Reviewed by Sandy Seppala-Gyr (Kenya 1977-79)
Are there any white rhinoceros left in Africa? Who is poaching elephants, which are killed for their ivory to send to China? This book takes you to Central Africa where you’ll see what it takes to overcome strife in the name of conservation to protect wildlife and preserve cultures.
Elephants and rhinos were furthest from retired big-game hunter Philippe’s mind as he relaxed on his rigged sailboat in St. Martinique. He’d run chartered tours for five years when his Aussie friend, Sheila, suggested he was bored and getting boring. Agreeing, he guessed he needed an ‘adrenaline rush’.
Responding to an advert, he put behind his comfortable life and flew to London to interview with the Elephant Conservation Project for a position in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After being hired, he lands in Kinshasa where he agrees to become the Director of Garamba National Park. It has been neglected for years but still has vast numbers of wildlife. Initially, he was asked to count elephants, stop poaching, and look for signs of white rhinos. With his expanded responsibility, he’ll also have to gain the trust, support, and help of twelve Rangers, head Ranger Elijah, and other park employees already there to resurrect and protect the Park.
He hires a local driver, Christopher, to join him. He also hires Ndomazi, his tracker from his hunter days. Together they will face local and national politics, bureaucracy, corruption, and international smuggling. They set off for Garamba Park to start this monumental mission.
Multiple aspects are involved in this massive project from constructing Park facilities and roads, garnering the support of local people, building infrastructure, to protect wildlife and preserve the Park, while ending the poaching and corruption. For years, the Lord’s Resistant Army killed wildlife and kidnapped women, but they had moved on. The danger now comes from a Chinese syndicate sending ruthless warriors into the DRC to poach elephants.
Philippe embodies what it takes to develop conservation that protects vanishing species of wildlife and also supports local people and culture worldwide.
Gribbin’s style is unique and very fast-paced. Each short chapter delivers a different character, from an elephant to a poacher to the Chinese Madame Ching, the mastermind of the smugglers. The reader feels Africa through the terrain, the birds and wildlife, the food, and the people, along with the complex interactions of the characters.
He’s good at describing and bringing to life the interactions between cultures. I particularly liked Philippe’s relationship with villagers — giving some local women with two infants a lift in his vehicle and slipping them a few Congolese francs, as well as palavering with Wayamba elders.
While sometimes too fast with facts and chapter changes, it does illuminate the roadblocks that deter the development of conservation, using the adventures of a man who takes on the challenge. Did he stop the poaching and resurrect the park? Did he find white rhinos? Only your reading of The Last Rhino will provide the answers.
Sandy Seppala-Gyr (Kenya 1977-79) taught English and History in two Harambee high schools. Her 28-year career after her return included: technical writer, editor, and publications manager in the computer industry in Silicon Valley, Calif., and communications, marketing, writing, and editing at high-tech companies in the D.C. area. Sandy retired in 2008 and lives in Traverse City, Mich. She is married to Kim Gyr, and has two sons, one honorary Kenyan son, one stepson, and eight grandchildren. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org