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On Safari

Poverty, poverty, it is always a problem of poverty and hunger,” Babeu says. “The heart of the problem is the poverty of my African brothers and the terrible wealth of the tourists. African drivers are constantly being tipped by tourists to break the rules of our parks and chase its animals. What can you do, our people are poor, it is easy for them to be corrupted. And you must realize that the African has a totally different attitude toward animals from the European. For thousands of years animals have either been food to eat or a pest to kill when it destroys crops, never something to preserve for sentimental or photographic purposes.”

However, Babeu is optimistic about his country’s ability to preserve its animal life. Europeans like my guides, he comments slyly, had predicted the extinction of game when Tanzania became independent, claiming that socialists were bound to be indifferent to wildlife conservation. Yet Tanzania has instituted some eight new game sanctuaries in the twelve years since independence—Serengeti was its only national park previous to 1962. It is also pouring 3 percent of its annual budget into conservation: three times more per capita than the United States allotment for similar programs, and a huge sum for a young nation where priorities such as schools and hospitals are pressing. The Wildlife College at Moshi, of which Babeu is a graduate, is supported by a United Nations grant and is training hundreds of Africans to be professional wardens and conservationists. Part of the nation’s wildlife budget is going into an extensive audio-visual educational program that will start at the grade school level. Its aim is to make the Tanzanians respectful of the “wild heritage” concept so difficult for most Africans to understand.

Traveling between the Serengeti and the town of Arusha, where I plan to visit with one of Babeu’s colleagues, I have the impression of a country stabler and more united than Kenya. Tanzania’s harmonious tribal order has not been disturbed by traditionally feuding groups such as Kenya’s Kikuyu and Luo. No one I talk to disputes the great popularity of Julius Nyerere. Several people tell me that he is an austere and devout Catholic, and they seem proud that he is the only African leader whose personal life is frugal and Spartan. Some 15,000 mainland Chinese (not 2 million) are working on the 1,200 mile railroad track to Zambia under the watch of armed Chinese guards. At night, they live a secluded existence in camps where—watched by still more Chinese guards—they are denied all contact with the local population. I find that my British guides’ paranoia about Maoist influence on Tanzania is vastly exaggerated. The country’s pipeline to Zambia and its main highway—projects quite as crucial as its railroad—are being built, respectively, by Italy and the United States.

Half of the 85,000 Asians who lived in Tanzania in 1970 have left the country, and for them, as for many Asians in Kenya and other parts of Africa, independence has been cruel. But the Asian merchants in Dar es Salam who have Tanzanian passports now seem safe in their jobs and praise the safety of Dar’s streets (Nairobi’s crime rate is one of the highest in the continent). A splendid old-time British hunter who moved down from Kenya twenty years ago to open a hotel in the Serengeti says that he is totally assured of his work license being renewed, and is not even being pressured to Africanize his staff. The buffet at his lodge is almost as extravagant as in Kenyan hostelries, and has an equally formidable display of trifle. In another hotel near Arusha owned by old-time German settlers we are served dinner in candlelight by white gloved Africans outlandishly attired in red and gold livery, with white lace jabots at the throat. Tanzania has become a controversial model for many progressive young Africans who decry Kenya’s Western-style capitalism, while at the same time criticizing Nyerere for allowing a good many private businesses to continue.

One indeed senses moderation in Tanzania, a patience with slow economic progress, a latitude toward diversity that is unusual in a new socialist state. In the island of Zanzibar, part of the Tanzania Federation, which Nyerere had predicted would be “the thorn in my side,” the semi-independent Afro-Shiraz Party is being allowed to pursue its own exotic, sometimes ghastly, practices. The week we are there, members of the Party’s revolutionary committee kidnap three adolescent girls to be forced brides. (The girls ran to dubious safety in Addis Ababa.) The Party threatens to post guards at the airport to cut the hair of any long-haired tourist, but the guards never appear. The president of Zanzibar grants amnesty to hoarders of cloves who the previous year had been subject to jail sentences.

In Arusha, capital of the East African Community, I visit the deputy director of Tanzania’s national parks, Albert Mongi. He is in his twenties, like Babeu, and has done all his university work in the United States: a BA at the University of Seattle, followed by graduate work in the wildlife of the Grand Canyon. Since many naturalists tend to be apolitical, it is curious to talk about “the problems of psychological decolonization” and “our brothers’ struggle in America” in a modest office dominated by photos of giraffe, charging rhino, and wading elephants.

Mongi immediately asks me what I find to be the chief difference between Tanzania and Kenya. I tell him of the singularly narrow character of my trip, and ask him to describe the difference himself. “The Kenyans remain more colonized than we,” Mongi says proudly. “They are having more trouble acting like Africans, they are more dependent on the white man and the white image. That’s perhaps why Europeans feel more comfortable in Kenya, but although we welcome tourists we must not alter our character for the sake of tourism.” And then he uses a strange word which, to the few young Tanzanians I have talked to, seems to mean the opposite of negritude, decolonization, freedom. “Kenya is more artificial than we are. Tanzania’s leading principle is avoidance of artificiality.”

