The Tree Where Man Was Born
The African Experience
The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations
This collaboration between a writer and a photographer should have one title, not two. How can we be expected to go into a bookshop and order both? So I rechristen it Peter Matthiessen and Eliot Porter, The African Experience (for that is what it is). The two men work hand in glove. Each is a master and I do most warmly recommend their joint product. There have been several outstanding books of photographs of the game reserves, but Mr. Matthiessen has written an admirable text, accurate, original, scientific, and moving.
I have met many of the same people and written about the same places, and I can only say that after reading Mr. Matthiessen’s accounts of them I wish I had seen more of the flamboyant fearless young elephant watcher, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, or the white hunter turned game warden, Myles Turner. Also of Desmond Vesey-FitzGerald. Add Sandy Field and Hugh Lamprey of the Serengeti, John Owen, John Williams (birds), and Roger Wheatear, formerly of the Uganda parks, and you have a group of dedicated, high-powered naturalist administrators hardly to be matched anywhere. To rule a wild animal reserve as big as a large county, to fly one’s own plane over it, controlling its police and rangers, working on some special subject in its laboratories, and to be part civil servant, part naturalist, part brigadier and guerrilla leader, dealing peremptorily with floods, poachers, bandits, fires, ambushes, and mad elephants is one of the last careers left for those who wish to integrate mind and body, thought and action into something like a complete man.
Few who write about East Africa will face the truth, though Mr. Matthiessen drops many hints. It can be stated in three propositions:
The game lands of East Africa, particularly the national parks of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, constitute an area unique in the world both for natural beauty and for the wealth of fauna that can be observed in conditions approaching the terrestrial paradise before the coming of man.
With the destruction of their habitat by agriculture, of the animals themselves by hunters, poachers, and disease, civilization is making away with all the large animals outside these areas (except the Kruger). Elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, hippo, giraffe, buffalo, gorilla, chimpanzee, and many antelopes simply don’t exist outside them or will shortly disappear.
But the animals inside the parks are doomed also, victims of the relentless pressures of the population explosion, the demands of the natives, the activities of mechanized poachers or political bosses. Most Africans don’t want animals, they want the land for their people. To persuade the African to love his animals or the wilderness from which he has emerged is difficult; and to convince him that they are required for tourism and that tourism is a better source of income than agriculture is even more difficult. Nothing can save the large animals and their habitat but summary laws like those by which William Rufus preserved the New Forest, or compulsory …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.