The Long African Day
Ten years after Kenya’s independence, the main bar of Nairobi’s venerable Norfolk Hotel is still called the Delamere Room, after Kenya’s legendary settler, and is decorated with the mounted heads of His Lordship’s trophies. An eager hunter thrice mauled by lions, Lord Delamere used to ride through the streets of Nairobi shooting out the lights of streetlamps with a pistol. He once bought a hotel for the sole purpose of staging window-smashing contests in it, using oranges as ammunition. What a good sport, his fellow settlers said, he bought the hotel first.
Another settler, Major Grogan, walked all the way from Capetown to Cairo to win his bride. Once married and settled near Nairobi, he held a public flogging of three African rickshaw boys on the ground that they had insulted some European ladies “by holding the vehicle’s arms up too high.” Grogan was one of twenty children. Traveling through Kenya, one repeatedly hears that its earliest English colonials, who came before World War I, were the younger sons of small landed gentry with large families, the kind of men who in previous years had to settle for modest regiments and parsonages. Were their eccentricities forged in the injustice of the nursery, by that dearth of attention which is often a Benjamin’s lot?
Lord Delamere, the largest landowner in Kenya, acquired 350,000 acres; plantations considered adequate contained thirty or forty thousand. Under Jomo Kenyatta’s capitalistic, conciliatory leadership, Europeans might to this day have kept most of their land if Kenya’s future had been more predictable.
On the terrace of the Norfolk Hotel, in front of the Delamere Room, there stands in desultory splendor a large black lacquered rickshaw. Its story was told to me the morning I arrived in Nairobi by one of the two Big White Hunters who were about to guide us—a party of family and friends—on a photographic safari of East African wildlife.
“In the old days in Kenya,” our guide says, pronouncing it Kee-nya, “there was this lovely old bloke who used to keep a sweet tame lion on his lap when he went riding in that rickshaw. When the rickshaw boy pulled too slowly he would tickle the lion’s throat, the lion would roar, and the boy-ee would truly hurry up. Ha ha!”
The hunter guffaws mightily, slapping his great naked thigh, ruddy and muscled below his khakhi safari shorts. He is a hulking, blond, frenetically jovial Englishman in his middle forties, who came out with the British army at Emergency time to quell the Mau Mau rebellion and stayed on in Kenya to hunt big game, marrying into an old white settler family of Major Grogan’s circle. His family’s land in Surrey was bequeathed to an older brother. His father had also been an army man, a colonel in India’s Gurka regiment. We sit over Pimm’s Cups alongside the rickshaw on the Norfolk Hotel terrace, going over the schedule of our forthcoming journey.
A portrait of Kenyatta stares down at us with an inscrutable, shrewd gaze. Our guide has driven us in from the airport past thoroughfares named after many revolutionary African leaders: Sékou Touré, Nkrumah, Lumumba, Nyerere. In the large colonial dining room next to the Delamere Room is spread out a buffet more elaborate than any I have seen in the States in some decades, comparable perhaps to Sunday lunches at the Newport Country Club in the 1950s. Africans in red and white livery hover over hams, turkeys, fish in aspic, innumerable salads, and a dozen curries set alongside a battalion of puddings that includes some ten varieties of trifle. A few blocks away, in the vicinity of Independence Avenue, more than sixty safari firms are in business to serve the quarter of a million tourists flocking yearly to Kenya to gape at the animals of the Pleistocene Age. Throughout Nairobi, in bars closed to non-Caucasians until a decade ago, old-time British settlers sip their pink gins and curse the proliferation of African bus drivers in the game reserves. One comes here not for revolution any more, but for nostalgia.
An impulse to restore innocence on the planet we have despoiled, a fantasy of returning to some nonviolent state of nature. All this strikes me as pertinent to the current stampede toward East Africa, and to our predilection for building safari parks in London, Florida, and New Jersey. The peaceable kingdom of Adam and Eve in Eden—Milton put it this way:
About them frisking play’d
All Beasts of th’ Earth, since wild….
