review BORN WILD

When at a young age he saw “Tarzan of the Apes” the longing in his life was born. A longing for Africa. He was born in 1945 in London, England. Twenty-three years later he boarded a ship to South Africa. He takes up a job as busdriver. Buth the south is not the end, he travels north of south and ends up in Kenya, where he meets George Adamson and for seventeen years he stays in Kora. They are not the only two, George’s brother, Terence, is present as well as a number of local workers. The two brothers prefer to stay in Kora and Tony becomes a kind of minister of foreign affairs. He keeps into contact with the outside world, transporting materials, having contact with donors. These years form the start of a lifelong love-affair with the wild areas and wild animals in Kenya and Tanzania.

The men attempt to get young lions to adapt to the wild life again, it is a teneous job and a job that takes ages. And dangers are lurking around the corner, not just the dangers of working with wild animals, but also the dangers of the political world and the dangers of shifta, that do not accept borders and sanctuaries. It raised a question for me: When around you rhino’s and elephants are butchered by poachers what is the use of rearing lions, to let them loose in the end? How cost effective is all this kind of work?

Tony sets out on his own in an area near Kora, to set up shop for leopards. But always the arm of the government and politicians is near. When a Japanese journalist is attacked by a leopard the government decides to close the project. In the meantime poaching continues, but the Kenyan Moi-government has never been keen on eradicating poaching (nor have other Kenyan governments).

Fitzjohn travels to the United States to get his flying license, this will help him in his work of tracking the animals he is working with. On the private side of things Tony has a love for women and alcoholic drinks.  For the last love he gets treatment.

In 1989 he moves to Tanzania where he gets the opportunity to start a new project in Mkomazi, bordering on the Tsavo-West area. This reserve was started in 1951 and is 3500 km2. The place has been neglected, there was large-scale poaching. People like Hezekiah Mungure and Solomon Liani play an important role in getting the reserve on its feet. There are no funds coming from Tanzania, so travels to the western (better: northern) countries become part of an almost daily routine for Fitzjohn. By the end of the year 1992 there is a slow increase of wild animals.

In the meantime he lost people who were known to him and sometimes dear: Joyce Adamson died, Terrence Adamson died, his father passed away in 1993, George Adamson was killed in 1989. He meets up with Lucy Mellote, his wife to be, again. Plans for tourism are growing. And then the government of Tanzania decides to give the reserve up for use for American hunters!! So big money can flow towards the government (nothing has changed much in 2014, except Americans have been replaced by Arabs these days to get a hunting ground for the ‘happy’ few). This attack on the reserve is just part of wider interference by politicians who have other ideas about the reserve. Trusted workers are removed, a Dutch couple is extradited. There is even a quiet contra-attitude by some workers who want to disrupt the work. At others times there are problems with workpermits. The reserve is turned into a National Park. There is still some contact with the events at Kora in Kenya.

Tony likes to do a bit of namesdropping. His good relations with Philip Kilonzo when he worked at Kora. Kilonzo moved on in the hierarchy of the police to get the topslot. His friendship with Wamalwa (former vice-president). He mentions Prince Bernard of the Netherlands several times. This man was wellknown wheelerdealer. At one point Tony mentions that Bernard prefered to give cash directly to Tony, not via an organization like WWF. This raises immediately the question: where did he get the money from? Why in this non-accountable way? 

Tony has a passion for lions and Africa, as the subtitle of this book shows. At the same time, all of his children were born in the United Kingdom, while having perfectly good facilities in Nairobi. He is surrounded by many white folks, when I look at his weddingpicture at Kora, it is a mainly white bunch of people gathered there. It reminded me of a picture in a book about Joan Root. It was a picture taken at her burial. I only saw white people in the picture. And I wonder again: is wildlife management and passion for wildlife a mainly white passion?

Tony Fitzjohn – Born wild. The extraordinary story of one man’s passion for lions and for Africa – London 2010

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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