The Big Conservation Lie Book Review and more

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The Big Conservation Lie Book Review and more

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“However, with proper spatial planning, a national and political goodwill and determination, commitment to implement these plans, and a national effort to control greed, we can convert the country into a place that can comfortably support twice or thrice the size of our current population and still leave adequate room for the preservation of species.” – The Big Conservation Lie by John Mbaria and Mordecai Ogada.

It has taken me a while to write a review of this book, maybe because it’s my first book review. Meanwhile, I have been contemplating on the issues discussed in the book as some organisations have been tarnished in my view, while others have left me questioning what is really happening in the Kenyan conservation world. As I observe the daily Kenyan news, more so during this political period, the drought season causing chaos among communities and not to forget the Standard Gauge Railway predicaments, some of what has been occurring since I opened the first page of the book have become clearer. I now have more questions that need answers. Some I have answers too while others need profound discussions and action.

This book is, however, not for those who do not want to seek truth; those who are already yawning in their comfort zone. This is a book for those not afraid to learn, question and provide solutions. Only the wise learn whenever they are corrected but the fool always argues and rejects correction.

The Big Conservation Lie begins with a broad outline of where it all begun. Way back when we had the colonial rule in Africa. Colonial power influenced who would be in charge of the country’s resources and even after the colonial rule ended, skin colour became a major qualification for one to have any influence. This is also where wildlife was downgraded and became a consumer good whose survival would depend on how much they contributed to land owners and users.

Fast forward to the present, where Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs) almost seem to rule the conservation world. Receiving donor funding has become the norm. An insurmountable number of projects have been done within communities living with wildlife from boreholes to schools. Yes, communities do somehow benefit especially since most are ‘said’ to live below the poverty line (which is this line?). However, my main issue here is using figures, unpleasant images and videos of the community and poached wildlife to seek money from donors. The community and wildlife have become a source of pity parties. Yes, we do need funds to operate and sustain wildlife for all humanity, but sometimes being negative is not the way to go. I am a passive optimist and do not agree with this approach geared towards getting funds and setting up protected areas – story for another day.

How the African culture is viewed, especially, in respect to environmental conservation has slowly been forgotten among different generations. This is of great concern, especially, for the future generation who may not be aware that their ancestors once lived freely with wild animals, sourced from wild plants and cherished the environment. We will therefore not be well able and motivated to protect the natural resources for the next generation just like our ancestors did. This reminds me of my grandfather who once mentioned how long time ago trees were not cut in acres the way they are cut today. A whole ceremony had to be done before that tree was put down. Just one tree, a whole ceremony! This has also been highlighted.

The issue of Africa’s resources being used by 1st world countries, more so, in the pharmaceutical and oil industry has been a well-known fact (for me though, I don’t know about you) and has been well highlighted. These among many other discussions have been well emphasised in the book.

We cannot change the outcomes of what has already happened over the years since the colonial period, as it is already done, but we can choose to seek solutions to the current difficulties. Where problems have been created, this is a good opportunity to seek for ideas and solutions and work on them diligently. This is an opportune moment to start a conversation on conservation in the country. A moment to reflect on what has been done and not begrudge what has been said in the book, but move beyond the fear of the known and the unknown outcomes of acting and speaking out. In general, lets us look for opportunities where everything and everyone strives to work for the good of conservation.

Well, I have already started a conversation with some people on The Big conservation Lie, even though some haven’t read the book but resonate with what has been stated within. I have asked questions which have led to good discussions. To my surprise, most are aware of what has been happening but are not in a position to make changes or speak out. This leaves me with this other question, who then is left to discuss this issues openly? If John Mbaria and Mordecai Ogada, the authors of the book, were able to voice it out, so can anyone else.

Back to the discussions which I have been fortunate to have. Most do not understand why communities are chased or moved when they ‘trespass’ land that was previously community land but has now become a protected area. Where were these communities supposed to go? Were they given an option or were they marginalised and left to figure things out on their own while someone else benefits from the area without progress been seen in the same communities living around these reserves.