Sporting the Lion ramp’d, and in his paw
Dandl’d the Kid; Bears, Tygers, Ounces, Pards
Gambold before them….
Sweet lion out there, six yards from my minibus, we are friends again! Few men hunt you any more save some Texans willing to pay a thousand dollars a trophy, we have come to Kenya just to look at you. Dear giraffe, it is your thick-lashed eyes that best answer our longing for innocence, taking us back to that prehistoric purity we search for. You stare back with a gaze of metaphysical surprise which seems to ask all men: How did you reverse the clock of history? I have been here for forty million years. Are you for real, or a joke?
Six AM, waning darkness, at the Masai Mara Game Reserve where we camp on our first day out of Nairobi. The zipper of my tent is brusquely opened, the ripping sound tears violently through my sleep. A Kikuyu safari boy, his ear lobe elegantly looped through a hole in his upper ear, brings a kerosene lamp into my tent. “Jambo Mensahib,” he booms cheerfully, “chai, mensahib.” He puts down a pot of very black tea flanked by large canisters of milk and sugar, and disappears with that faint salaaming gesture that the Arabs have bequeathed to East Africa.
Dawn is the most beautiful time in Africa, providing that glimpse into the world’s morning which we have traveled to recapture. One is plunged into a euphoria of cleanliness. The grass itself smells more sweet than a tropical blossom. The trill of the palm weaver bird sounds like spring water gurgling from a narrow-necked jar. Even the dewy hyena loping under the flat-topped acacia trees looks pristinely fresh-coated. I am in an appropriately trancelike state, having slept lightly, woken repeatedly by the distant groan of a lion or the hurried panting of a leopard, and hoping always to hear the subtle sound of the elephants, creatures so soft-footed that they can walk through camp emitting no noise other than the faint rumbling of their digestive tracts.
Our guides—whom I shall call Big Hunter and Young Hunter—herd us into the Land Rover for our early morning viewing of the game. Big Hunter is perpetually in a state of exuberant cheer, and commences his voluminous commentary on the animals in the same clipped, booming tones in which he trained the Kenya Rifles. “Lovely bushbuck over there, three o’clock of where the zebra is spending a penny…look at that splendid ely, five legs and all that…we’re going to circle the river bed and look for some more mating lion, the old dears put on quite a show yesterday….” When he is not driving, lecturing us, or diligently organizing camp, our guide concentrates on living up to the myth of the Big White Hunter, which dictates that he be a proficient raconteur and Don Juan, besides being a great shot and an impeccable naturalist. (Hemingway, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”: “Robert Wilson carried a double-sized cot on safari.”)
He regales us with a repertory of hair-raising tales that all end with the phrase “And that chap lived on to tell the tale!” He boasts of his military expeditions against the Mau Mau, which sound curiously hedonistic and sporting. Being the British army’s top star on the East African rugby team, he was picked up in the Aberdare Mountains every Friday by a patrol truck so that he could take part in the weekend games in Nairobi, then on Sunday afternoon he was returned to his command post in guerrilla country. Alternately his wife and his girlfriend accompany him throughout our trip. The women are remarkably civil to each other at their moments of encounter, as if machismo in the bush were part of the safari package, like the assurance of seeing elephants in erection.
Young Hunter, our other guide, is a slender, blond athlete in his early twenties whose grandparents settled in the Kenya farmlands in 1911. His family still owns 27,000 acres at the foot of Mount Kenya. There is a strange bitterness about this spoiled and gifted youth who looks as if he had never endured misfortune. He expresses in an extreme form the white settlers’ fears for their future after Kenyatta’s death. For although our guides regard Kenyatta as “the leader of the Mau Mau” (displaying an astonishing ignorance of their own history), they also look upon him as a man totally reformed by jail, “the greatest African leader, a splendid bloke who’s been frightfully decent to the Europeans.”
“What will happen when Kenyatta dies and we all get thrown out?” Young Hunter murmurs to me every few days in that polite Kenya version of a public school voice which barely ever rises above a mumble. “I’ll go to Rhodesia or South Africa, only decent place for a white man to live these days. How long do I have there? Ten or fifteen years, at the most. But I’d rather get thrown out of Rhodesia after fifteen years of happiness than be miserable in England now….”
