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IN BRIEF

Environment

April 18, 1993|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE MYTH OF WILD AFRICA: Conservation Without Illusion by Jonathan S. Adams and Thomas O. McShane (Norton: $21.95 ; 266 pp.) Who doesn't keep some vision of paradise tucked away in the anterior lobe? For New Yorkers, it's California. For many crusading conservationists, it has been Africa. How can we save Africa from the Africans, they earnestly ask themselves. The answer, for Adams and McShane is, quite simply, that we can't save Africa without the Africans. Conservation efforts on that continent, often the result of narrowly defined research projects, have been wildly piecemeal--save the elephant, save the rhinoceros, save the Serengeti. The results have sometimes been farcical--like fences around wilderness preserves--but more often divisive, pitting ecology against economics, science against conservation, scouts against poachers, government agencies against villages and black against white.

Unlike so many books on wilderness, and on Africa, the solutions offered here are hopeful and practical; an integration of conservation and economic development. The best example is a project called Campfire (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) in which districts can apply for the right to manage their own resources (along guidelines set by the government for law enforcement and wildlife protection) and reap the profits. There's also the Mountain Gorilla Project, an effort to educate the public, through radio shows and lectures in primary schools, secondary schools and universities, about the real economic values of an intact forest in watershed and soil protection, and about the need for gorilla preserves. More broadly, an approach to conservation called "adaptive management" "formalizes the need for trial and error," studying how a policy or program affects people and ecosystems and allowing for adjustments.

This kind of flexibility does not jibe easily with the power of the myth, a paradise without people. Nonetheless, say the authors, "The right to fail and to succeed must be handed over to the inhabitants of the continent."

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