Under a wide blue sky a warthog and her three babies ran across a red dirt road below a kopje. The piglets ran with tails straight up, like aerials, as they followed their mum into the surrounding bush. In the sky nearby half a dozen vultures circled low over a clearing and in the distance, the haunting call of a fish eagle promised water, fish and the myriad treasures waiting discovery in our beautiful Zimbabwe.
A couple of hundred people had gathered at the foothills of Castle Kopje in Wedza. A beautiful kopje, her rocks stained orange with lichen and balancing precariously on top of each other. We sat under a great Acacia tree watching a couple of young black rhinos browsing nearby, waiting for the proceedings to begin.
Our host told us this was a traditional Shona burial ground, a sacred place, and that he’d had to get permission from the local Chief to bury his mother here. Just seven months ago we had been in this same place to bury his father, Norman Travers, here.
The service began and one after another the eulogies told of how Gill Travers was a loving, dedicated and endlessly creative woman. A woman who made her home in the African bush, raised her family there and then shared it all with lions, leopards, hyaenas and otters.
Gill’s doctor said she was the only patient he had who had been bitten by a hyaena and then an otter; the only patient who needed a leopard’s claw removed from her forearm!
Alongside giraffe and elephants, rhinos and warthogs, Gill and Norman Travers farmed the land and created a game park which attracted tourists from all over the world. They began outreach programmes with rural schools, endlessly spreading the message of conservation, and they held open days for local elders, headmen and chiefs.
Working with the Department of National Parks, they took in black rhinos ravaged by poaching, and embarked on a unique programme, rearing the calves and then and returning them to the wild. Gill and her catering partner Mattheus prepared milk formulas in bottles for rhinos and cream teas and venison casseroles for visiting guests all in the same farm kitchen! The perfect team creating what Gill’s grandson called an “oasis.”
Nineteen years ago Gill Travers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but she fought on undeterred, always welcoming, cheerful and uncomplaining. Gill finally gave up her valiant struggle this week and watched by family, friends and elephants was laid to rest in the ground she so loved.
I write this letter today in memory of Norman and Gill Travers who lie side by side under an Acacia tree beneath Castle Kopje on Imire Game Park in Wedza. Almost two years ago Norman and Gill invited me into their home and week after week we worked on a book together. They told me the amazing story of how a piece of virgin bush in Wedza was farmed, nurtured and transformed.
Norman spoke of a “stream of naughty, smelly, little animals” filling their lives and Gill of how much she loved them all and how proud she was of her family continuing with their life’s work.
“Imire, the Life and Times of Norman Travers,” will be available within the next fortnight, please contact Cath Buckle for further information.
To Norman and Gill Travers: Fambai zvakanaka, thank you for giving us Imire,such a gem. Until next time,love cathy
Copyright Cathy Buckle. 13 November 2010 www.cathybuckle.com