Review: Born Wild

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2010:

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn
Crown Publishers (c/o Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY
10019), 2010.
310 pages, hardcover. $24.00.

The title Born Wild suggests an adventurous book by a daring
author. That describes it. Growing up in England, Fitzjohn loved
Scouting. Tarzan tales enchanted him. As a troubled teen Fitzjohn
landed in Outward Bound programs that eventually took him to
life-changing experiences in Africa. A letter Fitzjohn sent to Born
Free author Joy Adamson sent Fitzjohn to Kenya, where at age 22 he
became assistant to her then-husband, conservationist George
Adamson, who was then 61. Fitzjohn helped Adamson to rehabilitate
injured or formerly captive lions, leopards, and African wild dogs
for return to the wild.
Tracking lions in the bush back in those days, between 30
and 40 years ago, was considerably more difficult and dangerous than
today because radio collars had not yet been developed. Fitzjohn
despaired when beloved lions suddenly vanished, such as one named
Lisa, whose disappearance “left a big hole in our lives. She was a
lovely lioness.”
Like George Adamson, Fitzjohn spent years cultivating
relationships with lions, trying to build trust, mindful that lions
are still wild animals and may behave as such, no matter how tame
they seem. Once in 1975, “I was incredibly lucky to survive,”
recalls Fitzjohn. “My attacker’s teeth had come within millimeters
of both my carotid and jugular arteries. There are holes in my
throat that I could put a fist through, and I did.”
After several months of recovery Fitzjohn returned to help
George Adamson at Kora. The camp they built eventually became the
hub of the Kora National Reserve, initially designated in 1973 but
not added to the Kenyan national park system until 1989, after
George Adamson came to the aid of a tourist and was murdered in a
confrontation with poachers. Joy Adamson had already been killed in
a confrontation with an ex-employee in January 1980.
Conflicts with poachers and illegal grazers intensified after
a border conflict between Kenya and Somalia in 1978. Somalia lost
the war but, Fitzjohn remembers, “There were suddenly a lot of
well-armed Somali men flooding across the border into northern Kenya.
They were bandits, well-trained, ruthless and armed.”
Another camp near Kora was attacked and everything of value
was looted. Two workers were killed. Poaching escalated. The
Kenyan government was either unwilling or unable to stop it, despite
warnings that wildlife tourism could be destroyed. Political unrest,
corruption, drought, and tribal strife plagued Kenya for more than
a decade. Understates Fitzjohn, “Kenya had suddenly become a scary
Of George Adamson’s murder, Fitzjohn says, “If I had been
there it wouldn’t have happened.” Racked with guilt for having been
elsewhere, Fitzjohn moved to Tanzania –“the perfect place for me to
bury myself and reinvent myself after the events of the past few
For more than 20 years now Fitzjohn has worked tirelessly to
rehabilitate and return to the wild injured animals in Tanzania. He
has continued to defend game preserves against poachers and illegal
grazers, many of whom are armed, and to stand up to government
officials, who are sometimes indifferent, sometimes corrupt, and
sometimes just hellbent on economic development at any cost.
Fitzjohn travels the world to raise money to continue saving African
animals. And he always gives credit for his successes to George
Adamson, who made his wild life possible. –Debra J. White

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