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Bushmen Soldiers: The History of 31, 201 and 203 Battalions during the Border War 1974-90, Ian Uys

Bushmen Soldiers: The History of 31, 201 and 203 Battalions during the Border War 1974-90, Ian Uys


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Bushmen Soldiers: The History of 31, 201 & 203 Battalions during the Border War 1974-90, Ian Uys

Bushmen Soldiers: The History of 31, 201 & 203 Battalions during the Border War 1974-90, Ian Uys

This book looks at the history of two battalions manned largely by Angolan and Namibia bushmen (31st/ 201st and 203rd), and in particular the role they played in the prolonged Border War, fought on the border between Angola and South West Africa (now Namibia) from the mid 1970s until 1989.

There is a difficult balance to find here. The unit was defending an indefensible system in South Africa, but was faced with opponents believed to be willing to commit atrocities (mainly SWAPO), and an example in Angola of a country sinking into chaos (and a civil war that lasted until 2002. The Bushmen themselves had been persecuted across southern Africa, and suffered badly in Angola, where many fought for the Portuguese. After the Portuguese decided to pull out of Africa, many of those people fled south to find relative safety in South West Africa, where they were used to man 31 Battalion. This isn’t just the story of a military unit, as the evacuation involved entire families, so the new unit was surrounded by its own community, in effect a small town.

The author's own credentials are good - he clearly had some contact with these units during his military service, but also stood as a Democratic Party candidate in the 1989 South Africa elections. His sections are generally well balanced. The text is supported by large sections of quotes from other people, and some of these can be patronising on occasion, or slip into stereotyping, but it is clear that almost everyone involved became very attached to their soldiers.

This topic comes across as very much the end of an era. A similar book set thirty or forty years earlier wouldn't seem at all unusual - it’s the 1970s setting that makes the paternalistic tone seem dated.

There are some problems with the structure of this book. There is very little background material, so no explanation of why South Africa was in South West Africa/ Namibia (it had occupied the former German colony in 1915, gained a League of Nations Mandate and then held onto the area after the Second World War), or much of the background of the Portuguese involvement in Angola. The book also badly needs some maps, especially of the border zone in which the two units operated. There also isn't much background to individual operations - they come and go, with often quite detailed accounts of the fighting (sometimes from several different points of view), but the purpose of each one isn't really mentioned.

The book is fairly balanced, reporting the hostile views that were sometimes expressed. It must be said that many opponents of using the Bushmen in the South Africa military come across as even more patronising, treating them almost as some sort of wild animal, to be left 'undisturbed' or 'unspoilt' by the modern world.

In some ways this feels like a book written for veterans of the unit, with a great deal of coverage of daily life, developments at the camp and so forth, but at the heart of it is a description of the activities of a quite remarkable military unit, and the extraordinary tracking abilities its Bushmen soldiers.

Chapters
1 - Alpha - The Beginning 1973-5
2 - Operation Savannah 1975
3 - The Crow and 31 Battalion 1976
4 - Expansion and Heroism 1977-9
5 - Reorganisation 1980-2
6 - Coinops and Controversy 1983-7
7 - The Withdrawal 1988-9
9 - Schmidtsdrift 1990-2
10 - Omega - the End 1993

Author: Ian Uys
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 320
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2014



Bushmen Soldiers

The Bushman soldiers were the most outstanding all-round fighters of the Border War. As the first of the indigenous population to take up arms on South Africa's behalf, they were among the last to lay them down. The border's oldest and most bush-wise people, they became feared as relentless trackers and dedicated soldiers. Coming from a primitive hunter/gatherer culture, they responded well to a crash course in modern warfare. Their use of automatic weapons and mortars, coupled with their phenomenal tracking abilities, made them a formidable fighting force. During Operation Savannah they were deployed in a conventional role as Battle-Group Alpha, part of Task Force Zulu, and advanced approximately 2,000 kilometres in a month. Afterwards, some of the Bushmen were trained as parachutists and served as Recces behind enemy lines. Others were attached to various units as trackers and guides. Their loyalty and bravery was recognised in the award of Honoris Crux decorations to members and former members of this elite corps. Controversy followed the battalion to South Africa after the war. Persecuted for centuries, the Bushmen have displayed an uncanny ability to survive and have adapted remarkably well to the modern world. Their transition from the Stone Age in less than 20 years is a story which will never be forgotten. Hailed as the 'Gurkhas of Africa' the Bushmen have proved themselves second to none. This is an exceptional record of 31, 201 and 203 Battalions and their remarkable personnel, fully illustrated with many photographs.

