Delia Owens is the co-author of three non-fictions books on African wildlife, which she wrote together with her then-husband Mark Owens. In 2019, she wrote her first fiction book which immediately became a raving success.
Delia grew up in rural Georgia in the 1950s, and as a young girl was encouraged by her mother to explore nature and the wilderness where she was being raised. Even though she loved writing from a young age, and was sure after winning a sixth-grade writing competition that her destiny was to one day become a writer, she ended up studying zoology at the University of Georgia.
Her three non-fiction books are the result of the years of research she underwent to write her thesis for her Ph.D. in Animal Behavior. The experience of moving to Africa derailed her comfort-filled American life and ended up opening up an entirely new path for her. Delia Owens currently resides in Idaho on a ranch where she continues to be in direct contact with Mother Nature, riding her horses through the mountainous landscapes of her new habitat.
Where the Crawdads Sing
Where the Crawdads Sing is Delia Owen’s first novel, her first attempt to break free from non-fiction writing. Owens bursts into the world of fictional literature, since it topped the New York Times Fiction Bestsellers of 2019 and 2020, and is considered by many of her readers to be the best Delia Owens book, hands down.
Kya is a young girl, living in a Marsh in coastal North Carolina in the 1950’s. Her mother abandons her at a young age, and soon the rest of her siblings follow suit. Eventually, she is left alone with her physically abusive and alcoholic father, who neglects her education but does teach her how to fish and fend for herself in the Marsh.
Rejected and ridiculed by the townsfolk, pejoratively called “The Marsh Girl”, Kya’s is a lonely existence. Until one day, two young men enter her life. An old friend of her brother’s, Tate, and the town’s golden boy and star athlete, Chase. Both are intrigued by her wild and untamed beauty, both bring promises of a future where she can finally be accepted and integrated into a community, something she has been denied her entire existence.
Then, in 1969, Chase is found dead. Fingers are soon pointing in the direction of Kya, suspicions arising out of his strange relationship with the town’s outcast.
Delia Owens is a master at describing Mother Nature in all her beauty, and by her own account, was inspired by the strong bonds and instinct of sticking together females tend to have in social species and which she studied thoroughly during her time in Africa. She observed this closeness of female relationships and how much animals depended on them to survive, and Kya’s character development was based precisely on the lack thereof.
Cry of the Kalahari
In the 1970’s, Delia and Mark Owens were a young couple of zoology students searching for a topic for their Ph.D. They wanted to study wild animals, but even then, humans had tainted the meaning of “wild” to the point that the two decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean and move to Africa to conduct their research. Africa remained one of the few places on Earth where wilderness was still truly untouched by man.
Over the course of three years, they sold off all their belongings to raise enough money for the trip. When they finally got to the continent, they landed in South Africa and began their quest to find a spot. In Botswana, they caught wind of a place where even the local Bushmen dared not go – the Kalahari Desert. There they set up camp and stayed for the next seven years.
The Owens focused mainly on studying lions, but soon they also turned their attention to the herd of brown hyenas that were endangered as well. This is definitely the best book by Delia Owens for lovers of felines, especially large predators, because for almost an entire decade the couple watched these creatures, following their movements and studying their behavior. The animals soon accepted the two Americans as part of the landscape, and started to bond with them.
Cry of the Kalahari is the autobiographical account of their time amidst the Botswana wildlife, and lions are not the only stars. As it turns out, wild predators were the least of the dangers the Owens faced: in their many brushes with death, it was often other perils that loomed ahead, such as droughts, wildfires, and the actions of the main industry in Botswana, the cattle industry.
And of course, the ever-present issue of finding the financial resources to continue their work. An unbelievable tale of two humans that got to experience Nature in its rawest element.
The Eye of the Elephant
The Eye of the Elephant is the sequel to Cry of the Kalahari. The Owens were kicked out of Botswana for reasons that were unclear to them, though it is believed that their expulsion was related to their opposition to the cattle industry and their efforts to aid conservationism. After they were forced to leave the camp they had called home for seven years, the researchers opened the map to find another location where they could continue their work. Their fingers landed on Zambia.
In their second African home, their lives revolved around the fate of elephants. In the North Luangwa Valley, elephants were being killed at a dizzying rate to cover the growing worldwide demand for ivory. Corrupt officials and park rangers that looked the other way; the elephant’s fate seemed to be sealed, and no one was granting them any protection against poachers.
Given the context, this book focuses less on the zoological aspects of the elephant herds than its predecessor, and instead turns its attention towards the battle the Owens faced in order to get the local men and women to understand the importance of preserving their unique ecosystem.
Delia and Mark narrate their desperate attempts to show the people of Zambia that making a livelihood was possible without endangering that of the big-eared pachyderms, a struggle which almost cost them their marriage. The results were worth the strain though; they managed to reduce the number of elephants killed in a year from 1000 to 12.
Of course, the couple also studied the richness of elephant relationships and behavior, and provide many details in the book. Including anecdotes such as how fearful elephants were of humans, given that they hunted them without qualms, or how many elephant traditions were being lost due to the killing of the older elephant males responsible for transmitting knowledge from previous generations onto their offspring and for keeping the herds safe.
A must read for anyone who enjoyed Cry of the Kalahari, and who is curious to know the impact international politics and trade have on wildlife in Africa. The book has also been published under the title Survivor’s Song.
Secrets of the Savanna
This Delia Owens’ best book was co-authored with her then-husband, Mark Owens, and is the sequel to The Eye of the Elephant, as it continues the story of the Owens in the Luangwa Valley and their work with elephants. The focus is once again the struggle to fight the perils elephants must face: corrupt government officials, greedy and eager to bring back the lucrative illicit ivory trade, and the notorious poachers.
The couple do their best to keep score of the elephant population, but with heavy hearts they establish that numbers seem to be dwindling and there is little to do. Until Gift comes along, a beacon of hope. Gift is an orphaned female elephant; Delia Owens does not believe she will survive without a herd, which is pivotal to their upbringing. Surprisingly – miraculously – she does and, one day appears with a calf. The Owens rejoice: this means the adolescent elephants are mating. Not all is lost.
Written in a journal format, in first person narrative, it contains alternate essays from either Mark or Delia, as they were living separately at the time, each with their unique perspective. Delia Owens focuses strongly on the importance of communities, not just for animals, but for humans too.
Especially, all that is lost when a family is disbanded, and whether or not it can be recuperated. “When you lose the knack of hugging each other or twisting trunks together, how do you get it back together again? Can society ever find peace once the family has fallen apart?” the author muses.
The Owens finally had to flee the country, since there were strong indications that they would be assassinated if they didn’t. They went up against many powerful lobbies and men in their quest to save the African wildlife. After 23 years in Africa, though, they left behind a mesmerizing account of all they had seen.
Nature and animal lovers will be swept away by the real-life tales of this intrepid duo and the animal protagonists. But, even if non-fiction is not your cup of tea, Delia Owens has something in store for everyone. Check out critically-acclaimed work of fiction and some of the best books by Delia Owens if reading about the lions and the elephants doesn’t strike your fancy.