Trouble in Paradise

It is dark. I am sitting on the veranda on a cold morning, listening to the night sounds die down. A hyena whoops out across the plains as it heads for a communal cubbing den beyond the airstrip. Somewhere by the swamp, a jackal yips sharply. Slowly the sky lightens toward the Chyulu Hills, and a dead tree takes form by the house, its broken limbs pointing like signposts to the fading stars. The upper branches are spiked with orange as the gathering light unveils the familiar landscape, suffusing it with warm, deep colors. A crested francolin yammers harshly behind the house; a hoopoo, barely visible, pecks in the soil underneath the tree. Every dawn brings the same refreshing peace and renewal to Amboseli. It is a time to enjoy the sights and sounds and take stock.”

Thus does the conservationist David Western describe a morning at his research camp in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park in his impassioned autobiographical account of a career dedi-cated to conserving East Africa’s wildlife. Western is one of the world’s leading conservationists. His story concerns the Amboseli Game Reserve, long the most popular spot on East Africa’s tourist circuit. It is the place you have seen in those alluring posters showing countless zebra, wildebeest, and gazelles placidly grazing on an acacia-dotted savanna at the foot of looming Mount Kilimanjaro.

Western’s account is fascinating and suspenseful, even if roughened here and there by an occasional trite phrase or verbal overindulgence. Slicker conservation books have appeared recently, but most of them were written by journalists or academics, mere bystanders to the main events. Western is truly a front-line warrior. Past director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, he has seen the battle for conservation from every vantage point—researcher, advocate, negotiator, and chair of international commissions.

In the Dust of Kilimanjaro is far more than an autobiography. It is an eloquent brief for achieving wildlife conservation under a variety of pressures, national and international. But can people and wildlife live in harmony, as Western fervently wishes to believe? It is still too early to say, but the problems of conservation are constantly changing and few formulas hold any long-term certainty of success. The Kenya of 1999 is a far cry from the Kenya of 1967 in which Western started to formulate his approach to conservation.

Born in England, David Western grew up in Britain’s Tanganyika colony in East Africa, where his father had gone to find freedom and adventure while working for the British colonial administration. Western’s family lived in a modest cottage in the bush near Dar es Salaam, and the young David accompanied his father and brother on weekend hunts. He imagined himself growing up to be a hunter like his father, yet he found he lacked the necessary blood lust. His taste for hunting evaporated in a chance encounter with a sable antelope that stepped out of the bush directly in front of him. Staring into its brown …

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Letters

Trouble in Paradise’: An Exchange August 12, 1999