&ldquo &hellip this is an exceptional record of 31 and 201 Battalions and their remarkable personnel &hellip&rdquo Books Monthly


Helion Digital Editions

As requested by many of you, we&rsquove launched the first 6 From Musket to Maxim Series titles in ebook format today:

The Battle of Majuba Hill
For Queen and Company
The Furthest Garrison
Victory over Disease
Journey Through the Wilderness
Kitchener - the Man not the Myth

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Bushmen Soldiers: The History of 31, 201 and 203 Battalions during the Border War 1974-90, Ian Uys - History

The Bushman soldiers were the most outstanding all-round fighters of the Border War. As the first of the indigenous population to take up arms on South Africa's behalf, they were among the last to lay them down. The border's oldest and most bush-wise people, they became feared as relentless trackers and dedicated soldiers.

Coming from a primitive hunter/gatherer culture, they responded well to a crash course in modern warfare. Their use of automatic weapons and mortars, coupled with their phenomenal tracking abilities, made them a formidable fighting force.

During Operation Savannah they were deployed in a conventional role as Battle-Group Alpha, part of Task Force Zulu, and advanced approximately 2,000 kilometers in a month. Afterwards, some of the Bushmen were trained as parachutists and served as Recces behind enemy lines. Others were attached to various units as trackers and guides.

Their loyalty and bravery was recognized in the award of Honoris Crux decorations to members and former members of this elite corps. Controversy followed the battalion to South Africa after the war. Persecuted for centuries, the Bushmen have displayed an uncanny ability to survive and have adapted remarkably well to the modern world.

Their transition from the Stone Age in less than 20 years is a story, which will never be forgotten. Hailed as the 'Gurkhas of Africa' the Bushmen have proved themselves second to none.

This is an exceptional record of 31 and 201 Battalions and their remarkable personnel, fully illustrated with many photographs.

REVIEWS

&ldquo &hellip this is an exceptional record of 31 and 201 Battalions and their remarkable personnel &hellip&rdquo

- Books Monthly

Bushmen Soldiers: The History of 31, 201 and 203 Battalions during the Border War 1974-90, Ian Uys - History


The History of 31, 201 & 203 Battalions during the Border War, 1974-1990

Military History / Border War / African Studies

ISBN: 978-1-928211-38-9
R355.00 + shipping
Paperback / 346 pages

". an exceptional record of 31 and 201 Battalions and their remarkable personnel" BOOKS MONTHLY

The Bushman soldiers were the most outstanding all-round fighters of the Border War. As the first of the indigenous population to take up arms on South Africa's behalf, they were among the last to lay them down.

The border's oldest and most bush-wise people, they became feared as relentless trackers and dedicated soldiers. Coming from a primitive hunter gatherer culture, they responded well to a crash-course in modern warfare. Their use of automatic weapons and mortars, coupled with their phenomenal tracking abilities, made them a formidable fighting force.

During Operation Savannah they were deployed in a conventional role as Battle Group Alpha, part of Task Force Zulu, and advanced approximately 2,000 kilometres in a month. Afterwards, some of the Bushmen were trained as parachutists and served as Recces behind enemy lines.

Others were attached to various units as trackers and guides. Their loyalty and bravery was recognized in the award of Honoris Crux decorations to members of this elite corps. Controversy followed the battalion to South Africa after the war.

Persecuted for centuries, the Bushmen have displayed an uncanny ability to survive and have adapted remarkably well to the modern world. Their transition from the Stone Age in less than 20 years is a story which will never be forgotten. Hailed as the 'Gurkhas of Africa', the Bushmen have proved themselves second to none.

