The British Empire Library


In Ethiopia

by John Blower

Himalayan Assignment

by John Blower

From Dark Heart To Kalahari

by Clive Spinage


Courtesy of OSPA


David Anstey (Tanganyika 1950-69, Ethiopia 1969-71, Malawi 1971-83, Nepal 1985-88, Ethiopia again 1995-97)
These three books cover different areas of the world, but they all deal with practical approaches to conservation in a world where one animal has suddenly become capable of destroying his own habitat.

John Blower was a Forester and Game Ranger Warden in Tanganyika before transfer to Uganda where he was the Chief Game Warden at Independence. His first book, was Banagi Hill. Later, in Ethiopia Emperor Haile Selassie had appreciated the emerging importance of tourism and had a genuine wish to conserve some areas for future generations. So Sir Julian Huxley, former Director-General of UNESCO, and a group of international conservationists visited Ethiopia. One of their recommendations was for the establishment of a Wildlife Conservation Department, with the vital requirement of initially an experienced expatriate in charge. This took account of the realities of Ethiopia. John Blower was appointed through this UNESCO initiative to fill the post, but Ethiopian national pride (or if one is cynical, ruling clique greed) laid down that an Ethiopian should be in executive charge. John Blower was relegated to the role of “advisor”, paid by the Ethiopians, with UNESCO only taking over his funding for the last nine months of the four year assignment. The consequence was that from day one the possibility of a viable and worthwhile successful project was removed. I very much doubt if this was the Emperor’s doing.

In retrospect forty years afterwards, it is easy to see that while still leaving John Blower responsible for establishing an efficient government conservation department, this removed the basic essential foundation for him to succeed (or be blamed if he failed). However this was at a time when western organisations were shying away from any suggestion of “colonialism”. UNESCO backed away from facing reality and did not insist that the fundamental necessity for not wasting money was first the establishment of an honest, efficient organisation. It is sad therefore that UN did not have the guts at that time to be honest and stick to the fundamental principle of ensuring it only used funds honestly. The arguments “we must be realistic and accept the situation on the ground” and “we must be practical” were not in fact justification for abandoning that fundamental principle, and this has wasted so many millions since. You are throwing good money after bad if you do not start with a healthy plant.

Saddest of all is the fact that the Emperor was a very wise man, and knew the old set-up must change, and almost certainly would have accepted this requirement if only there had been a trusted European such as his friend Col Sandford to be his intermediary. The UN and indeed the aid world just did not understand the intricacies of the Ethiopian way of life, which the Emperor was trying to change but in the meantime had to work within. The fact that John Blower soon found a number of young educated Ethiopians who were sent to the Wildlife College, and of whom he later formed a high opinion, makes this early and most important wrong decision that much sadder.

Faced with this situation John Blower set out to explore personally the three areas which had been suggested as possible National Parks, and from the experience gained he laid the solid foundations of scientific knowledge on which a National Parks System could have been based. He makes light of the very real danger he had towards the end of his work from two very unpleasant counterparts. Ethiopia remains a fascinating country of immense character and frustration.

In Himalayan Assignment Blower introduces the reader to a naturalists paradise with a people of great decency to strangers - particularly in the mountains. The foundations he and others, including many Nepalis, laid have survived the Maoist rebellion, but it remains to be seen if they can survive the present hiatus and uncertainties and increase of human population. The rhinoceros and tiger population at Chitwan has suffered, and the rhinos translocated from Chitwan to Bardia in west Nepal in 1986/7 have been reduced to danger level over the last 7 years because Guard posts were removed. Most cruel of all has been the recent very sad loss of experienced senior staff killed in a disastrous helicopter crash at the opening ceremony of a new Reserve near the Tibet border. The Ethiopian book, and Himalayan Assignment covering Nepal and Bhutan, should be textbooks of compulsory study for instructors at Universities and for their students at International Development Courses, and for all who claim or aim to be natural resource or environmental “experts”.

Ethiopia and Nepal are two mountainous countries with old cultures from which the West could learn much. John Blower recounts his extraordinary journeys with a modesty which is becoming unusual in this present day TV-dominated world. Those who know these countries can appreciate the hard work, commitment and determination involved. For all readers with an interest in natural history and travel these books are compulsive reading. For those with a knowledge of these places and concern for their wellbeing they will be of interest from page one to the end.

Clive Spinage’s book From the Dark Heart to the Kalahari covers the road he travelled by which he became one of the most able (and honest) ecologists of Africa. His book Animals of East Africa in 1962 was described by Sir Julian Huxley as “The best collection of wildlife photographs I have ever seen”, and that was before he became a wildlife ecologist in 1964. Dr Spinage, while working during the same period as Blower, is of the next generation of Conservationists who did not grow up in the pre-independent government conservation world. His world was where one was more of an observer than a government official. That he could maintain his dedication to conservation in the midst of collapse and corruption is remarkable, and a tribute to his sense of humour. The book deals with some countries beyond Anglophone Africa, and although it is intended to be a more light-hearted account the descriptions he gives of the Central African Republic and adjacent areas are very tragic.

These three books are recommended both for a good read and for the underlying lessons they have for future generations of environmental conservationists. The major lesson is similar to that given to me by Dr Jackson when I was a young tsetse officer in 1951. Dr Jackson, who had started his work in 1926 with a six-month safari in tsetse areas, said to me one day, “By 1929 and my first leave, I thought I knew quite a lot about tsetse. By my next leave I was quite clear I knew a lot. By 1945 I began to wonder how much I knew, and now (1951) I have a PhD on the subject and I know damn all about tsetse flies”. A kind way to talk to a 22 year old, but a message that could be taken to heart after reading these books by many present day academically qualified “experts” in International Aid.

British Empire Book
Author
John Blower
Published
2006
Pages
280
Publisher
Librario Publishing Ltd
ISBN
1 904440 67 3
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Author
John Blower
Published
2006
Pages
278
Publisher
Librario Publishing Ltd
ISBN
1 904440 81 9
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Author
Clive Spinage
Published
2006
Pages
303
Publisher
Librario Publishing Ltd
ISBN
1 904440 74 6
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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