1st September, 2004
She entwined my whole arm in her trunk, held it there as she breathed deeply several times, and then put the tip of her trunk in her mouth and sighed. I came a little closer and let her explore my face and neck freely until I could hear a soft growl of pure delight: the elephant equivalent of purring.
The zoo in Johannesburg is a municipal institution, short of cash, long on bureaucracy, and run by the city's Parks and Recreation Department. Which meant that when I started working there the lawns were manicured, the flower beds lovely, but the animal quarters disastrous. I was the first professional zoologist to be employed there. Most of the staff were untrained, largely uninterested, and working there only because none of the city authority's other departments would have them.
It was an uphill struggle. Far too many pointless meetings, too much talk, and everything else in triplicate. Requisitions were a nightmare: it was always so much easier for officials to say no rather than come down and see problems for themselves 'out at the zoo'. We always seemed to be last on everyone's list of priorities. And then the only person who really cared about the zoo, the man who had found and hired me in London, left his post and we lost whatever clout we had in the first place, along with most of our budget. But then there was still Delilah…
She was four years younger than me: a teenager who had been born in the bush, but had lived most of her life in Johannesburg. She was an orphan, the survivor of a...
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