21 Sep 1998
Kenya's fickle political winds have again blown conservation leader David Western out of office--this time permanently. Just 4 months after losing and then regaining his post as head of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which manages some of the world's best-known natural areas, Western was abruptly sacked again last week by Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi.
The unexpected ouster, which came just weeks after Western had secured a $5 million grant from the Kenyan government that will allow the embattled KWS to survive a financial crisis, prompted dismay among observers in Kenya and international conservation circles. "What an end to a sad, sordid story," says David Woodruff, a University of California, San Diego, biologist who supported Western's sometimes controversial efforts to reorient the KWS (Science, 5 June, p. 1518). Western, however, is taking his dismissal philosophically. "Conservation is an extremely tough business--one has to accept reversals and go on," he told Science.
Western was appointed head of Kenya's premier conservation agency in 1994, after Moi fired Richard Leakey, a noted anthropologist who is now a leading opposition politician. Almost immediately, Western faced financial problems brought on by a decline in tourism--Kenya's primary industry--and the end of several large grants provided by foreign donors. He also faced withering criticism from Leakey and others over his management style, his moves to cut staff, and his efforts to enlist people living on wildlife-rich lands outside the parks in conservation. Moi fired Western last May, only to rehire him 6 days later following an outcry from conservationists--and threats from donor agencies to withhold millions of dollars in grants. At the time, some of Western's supporters charged that Leakey was behind the ouster, but Western himself said that mining interests hoping to gain access to park lands were responsible.
This time, however, Western says he is "very puzzled" about why Moi prevented him from serving until his contract expired in February 1999, adding that the decision appeared almost "whimsical." Western says he is proud of gains he made in involving Kenyans in conservation efforts. "Conservation has filtered right down to the grassroots," he claims. "We began a process of engaging people in conservation and the role it plays in their lives."