A good part of the two guides’ conversation is devoted to expressing their nostalgia for the privileges of pre-independence Kenya, to deploring the proliferation of African drivers at the wheels of tourist vehicles, and to cursing that unspeakable day when they will have to share a meal with an African. “Do you know,” observes Young Hunter, “I’ve heard that some European women tourists actually have a drink at the end of the day with their drivers….” Big Hunter shudders: “Bad show, that.”
In my tent, I often reflect on the varieties of colonial behavior. The French were as bestial to the Africans as they are to each other. The French and the Portuguese were as carnally drawn to black women as were our own Southern plantation owners. Ten years after independence, the British managing Kenya’s leading industry—tourism—are still rigid with fear of the black man’s entering their club.
Still, how bitter it is to have found such beauty and then to lose it! Traveling through Kenya, discovering its splendor and variety, one senses the depth of the settlers’ sorrow upon having to leave. Morocco, Mexico, Greece, all other landscapes pale before Kenya’s. Besides the game-filled savannahs and plains of the reserves there are deserts of sublime austerity; tropical rain forests heavy with guava and mango trees; rolling upland moors thick with waterfalls, trout-filled streams, and fields of heather. There are Indian Ocean beaches rivaling the Caribbean’s for their beauty, and lush riverine terrains such as Samburu, where wide streams placidly flow through groves of Doum palms, wild lilies, and eucalyptus trees.
The farmland surrounding Mount Kenya, the Olympus of East Africa where the gods legendarily bequeathed the Kikuyus their land, is a farmer’s utopia: On its sumptuous loam, assured of large punctual rainfall and drained to perfection by the land’s gentle slope, wheat and oats can be harvested at tenfold the yield of any English field. My favorite landscape is the ascent to Mount Kenya, reached through sumptuous stands of cedar and dense groves of high bamboo which for many years provided the Mau Maus’ safest shelter. Kenya’s birds are a microcosm of their land’s splendor. Even the starling, the most plebeian of our species, is cloaked there in a blinding irridescence of orange, viridian, and cobalt. Sights of the Lilac-breasted Roller, the Emerald Cuckoo, the flame-red Turaco, spoil one’s bird-viewing for some time to come.
On March 14 we cross the Kenya border into Tanzania to enter the Serengeti, Africa’s most spectacular national park. We instantly sense an austerity that contrasts with Kenya’s opulence. Within the first few hours we observe that shortage of basic staples which can afflict young socialist countries: no soda water or beer to be had in the province, there are no passport forms at the frontier post—the guard has to improvise some on blank paper—no petrol is to be found in the vicinity of our camping site. Our guides rage at these deficiencies: “Great fun, socialism, what? Ha ha!” This is their last time in Tanzania, they proclaim, they’ve never had anything but annoyance in this bloody Maoist country. “Chinese communist lorry,” they mutter every few minutes, pointing at any vehicle on the road. “Chinese communist tractor.”
We hear that several cheetah have died of heart attacks in the past months from being chased by tourist vehicles; that lion cubs are going hungry from too much close observation; and that the new African warden of the 6,000 square mile Serengeti has forbidden all vehicles to go into the plain, where the best game viewing has traditionally been had. Notwithstanding these restrictions the Serengeti animals live up to legend. In these “photographic blocks” which now make up the major part of national parks and game reserves, where no shooting has been allowed for years and where guides are not even allowed to bear weapons, the walls of our nursery come alive: which is why we are here.
Animals come close and stare, having no memory of aggression on which to base their fear. Buffalo gaze at us trustingly from below their large flat coiffure of horns, noses placidly drooling, making it hard to believe that they are the leading man-killers in Africa, and that one of their species killed Big Hunter’s partner just last year during a shooting safari. Another of our guide’s best friends was carried off this very year by an elephant in hunting territory. But here elephants walk closely past us in sublime and weightless serenity, allowing us to discover their surprisingly long, flirtatious eyelashes, their trunks affectionately reposing around a tusk instead of trumpeting alarm. And we observe the beauty of the smaller African antelopes—dik-diks, duikers, klipspringers, whose great expanse of liquid eye, half the size of their heads, dominates the landscapes of their bodies like enormous lakes.
