CALL OF THE WILDLIFE

Beginning where his 1983 memoir, One Life, left off, Richard Leakey chronicles his crusade to save Kenya’s natural resources and the African elephant in his new book, Wildlife Wars (written with Virginia Morell, St. Martin’s Press, $25.95). Here’s what Leakey had to say about his achievements, his convictions, and his years as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

AW: What progress has been made in recent years in the fight to save the African elephant?
RL:
Elephants face many problems, and there is still an illegal trade in ivory taken from elephants that are killed by poachers. The public attitude toward the ivory trade remains cru-cial, and I hope that, as with whales
and the great apes, modern society will reject any commercial exploitation. The other major threat facing the world’s elephants in Africa and Asia is pressure on their habitat from the expanding human population. This is a complex problem, but it can be resolved.

AW: What do you regard as your most significant accomplishment?
RL:
Talking of one’s own accomplishments is never easy, but I do think that I was able to contribute in a lasting way to Kenya’s wildlife
conservation by leading the team that established the Kenya Wildlife Service. The publicity surrounding elephant ivory was also a milestone.

AW: What was the biggest challenge you faced during your years as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service?
RL:
I found maintaining a balance between the needs of wildlife and the plight of poor rural communities living with wildlife is very challenging.

AW: What is your message to those whom you call “creationists”?
RL:
The term “creationist” is too often used to group people with somewhat conservative and often fundamentalist philosophies. Anyone who continues to believe that the world is static, without biological trends, extinctions, and evolution of new life-forms, is pretty limited in his or her area of intellect. In my view, foolishness can take many forms, and I favor each to his or her own.