Synopses & Reviews
Known the world over for his work in early human origins, Richard Leakey was serving as director of Kenya's National Museums when in 1989 President Daniel arap Moi appointed him to run the country's Wildlife Conservation Department. The news stunned Leakey. He was suddenly in charge of an enormous bureaucracy whose responsibility was to oversee millions of square acres of parks and sanctuaries, and to protect the animals living in them. Like many other Kenyans, Leakey knew that the country's fabulous wildlife population was in very real danger, and in particular the elephant. By the late 1980s, the once numberless herds of elephants that roamed its savannas were dwindling fast, victims to poachers armed with automatic weapons, bureaucratic inefficiency, and the world's appetite for ivory. Extinction was more than a theoretical possibility.
Leakey quickly realized he had been given far more than a job; he had been thrust onto the front lines of a wildlife war, one that was being fought as fiercely in Nairobi's government offices as in the parks themselves. Extreme conditions called for extreme measures. One of his first orders of business involved an enormous warehouse of confiscated elephant tusks that were to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, the proceeds used to buttress the demoralized and nearly bankrupt Wildlife Department. Rather than sell the tusks, however, Leakey decided to burn them. The bonfire flames captured the world's attention. The fight to save the African elephant was ignited.
Wildlife Wars is Leakey's inspiring and dramatic account of these turbulent times, indelibly capturing Kenya's struggle to balance the needs of its human population with the task of maintaining the world-famous parks that are its major source of revenue. He threw himself into his job: restructuring the department, firing non-performing personnel, securing funds for equipment, and building up a park police force that had both the will and the means to take on the poachers. By slow degrees he and his colleagues at Wildlife were beginning to turn the tide. But the cost of success was often high.
As candid and controversial as its author, this memoir, co-written with Leakey family biographer and writer Virginia Morell, is testimony to one man's commitment to save African wildlife and to serve his country. Richard Leakey has survived threats on his life, political attacks, and a plane crash that cost him both legs. Today, unbowed, he remains one of Kenya's-and sub-Saharan Africa's-most passionate spokesman for conservation, political, and economic reform. Wildlife Wars reveals how deeply his passion runs.
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.
About the Author
Richard Leakey was director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service from 1989 to 1994, and from 1998 to 1999, then served as head of Kenya's civil service and secretary to the Cabinet, a position he left in March 2001. He lives with his wife, the paleontologist Meave Leakey, on a farm overlooking the Rift Valley in Kenya.
Virginia Morell is the author of Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings, and the forthcoming Blue Nile: Ethiopia's River of Magic and Mystery. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, and Science, for which she is a correspondent. She lives in Oregon.