Our camping site is in a flat plain filled with euphorbia and the bright yellow-barked acacia, alongside one of the beautiful tree-festooned kopjes, or rock outcroppings, that dot the Serengeti landscape. Our ten African safari boys have arrived a few hours before us in their truck and have already completed pitching camp. They are all Kikuyus, members of that largest and most powerful of Kenyan tribes, numbering over one tenth of the population, to which Jomo Kenyatta belongs. The kitchen fire has already been lit and alongside it the cooks are baking bread in an ingenious oven composed of a flat piece of metal, a large over-turned pan, and a strategic sprinkling of smoldering coals. The refrigerator has been plugged into its canister of gas. Each tent is flanked by a small out-house, in which portable seats are posed over a deep hole. And in the middle of the camping site stands a tented shower which functions smartly on a string-and-bucket system.
Fantasies of primitiveness: Like the camping trip of Abercrombie and Fitch executives who recently spent a week on the rooftop of their Madison Avenue office building, the classiest safaris are the most naturalistic. The cheapest mass tours go around in posh zebrastriped minibuses and confine their clients to East Africa’s extraordinarily luxurious hotels. Many treat their groups to a meal at the outlandish Mount Kenya Safari Club, which matches the Westchester Biltmore for its profligate vulgarity. Whereas the more elegant tented safari outfits rumble around in shaking Land Rovers, rigidly avoiding these modern hostelries. Meanwhile we hear of Niarchos’s improvisations on the new primitivism: a private plane daily flies his mail up from Nairobi when he is in the bush, and two large swimming pools are immediately dug out wherever he pitches camp, one for himself and another for his entourage.
The Kikuyus are notoriously gifted cooks, and a typical menu on our safari might consist of a hot fish savory, cream of avocado soup, a roast, three different vegetables, a cold passion fruit soufflé. I read that a modest safari meal in the 1950s, as described by Alan Moorehead on a fairly rough shooting trip, consisted of duck gizzards savory, wild turkey soup, nile perch, and roasted eland. It is not a question of luxury, since even a billionaire could not conjure up such fare in the disorder of French West Africa. It is rather a Kenyan safari tradition composed of the British talent for importing comfort into wilderness and the East African’s prideful need to exhibit his great talents. Laundry is done daily and pressed with immense hot coal irons. One changes several times a day. It is bad form to miss tea.
I visit the cook by his fire as he is deftly whipping egg whites with an old wooden whisk. By him stands the chief steward, a powerfully built Kikuyu who has been in Big Hunter’s service for some ten years. The safari boys speak little English beyond the necessities of food and laundry, and earn between one and two dollars a day. “Fair but firm,” Big Hunter pronounces whenever he discusses his staff. “I’ve kept them from joining those blasted new safari unions by being fair but firm.” Over dinner one night, our guide tells me that his chief steward is a former Mau Mau. I ask him if he is joking, and he seems offended, swiftly coming to the Mau Maus’ defense. “But they’re splendid old blokes actually—always were jolly good chaps—I admire them tremendously—admire anyone who’s willing to fight for his country. Damn rotten lot, those who don’t.” Nationalism dominates all, and the former major seems to have as much respect for the Mau Mau he’d come to shoot as he has for the animals he’s made a career of hunting.
Today the cook and I chat about the famous Serengeti lions. He tells me that like most of his colleagues he had never seen a wild animal until he had started on this safari job. The entire staff is so terrified of animals, he says, that although bwana provides tents, seven out of ten of them sleep jammed together in the lorry to be safe from marauding creatures. Wainugu also expresses great nostalgia for the hunting safaris of old which gave him so much good game to cook. The staff quickly grows despondent, he says, without the sight of freshly shot meat. He speaks longingly of gerenuk, that long-necked and most graceful gazelle of the northern plains, which makes the finest steaks, of Thompson’s gazelle chops and impala roasts. Do I really like to just go out and look at animals? Wainugu softly laughs. He cannot imagine anything sillier and more boring.
