The Rise of the East African Safari

In 1905 a British zoologist, P. L. Sclater, declared that the elephant, rhino, giraffe, eland and zebra needed special efforts in order to conserve them. There was one place in Africa where all these animals could be found; Kenya. In March 1909, Theodore Roosevelt, two weeks after leaving the White House, visited Kenya and exclaimed “It was literally like passing through a vast zoological garden”.

The year before Roosevelt’s trip a young British politician named Winston Churchill vacationed in Kenya. Like many other visitors, Churchill was on a hunting safari. In 1928 the Prince of Wales visited Kenya on a hunting safari but after a close encounter with an elephant decided to shoot the wildlife with a camera instead of a gun. Then, in 1952, Kenya received a famous royal visit by Princess Elizabeth and her husband. They were taken on safari in Nairobi’s Royal National Park which was broadcast to many countries. The world saw more of Kenya during the royal visit than ever  before. Then on day six of the safari the royal couple received a tragic message that King George VI had died in his sleep. The princess left Kenya as the Queen of England.

About this time, Americans were being introduced to the beauty of Kenya, and soon the country became the backdrop of Hollywood films such as ‘Mogambo’ and ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’. The tourist industry began to take off during the fifties and increased steadily with the development of the country. Idi Amin took power during the seventies and the country began to develop out of control. The wildlife and the people were affected badly. By 1979 Kenya had a new international airport, the largest and most efficient in Eastern Africa. Three hundred thousand tourists visited Kenya in 1983 and this number climbed to eight hundred thousand by 1990, partly due to the release of ‘Out of Africa’ staring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in 1985. During the 1950s and 1960s David Allen was a professional game hunter, guiding Europeans and Americans in search of their trophies. In 1992 he looked back nostalgically; “You would go into new virgin territory. It was absolutely fantastic. You could go to places and find game that you never imagined was there – herds of oryx, herds of zebra, elephants, rhino, everything”. Today, he conducts photographic safaris for select individuals. “The game is now gone. You only see a quarter of what you used to”.

Kenya may have been a country with mind-blowing statistics of mammal biodiversity matched by no other, but that was in the past. As described by Raymond Bonner in his novel ‘At The Hand Of Man’, “But as much as Kenya represents the grandeur of the past, it is also the reality of the future, a future with less room for wildlife and with whatever wildlife remains confined to a few parks; in other words, a bleak future – unless radical conservation programs are undertaken”.

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