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Monday, June 13, 2011

Meeting with Dr. Richard Leakey

Wilbur Smith’s "Elephant Song". I remember the first time I read that book, about 5 years ago. His words cut through my heart like a heated knife through butter. I could imagine it so vividly, I may as well have been there and borne witness to the massacre of the gentle giants we all know as the elephant.
I never could finish that book; it was too painful for my heart to bear. Elephants have always had a special place in my heart, as do all wildlife. Something purely magical about each one that I cannot really explain. Having grown up in the eighties, one couldn’t help but be drawn to the politics and controversy surrounding these majestic ‘beasts’ of the African wilderness. I grew up in that time. Hunts were the norm a few years prior, and then, the big one. The ivory ban. Kenya was put on the world map in a gust of flames and a cloud of smoke thick as the canopy of our once great forests.
How I remember that day. I was glued to that television like my life was on the line. I watched as this gigantic heap of elephant tusks, was set ablaze. I was only seven at the time, and aside from the burning pyre of ivory, I remember one man. A man whom I watched on that same television countless times as the years passed, changing the face of Kenya’s political scene.
Dr. Richard Leakey.
The name in itself rings of such commitment, such dedication to a nation I myself have now become in awe of. Little did I know then, that I would soon become just as engrossed with Africa as the man I watched on that television screen, maybe even a little bit more...
As I grew older, thus began my love affair with Kenya’s wildlife. I was always warned of my tempestuous ways with animals, but I knew in my heart, that I finally, and completely, belong.
Wildlife brings to me a peace no man ever could, a contentment in my heart that I can only describe as the feeling of the top of an acacia on the African savannah, when the sun sets upon it, embracing it with its warm, orange rays. How I love my land, no words could ever do justice in explaining.
I began to do volunteer work with wildlife, beginning with captive wildlife and then on to foot patrols, which I continue to do until today. Somewhere along the way, I met a wise friend, and acquired a read by the hand of Dr. Leakey, “Wildlife Wars”. A few chapters in, and suddenly I was seven years old again. My heart began beating differently, and my life was going to change, again.
Every time I turned a page, I said to myself, “I must meet this man”. And every time I closed the book, I said, “I’m going to save the world”. To any ordinary, modern man, those would seem such foolish words, but only I know of their worth. I looked everywhere for Dr.Leakey, I knew he had set up and then consequently left, a wildlife blog called wildlife direct. I also knew, he was involved still in archaeology up in Turkana, and also heard from a few conservationists I had met along the way, of his recent visits to Nairobi. How I longed for a chance to meet with him.
It has been almost two years since that time, and yesterday, Friday the 10th of June, 2011; I met with the man himself. Dr. Richard Leakey.
After all this time, I finally met the man I promised myself I would meet. At first, there was a great feeling of achievement before I realised, that I really had no planned “meeting agenda”. I didn’t care. All I was thinking of was... nothing!
I walked into his office, and there he sat, iconic as ever, behind a wooden desk, with a little laptop and his mobile phone. I shook his hand and was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it, after all these years...
His mobile phone rang and I turned to look by the window, and noticed his coat hanger. I smiled to myself as I realised I had seen that green checked jacket in so many photographs in so many places. Then I turned to him, and began to tell him my story, and what my plans were for wildlife.
He listened intently, and then leaned back and said, “That’s quite a story!”. I nodded, and he then began to tell me about how wildlife still has hope in Kenya. How we need to have dreams and believe in them, and how we need to fix big things instead of little ones, because if ever it was needed, it is needed now.
We did not meet for long, but his words will stay with me for a very long time. I know what he said to me, and he told me that I have his support in my plans. For the moment, that is all I need...
All I can add, is that I sure hope I will have many more meetings with Dr. Leakey. He is truly a legend in wildlife conservation, and truly a hero for me.
I am humbled by this man, and I hope that he will be my mentor, as I take my first steps into a world I know little of, but a world that I know, will change things.