The depiction of Mark in ABC’s special raised questions about his conservation practices. At different points, according to Goldberg, Mark can be seen toting a pistol, a hunting rifle, and an AR-15 automatic rifle. He is seen telling his scouts that when they spot an armed poacher, “you don’t wait for them to shoot at you. You shoot at them first, al right? That means when you see the whites of his eyes, and if he has a firearm, you kill him before he kills you.”
As Golberg reported in 2010, after the segment aired, Mark claimed in a letter sent to the Zambian attorney general that the AR-15 automatic rifle he is seen carrying was a fake, employed purely for intimidation. But in the video, as Goldberg points out, Mark can be seen staving off an elephant that appears to be charging toward the ABC crew with the supposedly fake rifle. Vieira later told Goldberg, “The guns looked real to me. I’d be freaked out if they weren’t real. What was he going to do if the elephant charged? Yell ‘Bang, bang?’”
According to Goldberg, in an April 1996 letter to donors to their Owens Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, the couple wrote, “We were not involved in this incident, or in any other incident of this nature.”
But per Goldberg’s reporting, Chris Everson, the ABC cameraman who filmed the shooting, claimed that the alleged poacher was actually shot by Christopher Owens—Mark’s son and Delia’s stepson. Zambian police detective Biemba Musole, meanwhile, told Goldberg that Mark and his scouts allegedly “placed the body of the alleged poacher in a cargo net and flew it to a nearby lagoon.”
When Goldberg asked Delia in 2010 about her stepson’s potential involvement, she said: “He might say something that you could misinterpret. He’s trying to get his life together. Just leave him alone. You have something to ask him, ask us.”
According to Goldberg, the U.S. Embassy had counseled the Owenses not to return to Zambia until the case was resolved. They heeded that warning, settling in northern Idaho before splitting up; according to her website, Delia now lives in North Carolina, where Crawdads is set. “We were great research partners and great friends, and we had a great working relationship for years and years,” Delia told BookPage in 2018 of her marriage to Mark. “I think the stress of living there [Africa] finally got the best of us.”
In the wake of Delia’s blockbuster book, the 2019 Slate article describes how Crawdads eerily “echoes [the author’s] Zambian experience and the subsequent ordeal of becoming the subject of a 18,000-word exposé in a prominent magazine.” The speculation isn’t without merit. As she told Amazon in 2019, “Almost every part of the book has some deeper meaning. There’s a lot of symbolism in this book.” The Slate piece also noted that Crawdads’ jailhouse cat, Sunday Justice, shares a name with the African man who once worked as the Owenses’ cook.