Saturday, 12 January 2008

Joan Root (1936 – 2006) - Champion of African wildlife, friend and inspiration

Joan Root was passionate about Africa, its diversity of culture and landscape, but most of all, conservation of its astonishing wildlife. Joan was a kind and caring person; she was also a hugely talented film-maker, and along with her husband at the time Alan, made some of the most stunning and exciting documentaries about African wildlife ever produced. Among their various critically-acclaimed films were the likes of “Year of the Wildebeest”, “Balloon Safari over Kilimanjaro”, and the Academy Award nominated “Mysterious Castles of Clay”.

For the past 20 years or so, Joan lived at her home on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya. A place of outstanding beauty, her home also acted as a refuge for orphaned animals, which Joan looked after. I remember visiting Joan here many times as a child with my family, and always being amazed by the mini oasis she had created. Gazelles and mongooses roamed carefree on her lawn; she could call up a porcupine from its underground burrow, or a lilac-breasted roller from the sky to her hand. Most memorable for me was meeting a tame aardvark and following it as it rooted around the garden. It was one of my favourite places, imbued with Joan’s peaceful and nurturing spirit.

Joan cared deeply for wildlife and the environment, and it was her innate desire to protect these that could have led to her death. She was campaigning to stop illegal fishing and poaching around the lake. She was shot through her bedroom window with an AK-47 assault rifle.

My 2006 exhibition "Out of Africa" was dedicated to the memory of Joan and her incredible achievements, and Working Title Films are currently producing a film about Joan's life with Julia Roberts portraying her.

Joan’s death was a waste, but the memories of the amazing life she led and all the good she did will never be forgotten. She has been an inspiration to so many people, and will be deeply missed.
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