The Last Savanna
by Mike Bond
Mandevilla Press (7 Indian Valley Road. Weston, CT 06883), 2014.
320 pages, paperback. $15.99.
The Last Savanna, a novel based on anti-poaching activity in Kenya at an indeterminate time appearing to be the mid-1980s, is easily parodied. The opening, for example, resembles the children’s song “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly,” as author Mike Bond introduces a succession of animals and humans, each of whom is killed by the next to appear.
Soon thereafter The Last Savanna settles into self-aware Ernest Hemingway imitation. Almost every key scene right up to the last lines echoes something from Hemingway, with references to most of Hemingway’s best-known works and some that are less well-known, notably The Green Hills of Africa (1935) and The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber (1936), both also set in Kenya.
But, to be fair, thousands of authors have imitated Hemingway. Among the legions, Mike Bond is a very good Hemingway imitator. The Last Savanna is a gripping “existential thriller,” as advertised.
Of greater significance for ANIMALS 24-7 is whether The Last Savanna is actually “outstanding work to raise awareness about the severity of elephant poaching,” also as advertised.
This is questionable. To begin with, relatively little of The Last Savanna concerns elephants. Considerably more of The Last Savanna describes the lives and motivations of several different poaching factions, but none are the well-organized and equipped factions of today, closely linked to international organized crime. The Last Savanna describes a time when the Islamist militant factions who directed elephant and rhino poaching in the 1990s were just beginning to establish themselves, before there was much direct involvement by Vietnamese and Chinese gangsters.
As with a western novel, the habitat frequented by Mike Bond’s gunslingers remains recognizable, but their epoch is history.
Also as with a western, The Last Savanna presents a violent and lawless frontier as a problem that can be confronted effectively only by The Lone Ranger and Tonto, or in this case a former colonial era commando and his Kenyan sidekick. Though an effective story-telling convention, the notion that a well-armed elite of Great White Hunters can protect African animals from the native hordes is an immense part––probably the biggest part––of why poaching throughout Africa tends to rage out of control. More than a century of well-armed elites shooting poachers have not accomplished much toward establishing cultural ethics of tolerating and protecting wildlife.
Conversely, indigenous organizations including in Kenya the African Network for Animal Welfare and Youth for Conservation have won a great deal of volunteer support and philosophical buy-in from educated young Africans, and are doing a great deal to educate the next generations. Of particular note is that ANAW and Youth for Conservation––and counterparts in several other African nations––have found influential niches for themselves within the growing structures of African democracy. Much of their work consists of lobbying and mobilizing political constituencies, in direct opposition to Great White Hunter-dominated international charities, which for 37 years have done everything they could think of to buy influence toward undoing the 1977 Kenyan national ban on sport hunting.