Delia Owens’s ex-husband has been accused of torturing an African poacher by putting him in a net tied to a helicopter that hovered a yard above crocodile-infested water.
The author of Where the Crawdads Sing and her then-husband Mark moved to Zambia in 1986 to study and conserve the elephant population, and appeared in a 1996 program titled Deadly Game. They left the African country soon after.
Renowned Zambian poacher Bernard Mutondo, who is now in his late 50s, spoke to the NYTimes and claimed that Mark Owens once threatened to kill him by holding him in a net over crocodiles in a bid to scare him into leaving the animals alone.
Owens allegedly said to the poacher, who brags about how quickly he can slice the face off an elephant: ‘Mutondo, today the crocodiles are going to eat you.’
Delia and Mark Owens, pictured in Zambia in September 1988, tried hard to crack down on poaching in the country, with Mark accused of dangling one poacher from a helicopter over a crocodile-infested river in a bid to get him to change his ways
Delia Owens’s ex-husband has been accused of torturing an African poacher by putting him in a net tied to a helicopter that hovered a yard above crocodile-infested water
Mark and Delia Owens examine the bones of a poached elephant in North Luangwa National Park in Zambia in 1988
Mark and his now ex-wife Delia Owens
A crocodile is pictured in a Zambian river. Mark Owens is accused of dangling a poacher just a yard from the jaws of multiple such predators in a bid to get him to change his ways
Mutondo boasted that when he was younger, he was a great ‘notorious’ poacher and could even slice off an elephant’s face – something that staunch conservationists Delia and Mark did not stand for.
But he said that he feared the Owens because of the book they wrote, The Eye of the Tiger, which outed him as a poacher. ‘We could be shot,’ he said.
The poacher described one day in Mwamfushi, when he was surrounded by the Owens’ scouts, who took him back to their camp. The couple tried to make him confess and reveal the poaches’ routes.
When he didn’t, Mutondo claims that Owens made him sit on a net, before he attached it to a cable and started the helicopter – where he was then lifted from the ground.
Owens then flew him over the crocodile-infested Mwaleshi River and held him there just a yard away from the ferocious animals’ snapping jaws, recalled Mutondo.
Mutondo told NYTimes: ‘I just knew I was going to die.’ But instead, Owens brought him back to land and told him it was ‘training.’ Mutondo then went on to work for Ownes.
Mark Owens denied the incident, and said in a statement to the newspaper: ‘Occasionally, I transported gear under the chopper and on one occasion assisted some game scouts to cross a river with a sling under the helicopter.
‘I never once slung poachers under the helicopter.’
Delia Owens was also accused of threatening local people to stop poaching.
Albina Mulenga, one of her program’s beneficiaries, recalled that the author once told the local poachers that if they did keep hunting in the park, she would cut the skin around their ankles.
Mulenga said that she thought that specific threat was made so people believed hyenas would eat them. Delia denied the claims to the NYTimes.
This follows reports that the Where The Crawdads Sing author was wanted in Zambia for questioning over a cruel 1990 televised killing – in echoes of her book about a lonely heroine who stands accused of a righteously motivated murder.
Delia and Mark moved to Zambia and featured in the program titled Deadly Game, which televised the apparent killing of a poacher who was shot after being caught on the grounds of a game warden.
The identity of the poacher was never revealed, nor was the identity of the person or persons who fired the fatal shots off-camera disclosed.
However sources speaking to investigative journalist Jeff Goldberg claimed Delia’s step-son Christopher, then-25, was a member of a scouting party which allegedly shot the man, while Mark helped to cover up the killing.
Despite Mark and Delia vehemently denying all claims that they were involved in any killings or committed any wrongdoing, Zambia’s director of public prosecutions Lillian Shawa-Siyuni has said all three are still wanted for questioning related to the killing of the alleged poacher.
Delia would later go on to publish the bestselling novel in 2018, with the story bearing striking similarities to her own circumstances in Zambia.
It follows a lonely naturalist, named Kya Clark, who lives in a remote swamp in 1950s Carolina and commits a righteously motivated murder of an abusive local man, Chase Andrews, who attempted to rape her.
The reports resurfaced weeks before high-profile blockbuster adaptation of the book, which starred Daisy Edgar-Jones and was produced by Reece Witherspoon, is released in cinemas.
However according to the NYTimes, authorities in Zambia say there are no ongoing prosecutions against the couple.