by Tony Fitzjohn
This book caught my eye sitting on a library display shelf: a man embracing a lion, now that looks like the kind of book I like! It\’s a memoir of Tony Fitzjohn\’s several decades spent working in Africa to help reintroduce wildlife. He started out as an assistant to the famous George Adamson (Born Free) and worked at his side for about two decades before moving on to establish wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Kenya and Tanzania. The efforts they made were astonishing; living in remote, harsh conditions, dealing with corrupt government, political unrest, violence, poachers, and all kinds of difficulties. For every moment actually working with the animals it seems they had to spend hours struggling with other, mundane or exasperating tasks. I\’m sure that\’s pretty accurate, as he writes later in the book about spending ten years setting up infrastructure and manpower before they could bring the first black rhino into Tanzania. It was a bit tedious for me, because I\’d rather read about the animals themselves- their personalities, behavior, anecdotes about actually working with them- and aside from the first few chapters, the parts about animals are just scattered here and there throughout the book. Most of it is about the efforts in all other aspects that were necessary to deal with living in the area, getting proper permits and dealing with locals and officials in order to work with the wildlife. It kind of makes your head swim all the names Fitzjohn mentions, but at the same time he is a good writer, and you can tell he was determined to give everyone credit, who helped him along the way. It just shows the reader how many people are involved in saving wildlife. And the work they did was amazing- rehabilitating numerous lions and leopards into living fully wild lives, as well as elephants, rhinos and wild dogs. These people were incredibly brave and hardworking- they were mauled by lions, barely escaping with their lives, and quite a few staff members get killed. Some of the animals they loved and successfully rehabilitated also get killed by poachers, so be aware there are very sad moments. The ending is very upbeat, as the author had achieved his goals and continued working hard to forward the cause of African\’s wildlife as well as helping and educating its people.
Phew. It was a hard read to finish, as I found the constant litany of names and events a bit tiresome. Fitzjohn is a good writer, or I never would have made it all the way through. It was interesting to come across a few names I recognized- of course Joy and George Adamson (sad to read of their deaths) also Christian the lion! If you\’ve read of him, or seen the clips on Youtube, know that the story of his reintroduction to the wild is in the first few chapters here. Fitzjohn also writes about meeting Roberto Canessa, who was one of the survivors of the plane crash recounted in Alive. There\’s really lots of incredible stories here; the man has led an amazing life and does wonderful work for wildlife; I just wish more of the book had actually been about the animals themselves.
Rating: 2/5 …….. 318 pages, 2010