As implacable as Greenpeace but with greater politesse, Delia Owens and her husband, Mark, are the Hillary and Bill of the eco-crusade. They have tirelessly championed wildlife preservation from research camps in the bush to The Tonight Show, the U.S. lecture circuit and, compellingly, in print. The Eye of the Elephant logs the Owenses' struggle since their 1984 best-seller, Cry of the Kalahari.
Having been expelled from that Botswana wilderness for exposing how cattle ranchers' barbed wire killed literally hundreds of thousands of antelope, the couple relocated to Zambia's North Luangwa National Park. There poachers had already destroyed three quarters of the elephant population, bringing it within four or five years of extinction. The Owenses' mission was simple: to convince tribespeople that "wildlife are more valuable to them alive than dead." Delia, 43, helped establish education programs and such alternate sources of income as fish farms, granaries and tourism. Mark, 48, galvanized the outgunned and often corrupt game wardens, piloting them on dangerous nightly antipoaching sorties in the single-engine Cessna normally used to track four-footed predators.
The couple, who met and married in grad school at the University of Georgia, write alternate chapters of the book, always lyrical if occasionally overly melodramatic. But their ingenuity, courage and accomplishment are beyond exaggeration. Botswana has allowed the Owenses re-entry and has implemented their proposed reforms; in North Luangwa key poachers have turned over their automatic weapons to work in the Owens enterprises, and only three elephants were killed in 1992, none in the second half. (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95)