Joukje Akveld and Piet Grobler

We Were Here First

A captivating animal book with a unique approach, brimming with humour and the love of language.

Cheetahs who hardly ever breed, rhinoceroses on the run from armed poachers, penguins who get in the way, pesky bag-stealing baboons. Journalist and writer Joukje Akveld hitches a ride on a cargo ship to South Africa and visits shelters for wild animals with problems.

She writes captivatingly about this subject in an animal book whose title reveals her own attitude: We Were Here First. Every chapter is a compelling portrait of an animal and the place where it lives. This is a popular subject with children, but the personal observations, the know-how of local experts, and the funny tips about how to — and especially how not to — handle wild animals make her approach unique.

Akveld does not avoid difficult subjects either. For example, are there too many elephants or not enough? It all depends how you look at it. There are few of them worldwide, but in and around nature reserves there are too many: they strip everything bare and have frequent run-ins with the local villagers, who would also like something to eat.

This is far more than just a book about animal issues, though. It’s brimming with humour and the love of language. You can feel the cheetah with its ‘power paws’ thundering across the pages. ‘Is there an impala somewhere who’s not watching out?’ You can’t help but love these animals after Akveld has told you about them.

Her observations about nervous tourists are hilarious too; when they hear their guide’s stories about the hippopotamus, the grumpiest and most dangerous animal in Africa, all they want to do is get back to their Jeeps as quickly as possible. Akveld has written not only her best book as a children’s author, but also as a travel journalist.

A beautiful balance between journalistic distance and genuine involvement.


A fine example of intelligent and passionate journalism.

De Morgen

Joukje Akveld

Joukje Akveld (b. 1974) is a writer and journalist and lives in South Africa. She writes picture books and non-fiction about animals and the human–wildlife conflict, such as Een aap op de wc (2015) and Wij waren hier eerst (2017), both of which won Zilveren Griffel awards. Akveld’s style is…

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Wij waren hier eerst (2017)., 224 pages.


Piet Grobler

Themes: animals



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2015 CN Haarlem
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