14:38 - (SA) Mount Kenya - When he was 19, Bongo Woodley won a
tug-of-war with a crocodile that had sunk its teeth into his girlfriend's
ankle as they waded across a river.
Both came out fine.
And, in the two decades since, Woodley
has survived charging buffalo and rhino, avoided bullets from poachers
to hunt down rogue
As a senior park warden with the Kenya
Wildlife Service, none of this seems out of the ordinary.
In fact, Woodley, 41, has to stop
and think when asked about his close calls in the Kenyan bush with
elephants, lions, rhinos and
Did the poachers who decimated elephant
herds in this East African nation in the 1980s and '90s ever shoot
Um, yeah, quite often... basically from the air," says Woodley,
who used to fly a small plane over Tsavo National Park to search
for the hunters.
You can hear the bullets breaking the sound barrier as they go past...
none hit mine, always had a look when we landed."
Bill, spent 44 years working in Kenya's game reserves after joining
the colonial-era Kenya National Parks as a 19-year-old
in 1948 - shortly after a trip to Mozambique during which he shot
90 elephants for ivory.
A leader in anti-poaching war
Bill Woodley became one of Kenya's
most famous game wardens.
1950s, he won Britain's second-highest military honour, the Military
Cross, for infiltrating night meetings of the Mau Mau rebel
movement, even though he was white.
In the 1980s and '90s, he played
a leading role in the fight against elephant poaching, before his
death in 1995.
My earliest memory was he was basically the hero. He had such an
amazing job, which obviously involved everything that I do now and
more," says the younger Woodley.
His first name is William,
but he is universally known by his nickname, Bongo, after a rare
Bongo, a third-generation white
Kenyan, a fading group of about 5 000, carried on the tradition.
It's a great job in many ways, very challenging, but it's quite exhausting.
It will age you prematurely," he says.
The square-jawed, thick-shouldered
ranger could do without the paperwork.
There's so much administration," says Woodley, who hated school
and anything academic. "We go from one crisis to the next."
with a gun
This year, his main problem has been
dealing with elephants invading farmland around the foothills of
destroying crops and
sometimes killing people. In recent months, his wardens have had
to shoot three elephants.
Woodley, who was given his first gun
when he was six, considers himself a conservationist - but one
that animals sometimes have
to be killed.
It was the talk of my household: if an animal kills somebody, then
the wildlife department will kill the animal," he says.
That's one of the ironies of the job. As a park warden, you have
to shoot the animals which you are meant to protect. Shooting elephants
is always a tragic thing."
British colonial rulers set up Kenya's
first wildlife agencies in 1946.
The Kenya national parks service was
in charge of protected areas, while the Kenya game department was
responsible for wildlife
Thirteen years after Kenya's 1963 independence,
the government merged the two agencies to form the wildlife conservation
department, which eventually became burdened by a lack of resources
Woodley joined the department in 1989,
shortly after paleontologist Richard Leakey was named head to clean
it up and stamp
out the poaching
that was destroying Kenya's elephant herds.
Army choppers used to
Leakey created the Kenya wildlife
service in 1990 as a government entity, but with greater autonomy.
Woodley's first job was helping
his father at Tsavo National Park, where ivory poachers were slaughtering
an average of three elephants
The poaching got so bad, the government
finally sent army helicopters to help fight the gangs.
Woodley flew a plane over the park
at about 90m, looking for the rotting carcasses of elephants and
In April 1990, Woodley got his dream job - a move to Mount Kenya.
He's been here ever since, rising through
the ranks to senior warden with overall responsibility for protecting
wildlife on Africa's second-highest
Since July 2000, he has also overseen
the 850-square-mile forest reserve that surrounds it.
It's not easy. Illegal logging and
increasing human settlement in and around the forest have exacerbated
between man and
And the Wildlife Service - with an
annual budget of about 1 billion shillings (about R111m), mainly
from park and game-reserve
fees - doesn't have enough money.
Snaring animals to sell as bush meat
I don't have enough rangers. My vehicles are dilapidated. That age-old
story - being expected to perform miracles with negligible resources," says
The service employs about 4 300 people,
half of whom are rangers. It's not nearly enough, considering parks
cover 8% of Kenya
agency also must protect wildlife outside the reserves, said spokesperson
On average, one ranger is responsible
Woodley's biggest concern is that Kenya may find itself without
any free-roaming wildlife, mainly because farmers are snaring animals
to sell as bush meat.
I think you will find a situation whereby national parks will have
elephants only," he says. The smaller animals are "going
without anybody actually noticing it", he adds.
That would break
Woodley's heart. He's lived for little else, but life in the wilderness,
working as a farm manager and safari guide
before joining the Wildlife Service.
When he was 23, Kenyan law required
that he choose between his Kenyan and his British passports. The
choice was simple.
Having gone to school there (Britain), that gave me the grounding
to realise I probably wouldn't be comfortable living there," Woodley
Why? He couldn't find a place there "where you are properly
alone." - Sapa-AP