Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa's Natural Treasures

Overview

In this engrossing memoir, one of the most controversial, influential, and inspirational figures in African politics today gives the full story of his crusade to save Kenya's natural resources, and specifically the African elephant--a crusade that set him against internal corruption, poverty, and dangerous criminals. Sometimes at the risk of his own life, Leakey's love of Kenya, and his convictions about the direction his country--and all of sub-Sahara Africa--must take to survive, have been unshakeable. Wildlife...

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Jane Goodall wrote of this book "Wildlife Wars, Richard Leakey's memoirs of his years as director of the Kenya Wildlilfe Service, is a fascinating book, unforgettably depicting ... the conflict between poachers and defenders, between justice and corruption, and, sadly, between those with differing views on African wildlife and how best to protect it. Above all it is the story of a man overcoming self-doubts and overwhelming odds to fight for what he believes is right, even when his own life is at stake. We celebrate Richard's triumphs and mourn his setbacks. Compelling and beautifully written, Wildlife Wars is filled with action, suspense, and adventure - a MUST for anyone interested in African wildlife politics and the tumultuous lives of the Leakey family in Kenya." Wildlife Wars reveals how deeply Richard Leakey's passion runs. Includes an extensive index. Read more Show Less

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2001-09-19 Hardcover First Edition New NEW: First Edition, First printing, (complete # line) for you collectors. Hardcover with Dust Jacket, no markings or creases, no clippings ... to dust jacket, no remainder marks and not a Book Club Edition. Read more Show Less

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Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa's Natural Treasures

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Overview

In this engrossing memoir, one of the most controversial, influential, and inspirational figures in African politics today gives the full story of his crusade to save Kenya's natural resources, and specifically the African elephant--a crusade that set him against internal corruption, poverty, and dangerous criminals. Sometimes at the risk of his own life, Leakey's love of Kenya, and his convictions about the direction his country--and all of sub-Sahara Africa--must take to survive, have been unshakeable. Wildlife Wars is the odyssey of an extraordinary man in an extraordinary land.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The 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.

Publishers Weekly
In conservation and wildlife preservation, paleontology and East African politics, few have mattered more than Leakey (The Sixth Extinction), who emerged as an expert on early humans, building on his famous parents' discoveries as he explained in the 1983 memoir, One Life. This second memoir describes his high-stakes second career. In 1989, Leakey became the head of Kenya's Wildlife Department, which put him in charge of saving elephants from the poaching that risked their extinction. Leakey and Morell explain, with speed and cogency, the murderous business of poaching and the difficulties of the Wildlife Department in 1989 perhaps "the most corrupt organization" in Kenya; "everyone thought the poachers were invincible" in fighting it. Leakey arranged a bonfire of seized ivory, a public relations triumph. He also issued semi-automatic weapons to park rangers. Gangs retaliated, in part, by killing George Adamson, of Born Free fame; public reaction helped Leakey and allies achieve an international ban on the ivory trade. Leakey later found his work and his life in peril, and a 1993 plane crash cost him his legs. Leakey and Morell (who has also penned a book about the Leakeys, Ancestral Passions) tell a brisk and vividly personal story. Though longer on laws and press conferences than on elephants, the memoir will fascinate anyone interested in conservation or East African politics. The detailed narrative stops in 1994, when Leakey first left his Wildlife job; subsequent events including Leakey's ascent to Parliament as an opposition candidate occupy just a few pages. Readers will await those stories eagerly, while holding out hopes for Kenya and its pachyderms. (Sept.) Copyright 1999Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this sequel to his 1983 memoir One Life, paleontologist Leakey writes about his appointment in 1989 to a mismanaged Wildlife Department in his home of Kenya. He immediately realized the unprecedented challenge that he faced in not only revitalizing the agency but also combating the precipitous decline in Kenyan wildlife, most particularly, the African elephant. One of his first decisions was to burn rather than sell tons of confiscated ivory. This sent a strong message that his department would be unwavering in opposing the ivory trade. He backed this up by reorganizing the department into the Kenyan Wildlife Service and arming his rangers to do battle with poachers. This, combined with international lobbying against the ivory trade, did much to bring the elephant back from the brink of decimation, but the cost included continual conflict with other government officials and the loss of his legs in a suspicious 1993 plane accident. He joined an opposition political party after a smear campaign but has now rejoined the government in a new role. Wildlife readers will find few animal stories here; this is a political story. At times, even Leakey himself admits that he is not a consummate political player, but as an effective champion of wildlife he appears to have few equals. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/01.] Beth Crim, Prince William P.L., VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Leakey, known for his work in early human origins, was appointed to run Kenya's Wildlife Department during a period when elephant herds were dwindling due to ivory poachers. His account of his work restructuring the department and taking radical measures to stop poaching reveals his passion for wildlife conservation. The book includes b&w personal and historical photos. Leakey was director of the Kenyan Wildlife Department from 1989 to 1994, and from 1998 to 1999, then served as head of Kenya's civil service and secretary to the Cabinet until March 2001. Morell has written previous books on the Leakey family and on archaeology. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Combining his passion for Kenya and all that country's living creatures-poachers excepted-with a lucid, humanistic appreciation of what both need to survive, Leakey (The Sixth Extinction, 1995, etc.) offers a vision not just for the Kenyan Wildlife Service but for the nation as a whole. In 1989, out of the blue, Leakey was asked by President Daniel arap Moi to direct Kenya's Wildlife Department. A noted paleontologist and discoverer of human fossil remains, Leakey had no experience in wildlife conservation, but he was just the kind of honest activist needed to clean up the corruption-rife department. Here, he thoroughly covers his days in office and the plan he developed to put the wildlife service back on an operational footing after years of mismanagement, graft, political shenanigans, and theft. Of course, he made enemies like a dead elephant attracts flies: There were the poachers and parliamentarians who benefited handsomely from the ivory trade, the real-estate interests who wanted slices of the national parks, the power mongers who didn't like Leakey having Moi's ear, or for using an autocratic style. But what a job he did: cutting staff members on the take and the number of poachings to a fraction, bringing in a sensible World Bank loan, developing financial autonomy within the department. Though toppled briefly by vested interests, he returned to the wildlife department and now works to end what he considers the most insidious threat of all: poverty. Biodiversity is critical, yes, but so is eating. Killing animal species will not bring prosperity, though jobs will. Yet the two-hunger and poaching-remain caught in a horrid dance kept going by corrupt officials anddealers in the expensive gimcrackery of ivory and pelts. The happy ending is that Leakey is on the job, albeit less than sanguine: "Kenya's politics are rough," understates the man who has given his legs, after a suspicious plane crash, to the cause.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312206260
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/19/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.76 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

