I WAS not expecting Born Wild to be the narrative triumph that it is. It was an unexpected delight to turn the pages of the book and find myself captivated by the tall stories (all true) dished up as Tony Fitzjohn tells tales of conservation against all odds in Kenya and Tanzania.
British born and bred, Fitzjohn yearns for the plains of Africa after reading Tarzan of Apes as a child. When he leaves school he heads for Africa, settles in Kenya at Kora National Reserve, a lucky protégé to George Adamson of Born Free fame, and begins his sweltering love affair with the African bush and the animals it gives refuge to.
Among the stories, Fitzjohn writes of his special bond with Christian the lion, made famous after it was bought at Harrods by two young men and then returned to the African bush at Kora.
The subsequent YouTube video of the reunion of the men with Christian in the wild went viral.
Fitzjohn writes candidly about his relationships with Adamson (big respect) and his wife Joy (no love lost there).
He also details the rescue of Nina the elephant from over 20 years’ captivity in a zoo and her transfer to Mkomazi, the Tanzanian reserve Fitzjohn ran.
Martin Clunes fans may know that he documented Nina’s release into the wild in a BBC special. Nina later mated and had a calf but died in a subsequent breach birth.
But among numerous captivating accounts, the central theme is conservation and the uphill struggle against poachers, land grabbers, petty bureaucracy, corruption and disease in Africa.
Many of the scenarios Fitzjohn writes about are echoed here in South Africa, an obvious one being the upswing in rhino poaching incidents. But despite major setbacks, his efforts with rhino, elephant, wild dog and others start to accomplish something and the reader experiences the thrill of conservation succeeding.
Full of fascinating facts and engaging anecdotes, Fitzjohn favours a direct style, which is economical yet effective. His offbeat sense of humour, and humble opinion of himself adds to the immense flavour of the book. A surprisingly entertaining and satisfying read.