Some may reason that most people do not understand ‘how conservation works’. But maybe, we are all been ‘blinded’ by those in ‘control’. Like the point put across, one could argue that pastoralist communities, together with their livestock, used to coexist with wild animals. Why then are they moved? This then becomes irrelevant, to begin with.

I encourage, everyone, whether interested or not in conservation in Kenya and Africa in general, to read The Big Conservation Lie. It is not the full gospel, it could even be half-truths, but reading it will definitely open your mind to a different perspective on what is happening in the conservation world. Hopefully, another conversation will start and in the end a much bigger CONVERSATION on CONSERVATION.

“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” – Joan Didion

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Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui is a believer in all things beautiful. A believer in spreading information in regards to environmental awareness. A believer in sharing all that is good in Kenya's natural world. A believer in speaking truth with no boundaries. Do you have a story, photo, experience or message you need to share? Send your work to or


  1. Cera Moon says:

    I have not yet read this book… but it’s on my wish list. Thank you for this review. Truth be told, there’s a lot of sense that the book seems to make. Of late it has been evident that the conservation field is driven by money. I recently met someone I had always idolized in the conservation field and that’s where I realized that most of these heroes are overrated. And I thank the authors of this book for revealing some of these issues and speaking against the evils they have come across. Vicki, we need more bold people like this.

    • Vicki Wangui says:

      The Book is a must read for all. Their boldness motivates me and slowly I have begun to realise not all is rosy in conservation as I once thought.

      • Anthony says:

        Glad both of you realise the conservation issues that are raised in the book. But as the young generation of conservationist, what do we need to do? because if we don’t take care, all of us will go the ‘way of getting money’ to fulfil our personal dreams in the name of conservation. We need to draw a clear line between personal needs/achievements and promoting conservation efforts. Let us promote conservation efforts because we know how important conservation is and not for fame and money. I believe that conservation is the key to solving both social and economic challenges we have in our country, but we need to rethink the approach we use to promote conservation efforts. let as conserve our environment based on science/facts and not feeling.

        • Vicki Wangui says:

          True Anthony. Conservation should not be a money based affair. Facts should always be considered and the need to always seek funds by playing with people’s emotional needs should not be a priority. As a young conservationist, I believe we should not involve ourselves in conservation if the main goal is to increase the zero’s in our bank accounts.

  2. Wonderful review of a great and courageous book.

  3. Mordecai Ogada says:

    Thanks Vicki for the review. You have understood precisely what we were aiming at with this book. For those young people asking what they should do, first, you must SPEAK UP! If you can’t speak, don’t think that you can do anything – you won’t be brave enough. The Conservation sector is full of cowards who know all this stuff but cannot speak.

  4. Ambassador Wendy says:

    Hello all,

    The book has just been placed in my hands. However I want on the on start to join this conversation prior to reading the book. The title itself tells it all. I am from the Chuka community. For those who do not know this community, it hails from Mt. Kenya south east. We are laying claim to a stretch of 12 kms inwards, land which the British took and inserted in the Forest reserve. For 80 years the community has been fighting. For 80 years the community has been excluded.
    However, truth be told that for those 80 years the colonial government benefited from the hard wood trees to build the railway, something the community never did before….cutting trees enmass…..and after Independence the Forest department officials have been benefiting from illegal logging. A very well organized trade.
    The question is….who is better placed to protect the home of the animals? A world Heritage site….Fantastic. To the gain of whom?
    In a recent meeting in Europe a ”Conservationist” was shocked when I candidly indicated that the animals were not a product of export from Europe to Africa. That the people and the animals co-existed together. Outright the conversation changed and were quick to note the error and I was glad when the narrative immediately changed to the role that communitties play in conservation. The unreported role.
    Gains are high from ”conservation” and no wonder the communitties as Laikipia are reacting to such ”conservation”

    I will now read the book and will comment once done. I am a known voice for Future Genrations and there must be a paradigm shift in conservation at no better time than now.

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  8. […] you work for a white person. Yes, this has been clearly outlined following the conversation on the Big Conservation Lie. However, there is the realisation that most Kenyans only think of conservation as a white man’s […]

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