Big Hunter and Young Hunter took exception to my visit with African conservationists, as if I had gone slumming alone at night into dangerous bars. I hastened back to attend our scheduled departure and found that Big Hunter was engaged in searching for his briefcase, which was loaded with passports, money, and all his other indispensables. “This is where they’ll steal a briefcase more easily than anywhere else,” he fumed, “in Tanzania, with all these locals needing passports.” My thirteen-year-old son asked how one of the locals could possibly use a British passport. “They’ll take it to some Indian who’ll fake it up,” Young Hunter answered. “Indians can fake anything.” Big Hunter found his briefcase half an hour later at the fruit market, untouched and exactly where he’d left it.

The night before I left East Africa to return to the United States I had dinner with a Kenya-born Asian acquaintance, an intellectual of notably progressive leanings who had been a friend of Tom Mboya’s and other leaders of Kenyan independence. When I told him I was determined to return to Kenya to do the same trip from a radically different point of view—with African guides—he expressed great chagrin. “But that would be terrible!” he exclaimed. “You simply might not see any game! We just don’t have enough properly trained men yet, except the kind of Europeans you traveled with. I assure you that your guides were more liberal than many of their colleagues!”

It would be easier, he said, to arrange the kind of trip I had in mind in Tanzania, where, as Albert Mongi remarked, the process of decolonization seemed to have proceeded at a faster pace.

II

I read some twenty books on East Africa before traveling there. Of the ones on wildlife, Norman Myers’s The Long African Day seemed to me by far the most powerful, informative, and controversial. Its quality is equaled only by George Schaller’s encyclopedic The Serengeti Lion (which won a National Book Award this year).

Norman Myers is a British-born, Oxford-educated, thirty-nine-year-old conservationist who has been living and working in Kenya for over a decade, and has just finished his doctorate in conservation ecology at the University of California at Berkeley. His book is certainly the most authoritative essay on the conservation problems that East Africa will face in the next few decades, and it may be the first to take into account the diverse moral, political, and sociological issues upon which the survival of wildlife ultimately depends.

Myers also offers the most vivid accounts available of the social life, the feeding and mating habits, and other principal behavior traits of over thirty African animal species. He answers a multitude of questions, such as how animals eat (lions every two or three days, when they can gorge on seventy pounds of meat at a time, while elephants need 500 pounds of grass a day). And he explains many other more obscure physical characteristics, such as the placement of eyes in animal physiognomy (herbivores’ eyes are located at the sides of their heads, to maintain defensive watch on broad sweeps of environment, whereas carnivores’ frontal eyesight enables them to focus intensely on a smaller field of vision. Just compare a rabbit to your pet cat). My favorite chapter of The Long African Day examines the social habits of wild dogs, whose unique form of participatory democracy Mr. Myers describes with the crispness, factual abundance, and immediacy that characterize his writing.

The Long African Day is a very large book. It contains over four hundred pages of closely printed text and some three hundred photographs—all taken by the author—which I found superior to Eliot Porter’s material (though far less well reproduced) in The African Experience. My principal objection to Myers’s book is the fancy time metaphor that provides some of its chronological structure and much of its rhetoric: “The slice of geologic time” in which recent African species have existed is “the merest flicker of the eye on the evolutionary time scale,” etc.

It was only upon a second reading, after I had returned from Africa, that I recognized Mr. Myers’s most important contribution: He has radically stripped wildlife study of the sentimentalism and fantasizing that have led Europeans to idealize animals—and their parks—as pristine havens. He refuses to consider the needs of animals without simultaneously considering the needs of the Africans sharing their terrain. He is a pragmatist who not only believes that reducing the amount of game by “cropping” is necessary to preserving the health of the animal species—a view controversial enough—he also believes in turning the surplus game into food that will improve the health of protein-starved Africans.

Mr. Myers’s sympathy for the poverty of Africans is as strong as his love for animals, and his arguments for “cash cropping,” as he calls his game-into-food scheme, are based upon the needs of both. The data upon which he builds his case for cash-cropping are plentiful: In 1970, for instance, enough wildebeest and zebra died of overpopulation hunger to feed 50,000 Africans as much meat as they usually eat in one year. Myers estimates that the scientific cropping of wildebeest alone—that prolific animal of which I saw half a million in one day—could supply 24 million pounds of canned meat yearly without in the least depriving East Africa’s predator population. Myers mentions the 1970 drought that caused some 3,000 elephants to die in Kenya’s Tsavo Park. If they had been cropped in anticipation of this disaster, Myers estimates that their carcasses would not only have produced hundreds of thousands of pounds of edible protein, but would have averted the deaths of some 600 rhinoceros who died from the drastic foliage destruction caused by the starving elephants.

