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 and dealers 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.