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The Full Circle Print E-mail
Reviewed by David Balston   
Thursday, 20 November 2008
by Dave Varty

The Full Circle by Dave Varty"Don't save the animals" is not the sort of advice you'd expect from a conservationist. But Dave Varty took it to heart and, in so doing, became one of the leading figures of conservation in southern Africa. The second half of the advice provides the clue: "save the land and the animals will return". This book tells us, in short readable chapters, Dave Varty's journey from young reluctant lion hunter to a convincing advocate for more space for wild creatures.

His journey was not straightforward. When he was 15 his father died, leaving his mother to manage their game lodge. All her advisors said “sell the property” but Dave and his older brother, John, had other ideas. They wanted to create a game reserve and they persuaded their mother to let them open Londolozi ( a Zulu word meaning “the protection of all living things”). Their initial attempts were not promising – a canoe trip down river coming face to face with a hippo for instance – but gradually they formulated their policy. Flying in the face of received opinion from the National Parks Board they argued vociferously for an ecological approach to wildlife management. Get the water table back and clear the bush (a role previously undertaken by elephants) and the land will recover enticing the animals back. A few months after starting this regime Dave Varty was rewarded by the sight of a leopard on their land. He knew he was on the right track.

The following years were very productive. The “Londolozi Experience” became internationally known and the Varty family developed a unique up-market wildlife resort. They had the ear of governments and were even visited by Nelson Mandela soon after his release from prison. Then Dave Varty became more ambitious and set up Conservation Corporation of Africa (CCAfrica) to export his wildlife conservation model. This involved seeking international finance and several chapters describe the ups and downs of his fundraising activities – including the critical part played by a spider-hunting wasp – but finance was finally secured and the new Phinda Reserve was opened. This in itself is a major story telling how land that had been ruined by inappropriate farming was made productive by careful ecological management.

As CCAfrica expanded its activities to other countries though Dave found himself becoming increasingly at odds with the business philosophy of his partners and he decided to return to his roots.  Thus the title “Full Circle”. Throughout the book Dave’s love of, and love by, his family shines through and he returns again and again to the roles they have played in the narrative of his life.

The book moves along at a comfortable pace, is well written and held my attention even when discussing international finance.  My only minor gripe is that the maps could have been reproduced in a larger  format. Nevertheless I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in how we humans can stop destroying our habitat and make space for wild creatures.

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