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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Elephants are intelligent, stubborn, and fierce fighters when provoked. So, too, is one of their most effective defenders in East Africa: Richard Leakey, the author of Wildlife Wars. The son of famous Kenyan paleontologists, Leakey served for much of the 1990s as founding head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, a quasi-governmental organization formed to protect the country's game parks and reserves -- and their rich array of wildlife -- from poaching, encroachment, and neglect.
Leakey struggled from the very beginning against tribal infighting, opposition from other African nations to a global ivory ban, accusations of corruption, and a shocking legacy of mismanagement and underfunding. His achievements in revamping the demoralized park service despite constant criticism, detailed here, were remarkable. Along the way, Leakey made plenty of enemies; in fact, the injuries he suffered in a suspicious 1993 plane crash led to the amputation of both his legs. One gets a strong sense from Wildlife Wars of a rather egotistical man with a somewhat abrasive manner. But his commitment to wildlife and the nation of Kenya is hard to question.
There are two schools of thought on managing Africa's national parks, and Leakey has been taken to task for preferring to fence off the parks and perhaps neglecting the importance of getting local communities to participate in and benefit from them. Although he speaks frequently and defensively about understanding the importance of "balancing the needs of our citizens with the needs of our wildlife," the debate rages over whether this rhetoric was matched by his actions. The book ends with Leakey's departure from KWS and his entrance into the fractious new world of Kenyan multiparty politics: a logical next step for a man whose actions, though they may have rubbed some the wrong way, were for the good of his country. (Jonathan Cook)
Jonathan Cook lives in New York City.