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Title: Fighting for survival : wildlife, land and politics in Tsavo National Park, Kenya, 1930-1963
Author: Cowan, C. E.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2005
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Recent years have seen a rapid growth in the field of colonial conservation history. However, there are still relatively few studies looking at how conservation policies were applied to individual protected areas. My research undertakes an exploration of some of the key themes in this conservation history through an analysis of the creation and development of Tsavo National Park in Kenya. My study of Tsavo builds on the growing literature examining the origins and evolutions of colonial wildlife policy, as well as attempting to integrate the political and social themes that are discussed in studies of natural resource management in the colonial period. I question the power of ideas of Eden and nostalgia in shaping the development of conservation thinking, arguing that Kenya’s political economy, as well as the perceptions of the European officials who managed Tsavo, played as important a role in shaping Tsavo into the park as it exists today. The research analyses the different ways in which the prevailing political climate allowed the space that became Tsavo to be appropriated for wildlife conservation, and how wildlife came to be seen as a vital part of Kenya’s post-war economy in much the same way as other natural resources. It also looks at how the park’s supporters adapted the narrative construction of the park to ensure its survival in a rapidly changing political, social and economic climate. I explore four themes in the study of the historical development of Tsavo. First, I examine how the Tsavo area was initially portrayed as economically useless and devoid of human use and settlement. I then look at how this early narrative was challenged in the climate of economic development and the ‘second colonial occupation’ after the Second World War. At this stage the part was pictured as a site for economic development, predominantly through tourism. The third theme I explore is Tsavo as African space, and how the previous two narratives were challenged by the presence and claims of Africans in the area who continued to make use of the park’s resources up to and beyond independence. Finally, I analyse Tsavo as an ecological space and consider how the park’s ecology impacted the political constructions of the park and how political events threatened the park’s ecology. Pragmatism, political acumen and fear drove the development of the narratives that guided Tsavo’s development throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The staff in Tsavo believed that they were fighting not only for survival of wildlife in Kenya, but for the survival of the very concept of national parks in the face of a myriad of competing demands on the land as well as Government indifference, African loathing and the petty power struggles of local officials.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available