David Western, the conservation biologist who has headed the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) since 1994, was ousted on 21 May and reinstated 6 days later for a 9-month term by Kenya President Daniel arap Moi. "Exhausted" by his roller-coaster ride in Kenyan politics, Western says he now hopes to be able to complete the restructuring of the cash-strapped agency, which runs Kenya's national parks and other protected areas.
In a telephone interview with Science last week, Western said that in recent months he had sensed that his support within the government was waning because he was resisting pressure by officials to open up some parks to mining operations. He has also faced a financial crisis as tourist revenues--the backbone of KWS support--dropped drastically owing to bad weather and political strife. Things "have been really extremely tough" over the past year, he says. And, to add to his troubles, he had been taking a drubbing from opponents in Kenya, including his predecessor Richard Leakey, complaining that he was a poor manager and criticizing his strategy of involving local communities in conservation outside the parks. Western says these criticisms may have given his opponents a pretext for ousting him.
Western is highly regarded by the international conservation community, and the reaction to his dismissal (Science, 29 May, p. 1335 ) in Kenya and abroad was swift and vehement. Fearing for the future of Kenya's parks and wildlife, ambassadors protested, conservationists wrote letters, and the European Union froze some $3 million in operating funds that it had just approved for KWS.
Western says that when he pleaded his case with the president it became clear that Moi "wasn't fully au fait with events." He says Moi was particularly concerned that the civil service had violated its own procedures by breaking Western's contract, which had been renewed early this year. Western also says Moi recognized the toll that the ouster could take on tourism and international support. Indeed, he says, in the fight to keep mining concessions out of the parks, "the biggest supporter I had in this had actually been the president himself."