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Ivory, Apes and Peacocks
By Alan Root
(Chatto and Windus, R250)
There are those who follow and those that copy. But then you get those who lead with innovation and who prove to the world that the impossible is possible. That is in a nutshell Alan Root – film-maker extraordinaire.
Root came to Africa (Kenya) as a young boy with his family after World War II and was rather unhappy to do so, because he had just memorised all Britain’s birds – and now he would have to learn a whole new set of species.
There was a lot of wildlife around where they lived and he soon had many pets and orphans in his care. As a young man, he was a travelling salesman and enjoyed driving all over East Africa for a living. During the Mau Mau uprising he was enlisted in the army – eventually as a master tracker, which gave him the opportunity to explore little known territories.
It was not long before he was employed by a famous film-maker who soon had Root behind a camera and it was only a matter of time before he embarked on a roller-coaster ride of adventure making wildlife documentaries.
Root’s determination to tell the real stories of East Africa’s animals in their natural environments drove him to take calculated risks to attain his desired footage. He was the first cameraman to swim with hippos and crocodiles during the making of one of his documentaries. He is an accomplished pilot and spent many hours filming from the air, from fixed-wing aircraft and from hot-air balloons. I believe he was the first man to pilot a hot-air balloon over Mount Kilimanjaro.
He was filming gorillas when Dian Fossey first came to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and later made parts of the film Gorillas in the Mist after she was murdered. Root’s dream was to film extremely rare animals that were barely known to science and he travelled into the remote jungle forests of Zaire to find them and document them.
The sacrifices he made by living rough away from home for months at a time speak of extreme dedication and deter- mination. Africa is not for sissies and he had his fair share of scrapes during his life of semi-isolation. He lost a finger to a puff adder bite, was bitten on the buttock by an irate leopard and an angry silverback gorilla sank its teeth into his leg.
There is never a dull moment in this book, which you will find difficult to put down. It is most entertaining, while giving an insight to how the countries of East Africa have changed over the decades and how human encroachment into wild areas has upset ecology.
Root’s documentaries continue to be shown on DStv and have stood the test of time. It is a most enjoyable autobio- graphy – an epic of an African adventurer. – Ed Lemke