Saturday, 4 June 2016

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn: book review

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn

Born Wild is about Tony Fitzjohn's life in the African bush, specifically at Kora in Kenya, the wildlife camp where he learnt his trade under the guidance of George Adamson. If that name sounds familiar, it's because George Adamson was one half of the couple whose story was told in the film Born Free.

Born Wild differs from other books on similar topics in that it's not written by a scientist or a conservationist -- not an intentional one anyway. Fitzjohn was born and raised in Cockfosters in London, and without any background in science, ended up working with -- and successfully leading conservation projects to rehabilitate and breed -- lions, leopards and rhino, among others.

It's a brutally honest read, revealing Fitzjohn's brushes with alcoholism and less than perfect relationships, and yet the final chapters read in an almost self-congratulatory tone. Deserved, perhaps, but slightly grating to read.

It's not exactly a no-holds-barred account of George and Joy Adamson's life either -- Fitzjohn's admiration and respect for George is prescient throughout -- but it certainly takes the Hollywood sheen off of the couple portrayed in Born Free.

Anyone with even a passing interest in wildlife conservation -- particularly in Africa in the latter part of the 20th century--will be aware of how much conservation is about the politics as well as the science. If the political side of things is something that interests you, get stuck in. If not, a large part of the book will seem like an incessant amount of name dropping, reading like a who's who in the power rings (both legitimate and corrupt) of Western Africa.

I confess, I found myself skimming over these parts as I was struggling to remember who was who anyway, and I don't feel like doing so reduced my overall enjoyment of the book.  What I would like to have seen more of is the detail of day to day life in Kora camp -- the methods used to raise and release the lions, the living conditions. In reality, very little of the book is set in the camp itself, and it's the poorer for it.

I'm always on the lookout for decent wildlife/animal/conservation non-fiction books, so if you've got any recommendations, please let me know in the comments. Here's a free tip for you: Killing Keiko by Mark Simmons.

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