A few days later we are startled by some unannounced rifle shooting close to camp. We discover that our guides, who nowadays do not shoot more than one or two big game animals a year, have shot an impala and a gazelle to reassure their servants of their sanity and manliness. To Africans—who look upon wild animals as enemies rampaging their crops and herds, enemies to be killed and eaten—a “looking” safari seems the maddest to date of the white man’s many mad inventions.
Some items in the East African Standard, Nairobi’s leading paper: There are some eighty licensed hunter-guides working in Kenya, all Europeans…. Since independence the term “big White Hunter” has come into disfavor and they are now called “professional hunters….” Notwithstanding this change of nomenclature the tradition of white hunters is so ingrained that the few Africans or Asians training for the profession will say, “I am becoming an African White Hunter” or “an Asian White Hunter….” Kenya’s second largest safari firm bore the unfortunate name of “White Hunters, Limited,” and a few years ago was forced to change its title to “Africa Tours….” Among predictions that East Africa will have to accommodate one million visitors by 1980, the Kenyan government last year declared a policy of “Africanization” in its booming tourist industry. Yet as of March, 1973, the Standard reports, only one safari firm in Kenya (Kibo Tours) is totally African-owned.
With the new policy of Africanization, several European hunters are losing their work licenses on the grounds that they do not employ enough Africans. In an unguarded moment, one white hunter I met confided to me that in order to ensure the renewal of his license he had made his chief steward a partner in his safari firm. “We did it just on paper, actually,” he remarked. “We didn’t tell the poor bloke anything about it.” Meanwhile, in case Africanization becomes militant and his license is revoked, one of our own white hunters has started a successful grouse shooting safari outfit in Scotland to fall back on.
Throughout this trip I suffer from claustrophobia, a curious sensation to have in the vast open plains of Africa. Severe laws dictate that the tourist on a “viewing” safari stay inside his vehicle any time he ventures out of his tiny tented camp, and forbid him to move many yards beyond his hotel room. Homo touristicus is continuously imprisoned behind the metal bars of his Rover, in a new kind of ambulatory zoo. The tables are turned. We parade our captivity before the disinterested eyes of the free beasts, and apprehend their whereabouts by seeing where other motorized cages have congregated on the plain. Even Africa’s most famous hotel, Treetops, is a nightmarish prison in which one is incarcerated in an aerial cage, sentenced to staring for eighteen hours at an artificial pond and salt-lick frequented by obliging beasts.
Being addicted to hiking, jogging, and other forms of strenuous activity, I find my physical captivity difficult. It is even more tedious psychologically. I had suspected that the pleasure of White Hunters’ company would be limited. Their racist diatribes, their disdain and ignorance of all things African besides its wild-life, are even worse than I had feared. They rush us through every village under the pretext that such places are dangerous or that we shall miss the evening game viewing. Young Hunter never passes an African farming cooperative without exclaiming, “Poor bastards, they don’t know the first thing about land.” Big Hunter cannot drive by an Asian family on a picnic without derisively mimicking the Kenyan Asians’ lilting English, and insults African waiters with an imperiousness worthy of Major Grogan.
Young Hunter tells me that Tanzania is so Maoist-dominated that there are two million Communist Chinese living in that country. Since Tanzania’s population is under twelve million, I ask how it is possible that one out of six of its residents is Chinese? He shrugs his shoulders over his breakfast kippers, and I realize that most of his clients are trophy-collecting Texans only too happy to agree with him. “Are you bringing those smelly objects into my car?” Big Hunter rages when I buy some beautiful Somali, Turkana, and Samburu dolls in a northern Kenya village. “Don’t put them on the seat, they’re so frightfully filthy.” It strikes me as absurd that one should travel to a country with no further purpose than to look at its wildlife, that animal-gaping trips are as narrow and atomized as culinary tours of France, ceramicists’ tours of Ireland, and gay liberation tours of South America.
