Grantham’s wildlife warrior
From Grantham to Zimbabwe and back again, Sharon Pincott’s mission to save the world’s largest land mammal is a truly amazing tale.
Ditching the corporate life as an IT consultant, and former national director of Ernst and Young, to live in the African bush as a wildlife warrior is a remarkable change of pace.
But, for more than 13 years it’s one that Sharon was determined to achieve in order to raise the plight elephants face.
Sharon is the daughter of Grantham farmers Stan and June Schulz and grew up living the farming life.
It was here the former Grantham State School and Lockyer District High student first fell in love with nature.
“I grew up catching cabbages and picking potatoes and onions and all these things as a school kid,” she said.
“The Lockyer Creek runs through the farm so as a kid you went on little adventures and found little grubs and things and I was always fascinated by nature, there’s no doubt about that.”
Growing up with dogs, cats, guinea pigs and birds in Grantham, Sharon said she had always loved animals but wouldn’t cross paths with an elephant until much later in life.
It wasn’t until a holiday to South Africa in 1993 that she gained a unique desire to save the giants of the wild.
“I went to Kruger National Park and way in the distance there was an elephant but I was blown away by this first site,” she said.
From then on Sharon continually travelled to Africa to volunteer her time helping preserve wildlife.
“I was travelling to Zimbabwe a lot doing wildlife volunteer work with hippos, cheetahs, bird ringing and all sorts of various animals,” she said.
“In Namibia but also in Zimbabwe doing some volunteer things with elephants and in 1997 I met the warden of Hwange National Park, the biggest national park in Zimbabwe.”
She became good friends with the warden, Andy Searle, and would stay with him when volunteering. However, tragedy would later strike the friendship.
“He was killed in a helicopter accident in the year 2000, tracking Rhino and his chopper went down,” Sharon said.
Following the funeral, and while working under contract for Telstra in Brisbane, Sharon attended a leadership seminar.
This, combined with the passing of her friend, would spark an epic 13 year journey to work with elephants in Zimbabwe.
“One of the things they told us at the seminar was about interviews with 95 year-olds and when asked if they could do it all again what would they do differently,” she said.
“And their response was to take more risks, take more time for reflection and to leave a legacy.
“I left that seminar and I totally chucked it all in and I never worked in IT again.”
Almost a year later, in March of 2001, Sharon arrived in Zimbabwe to chase her dream of working with and saving elephants.
In what are considered some of Zimbabwe’s most volatile years, Sharon worked hard, and built amazing relationships, with the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe.
“He (Mugabe) gave a decree to say that the elephants that roam on a certain piece of land should be specially protected,” Sharon said.
“(But) By the time I got there no one was doing anything with these elephants, they still had the title, but nothing was being done on the ground to protect them and there was no awareness happening for them.”
She was unpaid, untrained and self-funded but for 13 years Sharon entered the bush daily to track the elephants and coordinate the removal of snares from their limbs.
“Snaring and poaching was a big thing,” she said.
“A lot of the times it was a subsistence poacher trying to get small animals to eat because people are so poor over there.
“The elephants would walk into the traps and get horrifically wounded and the wire is embedded in the skin.”
Over 13 years, Sharon developed an amazing relationship with the elephants.
“Just like I look at people and know who they are I could look at an elephant and know that’s ‘Lady’,” she said.
“You know that because they all have different tusk formations and they have different holes and patterns in their ears that they get from walking through the bushes.
“There was 520 elephants in the presidential elephants in 17 extended family groups and when I left, just by looking, I knew over 300 elephants.”
It was a relationship that was filmed in an internationally acclaimed documentary titled ‘All the President’s Elephants’.
Sharon faced daily challenges while working with the elephants and, with political turmoil and violence from land reform, was under constant threat.
Adding to the stress, and despite being on another continent, Sharon felt the impact of the Grantham floods.
“My entire first world life was stored under my parent’s house in Grantham,” she said.
“It was a really scary time as I was in Zimbabwe, my sisters were in Placid Hills and Toowoomba and they couldn’t get into Grantham to know if our parents were alive or dead.
“They (parents) were one of the last to get evacuated.”
Facing a life-threatening scenario, stemming from political violence, Sharon fled Zimbabwe in October 2014 and returned to Grantham.
She chronicles her amazing journey, which includes taking on the Zimbabwe government, in her latest book ‘Elephant Dawn’, published by Allen & Unwin.
The book is due to be released on June 1, and will be available at major retailers and book stores.