Giant of a Man: A tale of love, loss, and wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe – Cathy Buckle

In this letter from Zimbabwe, Cathy Buckle shares her experience of writing a book about the life of a remarkable man named Norman, who was deeply connected to Zimbabwe and its wildlife. Norman’s story highlights his efforts to protect and coexist with wildlife, particularly black rhinos, on his farm called Imire. Buckle touches on the devastating impact of land invasions, the senseless slaughter of rhinos by poachers, and her promise to Norman to share his story with the world. She concludes with a call to action to save Mana Pools National Park from potential mining activities and expresses gratitude to those who dedicate themselves to preserving Zimbabwe’s wildlife and natural beauty.

Giants of Men and Women in Zimbabwe.

By Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,
When someone they called a ‘giant of a man’ asked me to write a book about his life I knew it was a story that needed to be remembered. It was over a decade ago but is as fresh in my mind today as it was then. Norman was a giant of man in every way and for fifteen months I visited him twice a week for a couple of hours at a time with my laptop, a microphone, notebook and a bunch of pencils to scribble notes as he talked, laughed and smoked his pipe.

With copious cups of tea and coffee and a good supply of his darling wife Gilly’s little homemade cookies I bombarded Norman with hundreds of questions in order to map out his book and jog his memory. We laughed and we cried together as we recorded memories of love and loss, excitement and fear and adventures in the wild places in Zimbabwe. Norman never admitted he was crying at the painful parts, he just blew his nose loudly and lit his pipe, dropping ash and bits of tobacco on my notes, the microphone and anything else in the way, always a very convenient smoke screen!

Oh how Norman loved Zimbabwe. He told me stories of the animals that he loved: elephants and giraffe, lions and leopards, otters and warthogs, hippos and rhinos and stories of all the people he encountered in the rich tapestry of his life. Norman explained how he had seen that modern farming practices were decimating wildlife to such an extent that it would lead to their extinction and how he had set about showing a way for the two to co-exist which is what he was doing on his farm Imire.

As the weeks and months passed I wove Norman’s story together and with each page I wrote, the abiding love Norman had for Zimbabwe was always evident. Norman hand reared black rhino calves at his own expense on Imire for National Parks, allowed them to breed and later their calves were released back into National Park areas. In 1998 Norman Travers was awarded a Wildlife Oscar by the Conservation Trust for his achievements on Imire. When we got to the time of land invasions in the book Norman struggled to verbalize his feelings. As it was for him, for me, and countless others like us, the overwhelming feeling was of such deep sadness to be witnessing the collapse of food production, the widespread destruction and the greed of the ‘elite’ at the top who were taking the biggest, the best, the most.    

Norman, Gilly and I all cried together when three of the black rhinos being raised on Imire were slaughtered by poachers one night. “You will write about it to the world won’t you Cathy,” he asked me, “of course I will Norman,” I said and his hand covered mine on the table, “I knew you would,” he said, not hiding his tears that time. Gilly and Norman struggled to come to terms with the senseless slaughter of the rhino for a few inches of horn. To distract them I turned to the scores of questions I had scribbled in pencil and one of them was: what was your favourite animal Norman? Again and again Norman asked me to ask him that same question and every time I did he gave me a different answer, sometimes it was a lion or leopard, other times it was a warthog or an otter or, his deepest love of all, the elephant. “They have souls you know,” he said to me of elephants.

My eyes filled with tears as Norman’s beloved elephants stood a few years later under the big Acacia tree at his funeral, ate some of the flowers, drank the water in the flower pots and smelled the soil that covered Norman’s grave. I could smell Norman’s pipe and hear his laughter on the wind that day, the giant of a man was gone but the lessons he taught me about our beautiful Zimbabwe had not. So why am I telling you all this? Please read on, the tale is nearly told.

Zimbabwe has a rich wealth of giants, men and women who have never wavered in giving of themselves for the betterment of our country again and again over the decades. Men and women in wildlife, tourism and agriculture who have stood firm against all odds, always determined to conserve and protect Zimbabwe’s wildlife and wild places. Now we are again overwhelmed with pain and helplessness at the greed of the ‘elite’ who are unravelling our beautiful country. A sickening, shameful gold mafia looting every speck of gold out of our ground and rivers, poisoning the water and devasting the environment to enrich themselves only. Lithium in Bikita is being looted at the rate of 42 trucks of concentrate a day, “they are departing daily with the loot” says Farai Maguwu, director of the Centre for Natural Resources Governance. Great scars are being left exposed in hills and valleys of the lithium mines everywhere.  And now a huge and imminent threat looms over Mana Pools National Park.

A notice published in the government gazette says that Shalom Mining intends to prospect for ‘petroleum oil and natural gas’ in the northern Mana Pools National Park. Mana Pools is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which they describe as a ‘home to a remarkable concentration of wild animals’ including elephants, buffalo, leopards, cheetahs and crocodiles. “I’m very shocked that they have even considered to accept that application,” Farai Maguwu said. Objections to Shalom Mining’s application need to be submitted to the Mining Affairs Board by May 19. If you would like to help us to save Mana Pools from prospectors there are only eight days left. Send your objection to Exclusive Prospecting Order 26 of 2022 to The Secretary, Mining Affairs Board, P Bag 7709, Causeway, Zimbabwe or drop off your letter at ZimParks Head Office. If you are outside Zimbabwe you can also send your objection via email to [email protected] who have kindly agreed to receive objections on our behalf. (Thanks ZHA)  

And to those Giants of Men and Women, past and present who work tirelessly every day to save our wildlife and wild places for generations yet to come, we can only say thank you for everything you do.

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)
Love Cathy

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Copyright © Cathy Buckle
All my books are now available on Amazon, Kindle and Lulu with the hardback version of my evocative Photo-books “Zimbabwe’s Timeless Beauty” (the 2021 and 2022 collections) on high gloss paper available exclusively on LULU. Visit my website for full details or click here: or here