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At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for…
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At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa's Wildlife

by Raymond Bonner

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Bonner sums up the entire history of efforts to preserve Africa's wildlife and wildlife habitat from the beginning of European colonization down to the 1990's. He comes to the subject as a journalist who came to Africa with seemingly very few views and no intention to dig down to the murky deeds and politics of international conservation, and the murky philosophical question - can man coexist with wildlife. And perhaps it is the lack of initial agenda, and that journalistic trait, that makes his book, and his mission, readily engaging and persuasive. Because he acquires a mission, you can almost feel it building as you read the book, the unfolding of the story. Bonner holds that the preservation of African wildlife has no hope of success without the involvement of Africans. In fact they have to run it, and it has to be run in such a way that it returns a benefit to them. And culling, or potentially birth control, of wild animals is an essential element of any successful wildlife protection program in Africa. But this makes his book sound much more 'conclusive' that it is.

The detail; historic, ecological and political is laid out forensically. What you take away from that detail, the turning over of each piece of evidence, the shining of lights into dark corners is not certainty, either moral or scientific. Instead you gain an appreciation of how much we don't know, and you are invited, but not lectured or hectored, to compare approaches that work on the ground with the grandest schemes of international conferences and decide for yourself where the value lies. On the other hand, you wonder at Bonner's faith that logic and reason will guarantee (as he seems to believe) that these local schemes will grow and 'overcome'.

Bonner makes a hugely persuasive case that wildlife preservation has to make economic sense for the population that live with the wildlife, and cites examples where such an approach has brought positive results. But one of his showcase examples is in Zimbabwe, before the economy and political environments were devastated, and it doesn't seem so certain anymore that what works for a local community will survive the depredations of the wider society in which they exist. Indeed it seems axiomatic that if wildlife conservation could really be put on a sound self-sustaining footing (in an economic sense), that it would begin to attract financial predators. Economics may have rational rules, but it is not conducted rationally, particularly as the stakes get higher. One fears that the wildlife and the local people will always end up with the worst end of the deal.

But this is a wonderful book, both for getting acquainted with the issues of conservation of African wildlife at the international and the village level, and for simply wandering over the length and breadth of Africa and sampling the beauty and devastation of it's wildlife and people. It is also a book that takes the reader to the heart of the deepest philosophical questions about humanity and nature, without making it seem like a chore or effort. The only regret that I have with this book is that it seems poised on the brink of answers, but leaves the story in the 1990's, and one wonders how things have progressed, or regressed since then. It is a book that cries out for a sequel. But in itself this is a complete, and completely satisfying work. Highly recommended. ( )
  nandadevi | Jun 19, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679733426, Paperback)

Defying conventional wisdom even as it makes an impassioned plea for moral common sense, this book by an award-winning journalist sheds a new light on the history and politics of the African conservation movement. The book will anger and inspire anyone who cares about African wildlife and the people whose future is intertwined with the fate of these animals.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:24 -0400)

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