The British Empire Library

Banagi Hill - A Game Warden's Africa

by John Blower

Courtesy of OSPA

Henry Osmaston (Uganda 1949-1963)
This book provides rivetting nostalgia for those who, like myself, were fortunate enough to serve in a colony and at a time when walking safari was still a necessary way of touring at least some parts of one's district. John Blower sailed by BI on his first appointment to the Tanganyika Forest Department, but before he could disembark at Dar es Salaam and present himself to the Head Office at Morogoro he was ordered to proceed to Lindi, 300 miles down the coast, and take over the huge and undeveloped Southern Province. There were few roads and these were usually impassable in the rains, so his first major safari was by dhow along the coast. Three years of walking followed, interrupted by a minimum of office work, learning about the people, the animals and the mainly savanna forests, which fixed in him a love of this outdoor life.

Apprehensive of a more desk-bound job in his next tour, he took the opportunity of transfer to the Game Department and was posted to a remote bungalow on Banagi Hill (hence the book's title) in central Tanganyika with vast views over the Serengeti Plains, only recently declared a national park, where he was able to indulge in his passion for safari, while watching and protecting the great herds of game which roamed there.

In 1954 with itchy feet he volunteered for a temporary secondment to the Kenya Police who were struggling to suppress the Mau Mau rebellion. He set up a small wellarmed striking group nick-named Blowforce with the aim of breaking an aggressive and successful Mau Mau gang under 'General' Kago, who had murdered local Kikuyu and a European DO, raided police stations and burnt an aircraft. Tracking terrorists in the thick forest of the Aberdare Mountains was an exciting and dangerous task but eventually after a running fight Kago was killed with 35 of his men.

He transferred to the Game Department in Uganda and soon moved to Karamoja, still the most remote, most barren and least developed district. Early in the century great herds of elephant had roamed here, till decimated by hunters like Karamoja Bell and Arabs from the coast. Inhabited by several tribes whose lives centred on their cattle, whose diet was milk and blood and whose pastime was raiding their neighbours for more cattle. Blower found here his personal paradise; he established a fiefdom based at Opotipot in the north and oversaw the creation of Uganda's third national park, Kidepo.

Blower gives vivid descriptions of peaceful scenery, and of violent action ranging from the onslaught of a tropical thunder-storm to capturing 14 endangered white rhinos by chasing and lassoing them from a truck and relocating them somewhere safer. He was an acute observer and a meticulous recorder, thanks to his habit of maintaining a daily journal. He remembers and tells us everything from the kinds of birds gathered round a pool to the state of dress or undress of a gang of poachers, but sometimes I wondered whether I should prefer to dispense with knowing what he had for supper and instead learn more about the zoology and ecology of his fascinating charges. A single sentence is the only clue that he was Chief Warden in Uganda from 1960 to 1964, overseeing the transition to independence, when he must have fought and won many important battles at government level over conservation policy and practice.

The book is illustrated throughout with many evocative photos. If you served in Africa this book is a 'must read' while anyone else can hardly help enjoying it.

British Empire Book
John Blower
Librario Publishing Ltd
1 904440 35 5


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