wilderness had lead to competition for resources, primarily water, but also bush foods. Although the community appreciated the income elephants attracted through tourism, they feared for their safety (one woman had been trampled to death and many had been chased) and property (elephants routinely destroyed solar panels and water pumps).

After four months surveying the sites of elephant-human conflict and interviewing Bushmen, Matson initiates an environmental education program, before visa issues compel her to return to Australia.

Back home, she feels the agonising pull of two worlds and the disparity between her own privileged existence and the poverty she has witnessed in Africa. At the same time questions about her own biological clock start to weigh on her mind.

After unexpectedly landing a job at conservation organisation WWF, leading a program to conserve threatened native species, Matson finds herself in Sydney. It's here that the love interest arrives in the form of co-worker Andy Ridley (who just happens to be working on the launch of Earth Hour).

The two head to India, Andy on holiday, Tammie as a consultant to a WWF project on elephant-human conflict. Unlike African elephants in Namibia, where populations are surging, Asian elephants in India are struggling to survive.

In the Assam region only a third of the forest, which is the elephant's natural habitat, remains. This has driven the animals to seek food on farmland, threatening the livelihoods of the farmers. Dozens of people have been being killed each year by elephants as they tried to defend their crops and there have been many retaliatory killings of elephants.

Matson suggests a strategy that has been successful in Africa, where farmers in elephant-human conflict zones are encouraged to plant chillies as cash crops. Not only do elephants steer clear of the crops, thus ensuring the farmers an income, but the chillies can be used to create effective elephant deterrents around water installations and the like.

Elephant dung is mixed with chillies and dried. When a hot coal is placed on top of the briquette, it releases a smoke that keeps elephants at bay. Another method is to douse cloths in a chilli and oil mixture.

Elephant Dance winds up in Africa, with Matson up a tree and Ridley at the bottom. A fitting end to a book that manages to be funny, informative and satisfying.

Printed on carbon-neutral Envi paper.

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