Richard Leakey, who died on 2nd January 2022, served as chairman of the East African Wild Life Society from 1984 to 1989. He spoke to Swara Editor, John Nyaga, in an interview in 2017 that touched on how to make the East African Wildlife Society more dynamic and the state of conservation in Kenya. Ecerpts:

 On his tenure as Chairman:

“I took over from Charles Njonjo as Chairman… [Coincidentally, both Leakey and Charles Njonjo died on the same day].

“EAWLS used to run a magazine called Africana, and the magazine and the organisation was facing challenges, and so Njonjo and I agreed that we will introduce new blood into the management through the Board […] and we ended up changing the name of the magazine from Africana to Swara.

“We tidied up alot of the membership records, we allegedly had thousands of members yet we had less than 2,000. We had a magazine that was going out at a huge cost to people who were not members any longer and had not been for many years. We tried to pull back some economic sense into management.”

“And then the Swara started doing well, and membership started improving and EAWLS started becoming relevant, but at that time there were relatively few middle income indegenous Kenyans who were participating in wildlife matters, as it was so soon after independence. But then again membership started to dwindle and that’s when we brought in Nehemiah Rotich […] and he did alot to make the Society relevant to Kenyans.

On the Society:

“I think it is a great tribute it (Society) has survived 60 years, but it is a great tragedy that it has not become more relevant to making a difference to public attitudes, public opinions. You need to be seen to be part of the show, to be relevant. I think the Society in that sense could have done a lot better.

“Now I see that the new Executive Director is reaching out to try and get the Society more active. He certainly has a voice that is being heard, if not listened to. And I would hope that with the strengthening of the board, some new blood, the Society could again play a role in civil society of [giving] balanced advice through the medium of the journal (Swara) and of the blogs to influence wildlife policy. It would be one of several, but in theory, it would be the original one.

“I would like to see the East African Wild Life Society thrive. I think I would like see a much more dynamic magazine, blog-based organisation that really gets people interested and excited about wildlife issues and climate change.”

On the state of wildlife conservation in Kenya

“I think the state of wildlife conservation in Kenya is in a very perilous state. I think the government is being absolutely irresponsible in not demanding more attention to land use policy and making sure that land user policy reflects the need for water downstream where is it accessible to wildlfe, which is key to tourism, which is a keystone of the the economy.

“This big issue about the SGR railway. It’s all about just the Nairobi Park and the crisis that people living around the park have raised.

“What conservation advice was asked for and what was given? Why was everybody silent when it went through Tsavo? Why was there no attempt to influence at the time when an influence could have been heard? And why now when it gets to Nairobi […] many of the loudest voices we hear against are foreigners.

“I think it’s a tragedy that this railway wasn’t stopped six years ago and the conservation angle through Tsavo would have been a very important one to consider. The question we should be asking ourselves is, after Nairobi where does it go next. What effect is it going to have on the Mau Forest? What effect is it going to have when it goes up towards Malaba through Nandi Hills and Kakamega? What’s going to happen when you have lines going from the Lamu Port to join with the SGR somewhere between Voi and Mtito Andei? Why are conservationists just talking about the Nairobi park?

“Why are they not talking about infrastructure generally and the dangers it poses to wildlife? And why are they not talking about climate change, why are they not raising the issue that we have lost more elephants from drought in Tsavo in the last six months than we lost to poachers for several years.”