BOOKS: The Wilderness Family: At Home with Africa’s Wildlife

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2003:

The Wilderness Family: At Home with Africa’s Wildlife by Kobie Kruger
Ballantine Books (c/o Random House, 299 Park Ave., New York, NY
10171), 2001. 381 pages, hardcover, $26.95.

The Wilderness Family, as published in the U.S. and Britain,
is actually two former South African best sellers combined under one
cover. The first book, Mahlangeni, appeared in 1994. All Things
Wild & Wonderful followed in 1996.
Both are autobiographical accounts of the lives of Kruger
National Park ranger’s wife Kobie Kruger and family.
Inspired by Born Free, the autobiography of the late Kenyan wildlife
advocate Joy Adamson, Kobus and Kobie Kruger in 1980 took over
management of the remote Mahlangeni ranger station, taking their
three young daughters with them into the bush.

The half of The Wilderness Family that was originally issued
as Mahlangeni covers the Krugers’ 11 years at the station in
vignettes often centered around their relationships with local
wildlife. They rescue, rehabilitate, and release various animals,
tolerate some who make pests of themselves, shoot to scare rather
than kill a potentially homicidal hippo, fight poachers, and Kobus
is much distressed when he shoots a rampaging elephant to save
He appears to have a very different outlook from much of the
rest of the South African wildlife management establishment, whose
heavy-handed support of trophy hunting, the sale of ivory from
culled elephants, complicity with canned hunts, predator control
killing of foxes, jackals, and caracals, and opposition to
wildlife rescue are notorious.
After a November 1990 transfer to the Crocodile Bridge
tourist camp area, the Kruger family tried to reprise the Born Free
story in earnest. All Things Wild & Wonderful closely follows their
rehabilitation of an orphaned lion cub–and their discovery that
there is no wild habitat available for captive-reared lions these
days, nor many openings at reputable sanctuaries.
The usual fate of captive-reared lions, the Krugers learned,
is death at a canned hunt.
The Krugers found a seemingly decent captive habitat for
their young lion at the Pamuzinda Wildlife Park in Zimbabwe, a
branch of the Lion & Cheetah Park founded by Viv Bristow and family
in 1968. The Krugers’ lion was used to breed more lions, however,
and may have been among the 34 lions and hundreds of other animals
who were seized in early September 2003 by “war veterans” who overran
the Lion & Cheetah Park. Previous seizures of similar facilities
have almost always brought massacres of the animals.
The Krugers learn that Born Free cannot be reprised. The
Wilderness Family spends little time drawing conclusions from their
experience, yet the lessons between the lines are clear.

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