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Interview with Sharon Pincott – guardian to Mugabe’s elephants

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Sharon and Misty

How did you first come across the Presidential herd? Why elephants? And why move your life across the ocean to a country with significant problems?

A dear friend of mine first introduced me to the Presidential Elephants in the late 1990s. He died in a tragic accident soon after, inside of Hwange National Park. I had already fallen in love with elephants prior to this; in 1993 in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Life’s too short not to follow your dreams and your passion, no matter what time in life these hit you, and where they take you.

Do you consider Zimbabwe your home and do you have plans for the future there?

 Zimbabwe has been my home for the past decade. I now know no other. Some clearly don’t want me here, but they must know by now that they can’t get rid of me that easily!

Do you have any hopes/expectations/outcomes through the production of this film?

My hope is that the world will fall in love with these elephants, just as I have. Their ongoing safety and survival is very dependent on the tourists returning to Zimbabwe. I hope that everyone is inspired to come and visit my extraordinary wild elephant friends such as Lady, Whole and Misty, and the many others in these ohh-so-friendly Presidential family groups.

Did you ever expect a film to be made? And could you tell us a bit about your book..  

I’ve believed for a long time that these elephants deserve more awareness of their existence, and their battles. My own part in this is what’s been somewhat of a surprise. My book The Elephants and I was released in 2009. It’s the 2001-2007 story of my life with these grey giants – through good times and bad – and is available on Amazon. You can also read about it on my own website  My next book (working title Masakhe – which means ‘to rebuild that which has been broken’) is a collection of short stories – including my ongoing life with the elephants from 2008 until the present day – which will be released in mid-2012.

Have you encountered any opposition from any particular parties with

"Whosit" loves to be close to Sharon and her vehicle

regard to interviews, access to locations etc? Is the Zimbabwean government aware of your activities/presence?

My Zimbabwean life always seems to be filled with controversy and frustration. There’s always someone who doesn’t want my eyes and ears – and mouth – around. That hasn’t changed. I’m here with the support of high-level Government officials, but that doesn’t mean that all who are in office are my friends.

Have there been any encounters with danger whilst living in Zimbabwe? If so, how did you get past that and decide to carry on?

My life in the Hwange bush is very different to what a tourist will experience. There are no more dangers for tourists here than anywhere else in the world; in fact this would surely have to be one of the safest African countries to visit. I’ve certainly experienced my own set of threats and hazards over the past decade. If anything, these just make me more determined not to leave my elephant friends.

How did you adjust to having a film crew around documenting your life? Was it difficult to get habituated to the cameras? Did you enjoy it?

Having lived a very solitary life for the past 10 years, it did take some getting used to having people with me every day. But I love to share these elephants with others and the film crew were blown away by how unbelievably friendly and tolerant these free-roaming elephant families can be – especially given all that they’d previously heard about Zimbabwe and its beleaguered wildlife. Cameras make me nervous, but some of my special elephant friends clearly had a real desire to be Movie Stars! I think we all enjoyed it, spending so much dedicated time in the company of such exceptional wild animals.

 What has been your highlight and most inspiring moment, during this project?

On location with Sharon's elephants

There were a lot of heartfelt and encouraging moments during the filming (as well as sad and frustrating ones). One moment does stand out for me though. I had an incredible encounter with one of my favourite adult female elephants from the W family (where all elephants have names beginning with W). Willa was clearly not feeling well, under the harsh African sun, and the deep intimacy that infused our meeting that day surprised even me – creating another intense bond. It was an unforgettable moment between two not-so-very-different species.

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