Leakey Reappointed Head of Kenyan Parks

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

Politics has again created strange bedfellows in Kenya. Just a week after ousting conservationist David Western as head of the embattled Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), President Daniel arap Moi has reappointed one of his most prominent critics--anthropologist Richard Leakey--to the job of overseeing some of Africa's best known parks. The move comes just 4 years after Moi picked Western to replace Leakey, who had resigned from the KWS in 1994 after complaining of political interference by Moi's cronies.

The switch, announced 24 September, marks yet another twist in a political tale that has captivated and concerned conservationists around the world (Science, 25 September, p. 1931). In May, Moi had fired Western, only to rehire him 6 days later following complaints from international donors and conservationists who supported Western's efforts to downsize the KWS and involve people living outside the agency's 53 parks in conservation.

Leakey announced he was reclaiming his old job after direct negotiations with Moi assured him that KWS would be insulated from political meddling. Some observers say the move was primarily driven by Moi's increasingly frenetic efforts to shore up his sagging regime and Kenya's shattered economy on the eve of efforts to democratize Kenya's politics and restore confidence among foreign aid donors. "The appointment makes Moi look like a moderate," says Gilbert Khadiagala, a Kenyan who teaches African politics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Leakey is faced with problems at KWS ranging from a budget crisis exacerbated by declining tourism to crime and poaching in the parks. His first priority, he told ScienceNOW, will be to find funds to pay off a $3.5 million deficit. "We simply don't have any incoming money to pay bills and salaries," he says. "We are going to have to cut costs." He is not ready to say, however, if Western's controversial community-based conservation projects are on the chopping block.

Posted in Environment