This is an exceptional record of 31, 201 and 203 Battalions and their remarkable personnel, fully illustrated with many photographs.


See also

Khoisan, or according to the contemporary Khoekhoegowab orthography Khoe-Sān, is a catch-all term for the "non-Bantu" indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, combining the Khoekhoen and the Sān or Sākhoen.

The San or Saan peoples, also known as the Bushmen, are members of various Khoesān-speaking indigenous hunter-gatherer groups that are the first nations of Southern Africa, and whose territories span Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa. There is a significant linguistic difference between the northern peoples living between the Okavango River in Botswana and Etosha National Park in northwestern Namibia, extending up into southern Angola the central peoples of most of Namibia and Botswana, extending into Zambia and Zimbabwe and the southern people in the central Kalahari towards the Molopo River, who are the last remnant of the previously extensive indigenous Sān of South Africa.

Khwe is a dialect continuum of the Khoe family of Namibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and parts of Zambia, with some 8,000 speakers.

!Kung (!Xun), also known as Ju, is a dialect continuum spoken in Namibia, Botswana, and Angola by the ǃKung people, constituting two or three languages. Together with the ǂʼAmkoe language, !Kung forms the Kxʼa language family. !Kung constituted one of the branches of the putative Khoisan language family, and was called Northern Khoisan in that scenario, but the unity of Khoisan has never been demonstrated and is now regarded as spurious. Nonetheless, the anthropological term "Khoisan" has been retained as an umbrella term for click languages in general.

The South African Border War, also known as the Namibian War of Independence, and sometimes denoted in South Africa as the Angolan Bush War, was a largely asymmetric conflict that occurred in Namibia, Zambia, and Angola from 26 August 1966 to 21 March 1990. It was fought between the South African Defence Force (SADF) and the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), an armed wing of the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO). The South African Border War resulted in some of the largest battles on the African continent since World War II and was closely intertwined with the Angolan Civil War.

Operation Daisy was a military operation conducted from November 1󈞀, 1981 by the South African Defence Force and South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) in Angola during the South African Border War and Angolan Civil War. This conflict was sparked when the South African Defence Force decided to try to halt the regroup of the active military branch of SWAPO, also known as the People's Liberation Army of Namibia.

Operation Displace was a military operation by the South African Defence Force during the South African Border War and Angolan Civil War. It involved maintaining the illusion that the SADF had remained in brigade strength east of Cuito Cuanavale at the end of April 1988 and the eventual withdrawal of all South African military units from south-eastern Angola during August 1988.

Operation Wallpaper was a military operation by the South African Defence Force (SADF) during the Angolan Civil War and South African Border War.

Operation Prone was a proposed military operation by the South African Defence Force (SADF) and South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) during the South African Border War and Angolan Civil War between May and September 1988. With the advance of the 50th Cuban Division towards Calueque and the South-West Africa border, the SADF formed the 10 SA Division to counter this threat. The plan for Operation Prone had two phases. Operation Linger was to be a counterinsurgency phase and Operation Pact a conventional phase.

Operation Sceptic was the largest anti-South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) sweep during the South African Border War up to that point. The operation was also known as Smokeshell though this was the codename for the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) base which was the main focus of the attack. This operation followed Operation Safraan and preceded Operation Klipklop.

Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre is a rock engraving site with visitor centre on land owned by the !Xun and Khwe San situated about 16 km from Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa. It is a declared Provincial Heritage Site managed by the Northern Cape Rock Art Trust in association with the McGregor Museum. The engravings exemplify one of the forms often referred to as ‘Bushman rock art’ – or Khoe-San rock art – with the rock paintings of the Drakensberg, Cederberg and other regions of South Africa being generally better known occurrences. Differing in technique, the engravings have many features in common with rock paintings. A greater emphasis on large mammals such as elephant, rhino and hippo, in addition to eland, and an often reduced concern with depicting the human form set the engravings apart from the paintings of the sub-continent.

