The British Empire Library

A History of Wildlife Conservation and Management in the Mid-Luangwa Valley, Zambia

by W L Astle

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by J E Clarke (Northern Rhodesia/Zamhia 1955-75)
Mr W L Astle worked for the Northern Rhodesian and Zambian governments from 1959 to 1973. Originally an Agricultural Officer, he transferred in 1965 to the (then) Department of Game and Fisheries as a Biologist and spent the next six years in the Luangwa Valley. For his last two years in government service he was Chief Wildlife Research Officer at the department's headquarters. He returned to the Valley during 1986-92 as a University Research Fellow.

The text of some 60,000 words comprises 11 sections plus 22 pages of notes and maps. Early explorations in the Valley, notably by the Portuguese, are described, followed by accounts of Chartered Company administration and the early days of the Protectorate. After a description of the limited activities recorded during World War Two, and the period of consolidation which followed, come four sections that examine historical trends in conservation practices, tourism, administration, legislation, management, research and land use in relation to wildlife. Sections nine and ten consider events during the nine years following the author's government service in Zambia; section 11 gives an historical perspective. The final notes concern a miscellany of topics including Pitman's 1931-32 faunal survey of Northern Rhodesia and more recent animal censuses in the Luangwa. Although the book's focus is on the Valley, the author digresses where appropriate to consider events and influences at departmental, national and international levels.

Several major themes are discussed; two are worth mentioning here. First, the book presents well-documented evidence that colonial policy, contrary to received wisdom, was to manage wildlife for the benefit of indigenous peoples. Public perceptions, however, appear to have been confused by some departmental officers, whose vehemently expressed views were out of step with mainstream policies. Second, the author reviews the work of the ecologist Dr F Fraser Darling, who visited Northern Rhodesia, including the Luangwa Valley, during 1957. His visit was made under the auspices of the Department, after which he wrote a book--Wildlife in an African Territory. Darling has been eulogised by the editor of his African diaries (J M Boyd's Fraser Darling in Africa) but Astle is unimpressed. Darling, he submits, was ready to believe anything departmental officers told him and wrote nothing original. He was widely perceived as being manipulated by doctrinaire elements in the Department, consequently he had little influence on government policy--a view endorsed by several senior officers who continued service after Independence. Your reviewer, who met Darling, recalls a kindly, courteous man but remembers him today chiefly for his recommendation that professional officers be withdrawn from administrative duties--a retrograde step that led to several years of inadequate non-professionals occupying key middle management positions.

The book is written in good, clear English, mercifully free from jargon. Twenty-nine pages of references testify to the considerable research that went into it. There is a wealth of detail. Dates and names abound, extracts from numerous official reports are quoted and there are generous helpings of statistics. Twenty-five photographs adorn front and back covers. Internal layout would have been clearer had each of the 11 sections begun on a fresh page with its title printed in a distinctive font; disconcertingly the title heading for Section 4 has become 'widowed' at the foot of page 40. Being little more than half a page, that section might more comfortably have been incorporated in the one that follows.

A blurb on the back cover deems the book a valuable resource for university coursework and a sound base for further detailed study. You reviewer agrees: it gives a detailed and enlightened historical account of relationships between people and wildlife in an evolving, real world situation. It ought to become a useful source of reference for officers of the newly established Zambia Wildlife Authority. This book will also give pleasure to those who worked in the Luangwa Valley, especially between 1945 and 1975. Drawing on their memories, they will be able to flesh out the named protagonists, remember their endeavours and, with a smile, recall their eccentricities and whimsicalities.

British Empire Book
W L Astle
British Empire and Commonwealth Museum


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