Cries of the Savanna
Sue Tidwell (Circle T Publishing Company, 2021, 426 pages.)
Reviewed by Ken Bailey
Sue Tidwell knew little about hunting in Africa or the complexities of game management, hunting ethics and human-wildlife interactions when she accompanied her husband on a 21-day hunt for leopard, buffalo and plains game in Tanzania. She returned home with her eyes and mind expanded, and spent the next three years researching, compiling and, eventually, capturing in words what she’d discovered. Cries of the Savanna is the result of those efforts.
Other than Ruark’s renowned Horn of the Hunter, I can’t think of a book that distills the myriad thoughts a first-time, or even experienced, hunter visiting Africa experiences on safari. In a well-organized manner she touches on everything from the emotions associated with killing hard-won, revered and charismatic animals like leopards and buffalo, to the at-times life and death challenges indigenous African people face on a daily basis living with these animals. To complement this, her in-depth research on the life history and current status of many of the species she encountered, from vultures to hippopotamus, ensures that her thoughts and emotions are balanced with science.
Tidwell is clearly an emotional woman, in the best sense of the word, and willingly shares with the reader her near-paranoid fear of snakes, her frequent tears of sadness and elation whenever her husband takes an animal, and her self-effacing response to ending up arse-first in a pile of eland entrails. She laughs, she cries and she finds herself immersed in deep, confounding thought as her safari unfolds; you’ll surely experience the same emotions as you read of her experiences.
A theme throughout Cries of the Savanna is the author’s growing relationships with the safari staff, especially Lilian, a young female game scout with whom she develops a deep bond. It’s through the lenses of these locals that Sue truly comes to understand that the harsh truths of hunting in Africa are far more complex that most visiting western hunters imagine. In fact, the heart of this book is her coming to terms with how to reconcile those differences.
To be honest, my expectations were muted when I purchased this book from Sue at the most recent SCI convention – I was just doing my part to support a fellow writer. But with the turn of every page I became increasing engrossed and captivated. Sue has very effectively accomplished the goal to which most writers aspire – putting into easy-to-understand language the full range of thoughts and emotions that many of us experience, but have difficulty articulating.
I used to tell every first-time hunter to Africa that they should read Horn of the Hunter before they embark on their safari. Move over Mr. Ruark. While your words are as compelling as ever, Cries of the Savanna offers something that Ruark simply cannot – a contemporary commentary on the African hunting experience and all its touchpoints in a world that is concurrently becoming both smaller, yet more complicated.