Yet short of renting a private plane, there is no way of leaving for a few days if I am to find my family again in Africa. Kenyan transportation is still so primitive that the only road to Ethiopia is an unpaved, blindingly dusty thoroughfare, and the road to Somaliland is akin to a mule track. Altering the schedule by a day or two is equally out of the question, for tourist accommodations are so gorged that hotel rooms and camping sites must be reserved months in advance. African wilderness these days must be booked a year ahead. This trip is remarkably similar to traveling through Russia with Intourist guides, trapped round the clock by men who command the sole means of transportation, the implacably fixed schedule, and the stupendous array of propaganda.
I acquire new respect for the mobility, the freedom, and the reality of the traditional shooting safari. The twenty or thirty miles of daily walking in order to track an animal, the reciprocity of danger, anything to escape this playhouse fantasy! Although I have been a near vegetarian and a pacifist much of my life, I entertain macabre notions of learning how to shoot and joining a hunting safari so that I can at least walk on African soil. And at night I pace the confines of the camp like one of those caged animals I have all my life wanted to liberate.
And yet. There is an anecdote Big Hunter likes to tell which sums up that great respect and knowledge of animals which makes him such a good guide to Africa’s wildlife, if to nothing else: The year before, a lioness jumped out of the bush at him, and he gambled with his life by shooting at her feet rather than killing her. “There was one chance out of four that it would frighten her—she did turn and run, actually, and I lived on to tell the tale.” His sentiment toward animals is the essence of the white sport hunter’s ethos. It is that etiquette of the sport of kings and nobles, deriving from the rich man’s leisure and abundance, that is radically opposed to killing out of hunger, as the African—or any poor man—will do. It is a code based on the ambivalent feelings of loving and respecting what you kill, on the precept that you shoot while also safeguarding the species’ young and females, that you attempt to perpetuate the species abundantly for future generations of sportsmen.
Because of the complexity of that code and their precise knowledge of it, white hunters know game as few other men do, and that is partly why they are the best guides to African wildlife. We are constantly amazed by our escorts’ instinct for when and where each species can be found in the vast reserves; by their ability to identify, with their naked eyes, as buffalo or impala what to us look like a dot on the horizon; by their enormous tenderness and respect for animals, whom they manage to approach without causing the least disturbance or fear. Thanks to their skill we are twice able to observe a leopard—that most savage and solitary animal which few tourists see any more—staring down at us with its chilling green gaze from the branches of thorn trees in the Serengeti. In the same Serengeti plain—toward the end of the dry season—our guides find the site where the largest migratory herd in years is congregated: a half million zebra and wildebeest move together toward Lake Victoria in search of young grass. From a distance there is no sound but a low dull buzzing on the plain, all scale is lost in such number, one feels submerged in a plague of insects or in a myriad shoal of microscopic fish. The dun, mourning-hued mass slowly palpitates westward, occasionally enlivened by the frail prancing of the young and by a lifted head revealing dumb, muted eyes above the wildebeest’s patriarchal beard.
It is the splendor of lions—and our guides’ skill at finding them—that dominates my memories of Africa. In the Masai Mara, Big Hunger knows from the wary stance of a vulture in a tree that a kill has been made that day. And he drives us into a thicket stiff with lion, in which a pride of some twelve animals are lying up in the shade after their feast of freshly killed young elephant. Some lift their heads and yawn, gazing at us with trusting eyes. Others continue lying on their backs, paws in the air like pups on a hot day, their white bellies grossly distended by their great repast. Meanwhile fifty yards away from the sated predators a golden-fleeced jackal commences the swift scavenging process that maintains the hygiene of the plain. His delicate ears flared out like antennae, desperately trying to decide whether the lions are sleepy enough for him to get his piece of elephant safely, he darts expectantly toward the feast and prances fearfully back a dozen times, running to and fro like a sandpiper following the turn of the surf on a beach.
