They Swooped In to Save the Elephants. Was That a Good Thing?

Delia and Mark Owens allegedly used controversial methods
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2023 11:15 AM CDT
They Tried to Stop Poachers. The Story Is Complicated
A young adolescent African elephant stands next to an older bull in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana.   (Connie Allen via AP)

Before she was the bestselling author of Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens and her then-husband Mark lived in Africa. In their telling of the story, they were environmental heroes, making every effort to save African elephants from extinction at the hands of poachers. In doing so, however, the couple allegedly used methods that were at a minimum questionable and at the most intimidating, perhaps even violent. In a detailed report for the New York Times by Ruth Maclean and Collins Chilumba Sampa, the journalists look into what the Owenses say they did in their efforts to stop poachers in one of Zambia's national parks and what locals—including a former poacher, Bernard Mutondo—say they did. The stories don't always match up.

Mutondo eventually worked for the couple, who tried to provide poachers with alternative jobs and often supplied villagers with livestock to raise. But he claims that before that, Mark Owens once fired at him from a helicopter, and that after scouts captured him, the Owenses tried to get him to give up details about other poachers. He alleges Mark Owens ordered him into a net that was then suspended from a helicopter and flown within feet of crocodile, with Owens allegedly saying, "Mutondo, today the crocodiles are going to eat you." Delia Owens tells the paper that rumors about them abounded, and that the couple worked hard to help Zambians make a living doing something other than ivory poaching. "I know that we touched a lot of lives," she said. (Read the full piece, which explores the age-old collision between so-called colonizers and indigenous people, here.)

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