For the purist, laissez-faire school of conservationists who maintain that nature provides animals with a built-in mechanism that eventually normalizes an overly expanded population, Mr. Myers has two principal rebuttals. However tourists and some naturalists may idealize the wilderness of parks and reserves, Mr. Myers argues, their pristineness is deceptive. For the boundaries of these rich men’s zoos are by themselves a radical interference with nature which deprive the animals of their most powerful measure against overpopulation—free migration. Moreover, the animals causing the most severe damage to plant life and to the general environment are the largest and most long-lived—such as elephants and hippos. And the time-lag in whatever instinctive birth control mechanism they might have is too long for shorter-lived animals to adapt to. An entire population of gazelles and other small herbivores might starve before the larger animals’ population decreased in a natural way.

To these classical arguments for controlled cropping Mr. Myers adds a few of his own, which have to do with the extremely important problems of poaching, and of Africans’ aggressive, often destructive attitudes toward wildlife. He argues that cash cropping might satisfy hungry Africans’ craving for meat and would at the same time protect animals from the long agony of a trapped death. It would also help to control poaching for skins. For although luxury skin animals such as leopard must be protected by astringent international agreements, the poaching of more modest species such as zebra could be minimized by filling the market with the skins of legally killed animals.

Finally, Mr. Myers maintains that cash-cropping may be the quickest and surest way of making wildlife reserves intelligible to Africans, from whose lands these parks have often been expropriated. For to the African, the tourist commerce and the preservation of animals on which tourism depends will remain an abstraction until he feels its benefits. And how is the African citizen going to grasp the meaning of high-flown phrases such as “our wild heritage” unless his family gets a slice of the tourist pie? How is he going to get that slice in a capitalistic neocolonial place like Kenya, whose president’s family is the nation’s wealthiest and whose most sought-after guides are Europeans stashing away as much of their income as they can in Britain or Rhodesia?

Myers believes that the ecology of animals is indivisible from the sociology of the men with whom they share a nation. One part of his essay struck me with particular force after my own limited African experience: his diatribe against the traditional safari, which, however nonviolent in its current form, is exclusively based on the hedonistic pastime of animal-watching and has no curiosity about the problems of the men among whom the animals live. How about safaris, Mr. Myers suggests, which include visits to self-help schools and new farming cooperatives. It is precisely the lack of this kind of experience that shocked me on my trip, the segregation of nature from man. It may be a division even more harmful than the much deplored “estrangement of man from nature” because it is more sentimental and based on false illusions of innocence which are always sure paths to brutality.

I think Mr. Myers would agree that trekking to game reserves in the company of colonials who—however knowledgeable they are about animals—are crassly hostile to the past and future of Africans is dehumanizing to anyone sympathetic to democratic principles; and that both international relations and wildlife conservation will only be harmed by these mastodon guides who deride African agriculture and predict that socialism will wipe out all game in East Africa. In my opinion, anyone with sympathy for African democracy might do well to boycott Kenya’s tourist industry unless he can travel with a new breed of guides who can do well what the former generation of European colonials have done so badly: present the tourist with a view of wildlife in its total agronomic and political—therefore terrestrial—context.

Needless to say, Mr. Myers’s conclusions on the threats posed by the safari business are even more pessimistic than mine, because more voluminously documented. He asserts that the close shadowing of lions by overzealous visitors leads to so many missed kills that an increasing number of cubs are starving. He cites incidents of cheetah cubs being fatally separated from their mothers by the same kind of aggressive motorized antics I witnessed at Amboseli. He believes that the wheels of tourist vehicles are doing more damage to the animals’ grazing grounds than the much-maligned Masai pastoralists. In Mr. Myers’s view the species of Homo touristicus swarming over East Africa for the exclusive purpose of swooning at the beauty and charm of its wild animals is a very great threat to the preservation of those animals, on a par with the threat of poachers.

If one is consistent about “animal liberation” (see NYR, April 5, 1973), it is essential to extend that liberation into the psychological sphere and protect animals’ privacy, protect them from psychic domination as well as from pain. If our ambivalent and mostly selfish sentiments toward animals are extended to include respect for them, we must cease to protect them for our own sake, which is the essence of paternalism and has an inevitably brutalizing effect on any creature. We must, in Africa, liberate animals from being the victims of the affluent white man’s fantasies. Otherwise, if the number of nature-greedy tourists does reach beyond its predicted one million mark in that region, there might come a day when we shall have to cease looking at its animals altogether in order to ensure their survival. We might have to close off African game parks from men as radically as the French closed off the Lascaux caves—to preserve on their walls the ideograms of animals deteriorating in human-tainted air.

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