Operation Konyn was a military operation by the South African Defence Force during the South African Border War and Angolan Civil War. Operation Konyn was launched on 21 August 1981. The operation preceded Operation Protea with the objective of destroying targets at Cahama and Chibemba in Angola. The Angolans had built a series of radar and early warning stations at Cahama, Chibemba, Lubango and Menongue. Attacking the first two target towns would ensure that the People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) would not interfere with the South African Air Force operations in support of South African Defence Force (SADF) ground troops taking part Operation Protea against People's Liberation Army of Namibia bases.

X-K FM is a South African community radio station based in the Northern Cape.It was founded on 18 August 2000. Its mission is to preserve the !Xun and Khwe cultures, uplifting, developing and informing the community.

8 South African Infantry Battalion is a mechanized infantry unit of the South African Army. The battalion is equipped with Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) used for fast transport and combat mobility across rough ground. Support weapons for mechanized infantry are also provided with motorized transport, or are built directly into these IFVs, in order to keep pace with the IFVs in combat. The battalion was raised at Upington in the Northern Cape in 1973, and assigned to the Infantry Formation.

Operation Egret was a military operation in Angola during September 1985 by the South African Defence Force (SADF) against People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) during the Angolan Civil War and South African Border War.

Operation Magneto was a military operation in August 1985 to transport UNITA soldiers by the South African Defence Force (SADF) during the Angolan Civil War and South African Border War.

36 Battalion was a light infantry battalion in the South African Army and in later years became part of the SWATF.

2 Special Service Battalion was an armoured regiment of the South African Army and only one of two such in its regular force. The Regiment was based at Zeerust. It was previously known both as in English 2 Special Service Battalion, and in the Afrikaans Language as 2 Spesiale Diens Bataljon.


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Curly’s Story - Hugh Gurnell

This book tells the story of the author’s three contracts as a mercenary in the ‘64-‘65 Congo conflict. It is a vivid account of his personal experiences, from his first contract as a raw recruit to his last contract, when he was involved in the formation of the navy on Lake Tanganyika and was the first C.O. Hugh started writing.


Exits from empire

The struggles triggered by the efforts to establish a new world order after 1945 resurrected loyalty and collaboration as effective strategies within the imperial world. War and insurrection tested loyalty as nothing else could. As France, Britain and the Netherlands tried to re-establish their control of parts of their empires lost to enemy occupation in the Second World War, they looked to local allies to consolidate their political hold. 56 But nationalisms now complicated the politics of affiliation all over Africa and Asia. Anti-imperial rhetoric was not only a product of new Cold War solidarities after 1945. Though it emerged very powerfully within many local nationalist movements over the course of the 1940s, it had taken root in the radical leadership of the many ‘small struggles’ against forms of colonial domination during the inter-war years. 57 Radicals scattered throughout the colonial world now found new connections, and a kind of common purpose in the international politics of the post-war world. The comfortable ease of functional, daily collaborations practised by colonial subalterns in the service of empires 58 became politically toxic. Loyalty to empire was now denigrated as betrayal, its adherents castigated as ‘self-seeking scoundrels’ and the ‘running dogs of imperialism’. 59

The nature of colonial warfare was also transformed by the end of the 1940s, and this altered the terms upon which the bargain with loyalists would be made. Although guerrilla wars had been part of modern military history throughout much of the world, in the period after the Second World War ‘an unprecedented number of resistance struggles in Europe and Asia brought belief in the concept of people's war to a new level….’ Across the imperial world, anti-colonial movements became guerrilla armies to great effect. South-East Asia, subject to both the experience of resistance to the Japanese occupation and particularly the intense influence of Mao's approach to guerrilla war, ‘was the epicentre of this earthquake’. 60 Insurgencies swept across the colonial world, often supported by external actors and increasingly able to adopt the moral high ground against oppressive imperialisms. French, British, Dutch and Portuguese colonialists fought hard to resist each individual rising, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the global character of the movements they confronted. 61 The French, especially, were out-flanked and undermined by the international credentials of the insurgents they faced in Indo-China and in Algeria. 62 As Thomas and Thompson conclude, ‘the “weak” won the battles of decolonisation because they were better than the strong in maintaining transnational networks of support’. 63 And as colonialism crumbled, the new world order embraced national liberation movements as legitimate, Geneva Protocol 1 of 1977 enhancing ‘the powers of the insurgent in relation to the state by justifying resort to war in the struggle against colonial domination, racism, and foreign occupation’. 64 This all reinforced the justice of anti-colonial struggle, and legitimized its violence, allowing nationalists to present their escape from the shackles of colonialism as part of their nation-building once independence was won. 65 In this narrative, there was no place for those who had fought against liberation.

