VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe — Allan Savory tells a story about the time a bull rhino wandered into his camp while he (Allan, not the rhino) was taking a bath. So he did what any reasonable person would do: he quickly dried his hands and, still stark naked, grabbed his camera. The rhino studied him, sniffed at him and softly snorted until, satisfied, he went on his way. In the last photo in the series, the rhino’s horn fills the frame.
It’s easy to get Savory to share stories of encounters with wild animals. If it’s evening at his camp at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe, he’ll be outside his round, thatch-roofed hut near a low fire, smoking a corncob pipe—regularly cleaned with guinea fowl feathers—happy to reminisce about chance meetings in the bush. There was the incident when he had a split second to determine, based on his instinct, whether he should shoot a charging Cape buffalo or go on the assumption that it would veer away. Indeed, the buffalo did swerve to the side, but not before providing a lifelong thrill to Savory and the visitors walking behind him. Then there was the baby porcupine he found along Lake Tanganyika on the Congo border. “He was one of the best pets I ever had,” Savory recalls. “He used to sit in the Land Rover with me. In the house he would come over and nuzzle the guests.”
Savory, now 79, is known throughout the world for developing Holistic Management, a decision-making model for managing livestock in which the animals’ actions and behavior promote ecological restoration. After spending a week with Savory in his wild but troubled home country, I find it ironic that in the public mind he’s associated with domestic animals, particularly cattle. For it’s clear that the sounds, smells and history of this rugged place—the interplay of nature, knowledge and memory—are integral to who Savory is and how his ideas evolved. And that for all the policy addresses and international renown of his current life, his heart is in the bush. Read more