For over 30 years Richard Leakey has made international headlines for his work in Kenya. He has authored or co-authored over 100 scientific articles and books, including The Origin of Humankind, Origins Reconsidered, and The Sixth Extinction

Virginia Morell is the author of Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings and a contributing editor of Discover magazine.

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Interviews & Essays

The Good Fight
From the September/October 2001 issue of Book magazine.

For years, Richard Leakey waged war on behalf of Kenya's wildlife. He's got the enemies to prove it.

On the morning of July 18, 1989, at Nairobi National Park in Kenya, Richard Leakey arranged for the burning of $3 million worth of elephant tusks confiscated from poachers. Leakey, who had just been appointed director of what is now the Kenya Wildlife Service, had orchestrated the event in hopes of bringing international attention to elephant poaching. The controversial publicity stunt, which was broadcast around the world, had an immediate impact: Just one month later, the European Economic Community banned ivory imports. "In hindsight," Leakey says, "I think it's one of the few things that really went very well."

The days leading up to the ivory bonfire are some of the first discussed in a new memoir, Wildlife Wars, by the renowned paleoanthropologist. Leakey, who is credited with helping to make some of the 20th century's most important fossil discoveries, including that of a 1.6 million-year-old skeleton called Turkana Boy, became something of a war hero during his tenure with KWS. Wildlife Wars, which follows 1983's One Life, portrays Leakey chasing smugglers and fielding death threats while battling Kenya's political establishment. The book describes Leakey's love/hate relationship with Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi, who once called Leakey "the anti-Christ," and discusses the 1993 plane crash that led to the amputation of Leakey's legs. (Helen M. Jerome)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2001

    Saving Kenya┬┐s Wild Elephants for Future Generations

    This book succeeds well both as a conservation and as an action story about leading change. Dr. Richard Leakey, son of the famous Louis and Mary Leakey, is best known for his work in unearthing early human fossils in Kenya. While doing his paleontological work, he also headed up the National Kenya Museum. As a high profile Kenyan, his criticisms of the rampant slaughter of wild elephants had drawn the attention of Kenya¿s president, Mr. Daniel arap Moi. Without warning, Dr. Leakey was appointed head of the Kenya Department of Wildlife and Conservation Management in 1989 and given encouragement to solve the problem. Dr. Leakey found many serious problems. Corruption was rampant (rangers often were doing the poaching or helping the poachers). Less than 5 percent of the equipment worked. Little training was provided. Basics like gasoline were not available to maintain patrols. The poachers were using automatic weapons and had the rangers outgunned by a wide margin. Tourists were being robbed and killed, which potentially would dry up sources of income for Kenya. What follows is a truly astonishing tale of how one man made a difference, but not quite enough of one. Reorganized as the Kenya Wildlife Service, the new organization became effective in fighting the poachers. Dr. Leakey fought untiringly to stop the international ivory trade and change consumer attitudes away from ivory products. To launch this effort, he publicly burned over three million dollars of seized ivory for the international television cameras. He also made many trips to economically advanced countries to raise funds, and obtained capital needed to establish a self-funding wildlife activity in Kenya. But as the checks began to roll in, the political hands became outstretched. Dr. Leakey resigned in 1994 to protest the lost of autonomy for the KWS, and most of the money was diverted for non-wildlife spending. On the brink of bankruptcy, he was brought in to improve operations again in 1998 and had everything in the black within a year. The book also recounts Dr. Leakey¿s serious health problems. His life was saved by a kidney transplant from his brother in 1979. A 1993 plane crash caused part of both legs to be amputated. What you also may not know about Dr. Leakey is that his formal educational training stopped around high school. He actually started out a safari business as a young man. So even in his best known area, he learned on the job. The same thing happened with his work on behalf of elephants. You will probably agree with me that he was astonishingly effective in both areas. The main flaw in his plan was that his new agency needed to be more independent of Kenyan politics, and the funding from the World Bank should not have flowed through the Kenyan treasury where it provided too much political temptation. The end of the book briefly recounts his conversion into a parliamentary political opponent of the ruling party. I came away very impressed with the courage of the Kenyan rangers in taking on the poachers. Until several years into the program, the rangers were very likely to be killed in each engagement. For a scientist like Dr. Leakey to envision how to build and motivate a military organization was quite remarkable. If you ever have a chance to see an elephant in Kenya, be sure to remember to think kindly of the brave Kenyans who made it possible. After you finish this book, think about rare wildlife near where you live. What can you do to help ensure that the wildlife will be there for future generations? Be sure to remember Dr. Leakey¿s observation, ¿There is surely no simple prescription.¿ Help create a better world for all the animals and people! Donald Mitchell, co-author of the Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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