I enjoyed reading An Impossible Dream for a number of different reasons and I can
commend the book to anyone who has an interest in Kenya. It is also a useful account
for those concerned with wildlife conservation in Africa and it provides an insight on
how well-intended policies can have detrimental consequences. There are 38 chapters of
varying length and substance and although the two editors Stan Bleazard and Ian Parker
have 'pruned', to use their own words, the unevenness of the text is irritating.
To a certain extent, the editors set the scene in their introduction as to what the reader
can expect. We are informed that "the Game Department was never particularly
intellectual. . . game wardens did not take written exams.... Wardens did not like paper
work and filing systems were usually the third fixed copy in a triplicate note book. " The
narrative is largely anecdotal and one is left to make one's own analysis and assessment
of the actions of the Game Department in colonial Kenya.
In the period before independence, the indigenous people of Kenya did not have
individual land ownership or title rights in contrast to the settler community who did.
Similarly, the native Kenyans had no political voice and game control was very much a
public service. Many settlers were authorized to control game on their farms themselves
through various legal devices such as honorary wardenships. African subsistence
farming required protection from wildlife from the government and this was the primary
role of the Game Wardens and their Game Scouts. To this day, government is expected
to 'control wildlife' and to protect crops from elephant, buffalo and other game. The
huge growth in Kenya's rural population, much of it entirely dependent on small scale
farming has made adequate control of wildlife impossible in modern Kenya. The
consequence of this failure is a constant political backlash against wildlife wherever it is.
For the "dream" to have been realized, land rights and political power would have had to
have been denied to the majority of Kenya's population.
The Impossible Dream refers to a Kenya where the Crown or State owned all wildlife
and this persists today. It is tempting to speculate on how different things might have
been today if the colonial power had vested ownership of wild game in the land owners
themselves. The work of the Game Wardens would have been very different and the
policy of the Game Department would almost certainly have been more pro-active in
The book alludes to some of the pioneering work of a few individuals who clearly
saw the need for large tracts of land to be set aside as Game Reserves and National
Parks. Although these references are fleeting, the problems of poaching and the efforts to
stop the illegal trade of ivory are an important part of the book. Had there been greater
financial resources available to the Chief Game Warden, a lot more would have been
done to create extensive wildlife protected areas, especially in the northern part of the
country. This is not generally known and it is good to see it brought out.
1 was interested in the accounts of early efforts at game capture and translocation. As
a youngster, I well remember the excitement and drama of capturing rhino and giraffe
from the 'chase truck' of Nick Carter. It is amazing that anyone, let alone the animals,
survived but they did. Today's almost surgical techniques using helicopters and highly
trained teams reflects the valuable pioneering work done in the 1960s.
Some of the stories in An Impossible Dream are very vivid and colourful accounts of
dedicated young men who lived life to the full. I am fortunate to have known a good
number of the 17 contributors and a handful of the others that they write about. Their
tales ring true; they lived these lives and were a closely knit group of very unusual
In spite of the title, the book is not about failure. Dreams are not real and nobody
could have anticipated the events that were to unfold. The huge numbers of wild animals
living everywhere in Kenya could not have been sustained. We are fortunate to have
what is left and the challenge now is to keep the estate, maintain the 52 National Parks
and Game Reserves and ensure that future generations will have the chance to
experience the remaining wonders of what Ian Parker so aptly describes as the