Important though counter-insurgency warfare proved to be, the dynamic of loyalist politics cannot be fully explained only with reference to armed struggle. Wider political aspirations drove anti-colonial rebellion, and after 1945, these rapidly came to be influenced by global trends. This broader context of decolonization transformed imperial notions of citizenship, as well as altering how the colonial powers assessed their future geo-politics. The politics of maintaining colonial order would transform into the politics of Cold War affiliation. In the post-war era, what Wm. Roger Louis and Ronald Robinson describe as ‘the imperialism of decolonization’ thus demanded that relationships with loyalists be reconstituted at the denouement of empire. 66 The loyalty of colonized peoples was no longer scorned and left unrecognized: it was now an affiliation that had practical significance in the present struggle, and future importance for building strategic and political influence. In the end game of empire, loyalism therefore came to be embraced and encouraged with promises of rewards—as several of the essays in this collection illustrate. Chinese loyalty allowed Chinese elites in Malaya to win guarantees of citizenship for all Malaya-born residents of the new nation in 1957. 67 Loyal Kikuyu in Kenya took up a privileged position within the fraught, protracted negotiations leading up to Kenyan independence in 1963. 68 Turkish-Cypriot loyalty provided a mechanism by which the Turkish state became embroiled in the debates surrounding Cypriot citizenship and post-colonial sovereignty. 69 The harkis of Algeria 70 and the Angolan servicemen in the Portuguese armed forces 71 similarly stretched and challenged metropolitan notions of national identity and citizenship in a decolonizing world.

The imperial allies discussed in this special issue were active participants in efforts to remake relationships between former (and soon-to-be-former) colonies and the post-colonial world. Some of the ‘new allies’ in the post-colonial world were in fact reinvented relics of the imperial age, such as the mercenaries and their supporters who defeated the insurgent nationalists in the Congo after 1963, an alliance of anti-communists and anti-nationalists born again in the cauldron of Africa's emergent Cold War politics. 72 But other imperial allies were new actors determined to explore the possibilities for remaking individual colonies and post-colonies in a new global order—Algeria's nationalists were embroiled in Cold War connections long before the French left, 73 while Angola's colonial soldiers would become combatants in the Cold War struggles that brought Cuban forces into the country and a South African covert invasion. Across the decolonizing world, from the southern Arabian Peninsula 74 to South-East Asia, 75 imperial loyalty offered a form of certainty and citizenship in a desperately unpredictable and complicated age. As always, as Johnson demonstrates in the Arabian case, loyalty allowed for the access to resources to protect local networks and political agendas. Such resources made loyalists important targets for insurgent violence. Loyalists did not simply represent a military threat, but also a profound challenge to the certainties of nationalist ideas of nation and citizenship. 76 From such a perspective, the victimization of loyalists was often understood by its perpetrators as functional to state-building and its required solidarities, thus legitimizing violence as vengeance and cleansing—enacted as very public reprisal in Algeria, 77 and more covertly but equally brutally in Kenya. 78 But where nationalism was more opaque, or internally divided by factionalism, loyalists could remake themselves as nationalists and escape retribution, as Oliveira explains for Angola. 79 Where oppression was enforced with sufficient rigour to suppress nationalist politics as well as defeat the insurgency, as in Kenya, it was even possible for loyalists to win the peace and seize control of the post-colonial state. 80

Whether abandoned and victimized, as in Aden and Algeria, or victorious, as in Kenya, these allies of late imperial power helped shape the post-colonial world. Their histories need to be reintegrated into the local histories of decolonization, and their significance for the emerging Cold War properly considered. New nations were formed from territories with economies and political structures dominated by connections to the outside world as a consequence of imperial rule and the forms of informal influence that predated European colonialism. 81 The fate of loyalists within them reveals much about the extent to which nationalism in any one territory aspired to remaking those external connections in the aftermath of imperial exit.