Another time we come upon a pair of lions as they are about to mate on top of a huge rock of the Serengeti plain. They stand nuzzling in the sun a few yards above us, their sinews delineated as majestically as in an Assyrian bas-relief. After a particularly affectionate nuzzle the lioness lies down. The lion mounts her, gives a few raging thrusts, and then with an apocalyptic growl bites her in the back of her neck. She swiftly stands up, snarls, and gives him a resounding cuff in the jaw. He looks sheepish, and licks her tenderly. It is intimidating to think that they can repeat the performance some two hundred times that weekend, about every half an hour.
I think that people are traveling to Africa not only to bathe in nature’s innocence but also to witness nature’s violence. To see predators on a kill is considered to be the great moment of a safari, a new outlet for the blood lust once channeled into hunting. It is the corrida of the Seventies, with the animals doing all the blood-letting.
We never come upon a kill—a failure that pleases me—but the one time we see predators miss their prey is grimly instructive. Driving one evening through Amboseli, at the foot of Kilimanjaro, we see twenty-one minibuses gathered near a clearing to observe three cheetah stalking. The first cheetah curtly moves through the thicket toward a small herd of impala, occasionally twitching her ears as a signal for her companions to move on. There is an exaggerated stylishness about these animals’ features—extravagantly long, elegant forelegs, outlandishly small, heavily marked faces. These most endangered animals of East Africa—champion runners but unskilled at camouflage, their temperament as open as the plains they frequent—seem only too willing to be movie stars, and cock their heads photogenically toward the tourists.
After we have watched them for some twenty minutes the cheetah have approached to about 150 yards of their prey, coming close to the distance from which they make their famous sixty-mile-per-hour dash for the kill. But as they reach the critical moment minibuses start crashing about them; tourists leaning on the open rooftops of their vehicles, cameras poised, urge their drivers to get the closest possible view of the kill. Startled by the commotion, the impalas race about in circles and cough out their warning message, the baboons’ terrierlike barking comes sloughing off the trees. The cheetah must know better than we that they have lost their chance for dinner but they go on stalking for a few minutes, as if to finish their pose. And then, amid the clicking of some fifty cameras, the head scout abruptly turns away from the impalas. The three slink off into the plain. Their fragile rib cages seem terribly thin in the dusk, the black markings of their cheeks—like rivulets of black tears—seem to express their frustrated hunger.
We are going to kill these animals with sentiment. Having slain and trapped wild creatures for food, domesticated them for our amusement, and hunted them for sport, we are now decimating them by our fantasies of wilderness. How curious that photographic “shooting” is becoming deadlier to game than the ancient pastime of sport shooting. How regrettable that most of the intrusive drivers are Africans. The ancient code of hunting is past, a new etiquette of viewing has yet to be elaborated if the animals are to survive. I turn to Big Hunter, who, along with two other European drivers, respectfully kept his vehicle still during the cheetahs’ attempted hunt. “Looking at game may become more dangerous to them than hunting,” I say. “Worse than that,” he remarks laconically, “it’s so bloody rude to the animals.”
Briefly escaping from the local Intourist, I visit with two young African conservationists in Tanzania. One is the newly appointed game warden of the Serengeti, David Babeu. He receives me in an office that looks like a primitive military outpost: From a line of low barracks attended by rangers dressed in austere khakhi there blares the rash drone of a short-wave radio, the station’s only communication with the rest of Tanzania. Babeu talks at first with diffidence—probably because of the rudeness with which my type of British guides treat him. As soon as he learns that I am an American and that I frequently write for The New Yorker, which has published a very fine profile of Tanzania’s president, Julius Nyerere, he immediately becomes cordial. We chat morosely about the one million tourists predicted to swarm through East Africa’s game reserves in 1980. And we discuss the future of his park’s three most threatened species—cheetah, leopard, and ostrich—in the light of that invasion. In the past three months alone, Babeu’s rangers have reported several cases of cheetah having heart attacks from being pursued by tourist vehicles, and my tale of the cheetah’s missed dinner seems all too familiar to him.
“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.
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.