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Sharon Pincott

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

FROM MY HIDE: David Holt-Biddle

The Presidential Elephants
The story of a Zimbabwean herd

The concept of a Presidential Herd of Elephants is probably unique to Zimbabwe, hailing from a happier time in that now sad country. We met these special elephants in the late 1990s when my wife and I were doing a Land Rover 4×4 trail recce for a local hotel group. We were staying at the Hwange Safari Lodge just outside the Hwange National Park, and one evening the word went out that the Presidential Elephants had arrived.
They had indeed arrived and were just outside the lodge’s perimeter fence, great, grey shapes in the half-light. It was our first encounter with this unique herd, then under the protection of President Robert Mugabe, and it was certainly a project that captured the imagination. And it certainly captured the imagination of Sharon Pincott, an Australian IT specialist and executive who gave up the good life at home to work with Africa’s wildlife, ultimately the Presidential Elephants.
Her story is a remarkable one, ably told in her just published book, The Elephants and I*. Sharon’s new found passion for Africa began with a business trip to Johannesburg and a brief sortie to the Kruger National Park, where she met her first elephant. Subsequent trips back to Africa on volunteer missions took her to Uganda, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe, but it was Zimbabwe’s Hwange, that made her realize that she had to come back to stay.
This she did in 2001, her assignment being to research, on a full time and voluntary basis, the Presidential Elephants in their home range on the Hwange Estate, 140 square kilometers of unfenced conservation land adjacent to the National Park. For nearly eight years Sharon struggled against constant shortages, (fuel, food, just about everything), poaching and illegal and legalized (by the powers that be) hunting, and finally land grabs. She suffered on-going obstructionism, naked racism, an assault and even death threats, but she stuck it out.
She continued her work for as long as she could, in fact Zimbabwe’s Presidential Elephants are now probably the best documented herd in Africa, and she’s still up there, hanging in.
Sharon Pincott is a remarkable woman; courageous, stoic, determined and resourceful. Her story of her trials and tribulations, and the fun times, in Zimbabwe makes good reading. I loved the descriptions of some of her less hazardous experiences with wildlife and her beloved Range Rover, as well as some of the really evocative situations, such as Gs’n’Ts in the sunset. It’s a good book, reminding us of just how much we owe people like Sharon, and what can happen when a country goes wrong.

* The Elephants and I, Sharon Pincott, Jacana, Johannesburg, 2009


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