Finally, we should note that the case made here for studying allies in the conflicts at the end of empire has a resonance that carries forward into other examples of exit from less conventional imperialist settings in the Cold War era. There can be no more compelling example of the political dynamics of loyalism at the point of exit than the American evacuation of Saigon in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War. US officials estimated that there were over 2 million South Vietnamese anti-communist ‘loyalists’ who might seek refuge in America if such opportunity was presented. This was a further price the US was not prepared to pay for a war that had already drained the national coffers, creating a mountain of public debt and poisoning the patriotism of an entire generation. Operation Frequent Wind saw the evacuation of thousands of American personnel, along with some of their most trusted South Vietnamese allies, but the vast bulk of the local loyalist cadres were left to their fate. 82 Graphic images of the Saigon evacuation, captured in newsreel footage broadcast by America television channels, exposed the dilemmas of US policy decision-making to public gaze. 83 Vietnam revealed and exposed the hazards of affiliation without secure reward when exit came.

Dilemmas of a different kind confronted the black loyalist military units deployed in southern Angola, and in Namibia, during the protracted Border War fought by South Africa from the mid-1960s until 1989. 84 This war comprised of multiple counter-insurgency campaigns that closely resembled the small wars of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s, and the use of black loyalist units remains one of its most controversial aspects. The most infamous of all these units, the 32nd (Buffalo) Battalion was not accepted into the reformed South African Defence Forces by the incoming African National Congress (ANC) government in 1994, and was disbanded. 85 Here, again, the loyalist bargain could not be fulfilled at exit.

Might more recent armed insurrections, including the international ‘interventions’ linked to both the global war on terror and the Arab Spring, 86 also offer useful comparisons with the loyalist militia affiliations of the small wars of decolonization? Having previously largely neglected the part played by state-sponsored militias in conflict, in favour of an overwhelming concentration on the dynamics of insurgent groups, political scientists have recently ‘discovered’ the significance of what we would term ‘loyalist forces’ in all kinds of modern counter-insurgencies. Amongst the rich array of work recently published, 87 Jentzsch et al. have called for detailed engagement with the multiple cases where local militias have been recruited to assist the incumbent forces of the state in their battles against insurgents. 88 Though the focus of political science research on this question has concentrated on conflicts since the 1980s, 89 and especially since the end of the Cold War, there is clearly considerable value to be gained from including Cold War and late colonial wars of decolonization examples in such comparative studies. From all of these cases, historical and more contemporary, there is a great deal yet to be learned about why local communities form militias to fight against anti-government insurgents and how loyalist bargains are struck. By making such broad comparisons, we might then understand whether the colonial cases reported in this collection were truly distinctive, or part of a broader and more enduring pattern of counter-insurgency response.


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When Mollusks Fall in Love

O utside of gothic works of fiction set in Transylvania, we rarely read of enduring friendships that have been initiated by a bite. But that is exactly how nature writers Sy Montgomery and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas—the two extraordinary, quirky, and iconoclastic women whose essays are collected in the newly released book Tamed and Untamed—formed their attachment to one another.

Liz and Sy met more than 30 years ago, within months if not weeks of Sy moving to New Hampshire, just minutes away from Liz. Sy was a journalist, writing often about wildlife and soon to embark on her first book, on great apes and the women who studied them. Liz had written classic accounts of life among the San (or Bushmen) hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert as well as novels set in Paleolithic times. As a keen observer of animals, she had also been helping researcher Katy Payne study elephant bioacoustics. So when Sy’s husband, author Howard Mansfield, saw an article about Liz in a local newspaper, he urged Sy to get in touch and, before long, Sy was interviewing Liz about the emerging knowledge of how elephants communicate.

Fast friends: Liz Marshall Thomas (left) and Sy Montgomery (right).

As soon as Sy and Liz sat down together, the two women, who still live in neighboring towns, found common ground talking about the natural world. The discussion that day might have begun with elephants, but it inevitably moved on to


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