SI Vault
Robert F. Jones
September 05, 1983
Heroic efforts to create one of Africa's newest game parks, Boma in Sudan, a land replete with kob and zebras (below), are beset by hellish difficulties
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September 05, 1983

Land Of Hope And Travail

Heroic efforts to create one of Africa's newest game parks, Boma in Sudan, a land replete with kob and zebras (below), are beset by hellish difficulties

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In addition to sleeping sickness, as the narcolepsy caused by trypanosomiasis is more popularly called, south Sudan can boast an array of tropical diseases that makes even Southeast Asia seem as wholesome as a Swiss sanatorium. In addition to such routine killers as pneumonia and tuberculosis, there are amoebic dysentery, bilharzia, giardiasis, hookworm, kala azar (Hindi for "black disease," for the color its victims turn), leprosy, meningitis, onchocerciasis (blinding worm), relapsing fever, typhoid and yaws. Now and then cholera sweeps through, but it does that everywhere in tropical Africa.

All these ghastly germs, of course, constitute a fearful gauntlet for any hunter, or poacher, heading into Boma. The new park's personnel have had to contend with malaria, septicemia, both vacillary and amoebic dysentery, anthrax (which killed four people there recently), bilharzia and Guinea worm, a parasite that snakes its 18-inch-length along just under the skin of human legs. There is also the tsetse fly, but the fly helps, too. It keeps out cattle, which, along with wire nooses and firearms, are death on wildlife, since cattle compete for grazing.

More than 20 years ago, Dr. Richard Faust, now vice-president of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, had chugged through the area in a Volkswagen micro-bus and found the kob and tiangs in their tens of thousands. Sudanese game officials feared that the vast herds of Boma had been wiped out by the civil war, the very end of which was a subtlety lost on the eternally warring tribesmen of the Boma country. In 1977 the Sudanese game department asked the society to check out the area and Faust hired Peter McClinton, a veteran game warden from the Northern Frontier District in Kenya, abutting Sudan, to conduct a wildlife survey in Boma. McClinton's safari showed the country to be "stiff with game," just as Faust remembered it, but the Kenyan could only guess at the total numbers. He drew lines on a map around 8,000 square miles of country that he estimated to be the kob's full migratory range. He was off by more than 5,000 square miles, as it proved, missing the wet-season areas that may eventually be included within the park boundaries.

Meanwhile, Sudanese officials were visiting Boma to meet with the local chiefs, pitching them on the advantages of a national park in the neighborhood: It would bring law and jobs to Boma for the first time in the region's history. "We had to have the support of the people living nearby," says Charles Acire, assistant director for wildlife management in southern Sudan. "We have to respect their cultural traditions."

The tribes of Boma, a polyglot lot, are the hunting-and-gathering Kichepo; the agricultural Anuak, who live along the rivers; the warlike Toposa and their Jiye relatives, who are seminomadic pastoralists; and the predominant Murle. The Murle are also a cattle people, but where the tsetse fly abounds cattle do not thrive, and the Boma Murle grow durra (sorghum), cassava, millet and maize—quite a comedown, in African terms, for a proud pastoral people—and have adapted to hunting for meat protein. Each year during the seasonal migration, the Murle stage a communal hunt, armed with spears, bows and whatever firearms they can muster. The kob are killed as they gallop through a gauntlet of hunters or while moving across rivers. This tradition, of course, presented a major problem to the game park planners.

"We've set aside areas where they can hunt outside the park," Acire continues. "And for now, until there's a better solution, we still allow a controlled amount of grazing and watering of cattle within the park." Where this has been tried elsewhere in Africa the "better solution" rarely arrives. All of which makes for very bad blood indeed in countries torn by tribalism.

Regardless of the potential problems, Sudan and the Frankfurt Zoological Society forged ahead, the Germans laying out four million deutsche marks (more than $1.5 million) and the Sudanese government providing staff to develop the park. McClinton had set up a tented base camp in the park's proposed core area while he was conducting his survey, but otherwise the country was raw, roadless, totally wild. Somebody had to go in there and make a park.

"We needed a man who could stay in the bush," said Faust, "who could build a base camp and a national park from nothing. He had to be an excellent pilot and not too old. He had to be healthy—Boma's rather difficult, you know." Faust found his man in Snyder, 39, a longhaired, mustachioed American who had finally settled down on the steep, icy slopes of Mount Kenya 10 years earlier and had developed into a crack mountaineer, aviator and game warden.

Born in Montpelier, Ohio, Snyder never dreamed he would end up one day amid the whooping hyenas and galloping herds of southern Sudan. He went to law school for two years in Minnesota, was married and divorced (he has an 18-year-old son), served as a legislative research aide for the Minnesota legislature. He climbed in the California Sierras and crewed on yachts off Baja—a typical, uncommitted young American of the '60s. Then in 1970 he set off for Papua, New Guinea, traveling the long way around via Africa. He got as far as Kenya and forgot about the South Seas. A keen mountaineer, Snyder created what was to become a world-renowned rescue team on 17,058-foot Mount Kenya, an area where climbers are often beset by altitude sickness.

Then in 1972 Snyder was appointed warden of Mount Kenya National Park, a 227-square-mile sprawl of up-and-down terrain that, with its sharply contrasting mix of habitats and impinging human populations, presented many of the same problems inherent in Boma. Saving wildlife as well as lost or altitude-sick mountaineers, he learned to fly a game department Super Cub with the agility of a raptor, climbing, banking, diving like a harrier hawk as he tried to "read" and anticipate the mountain's constantly changing wind patterns. Again it was good preparation for Boma, where treacherous "mountain waves"—air turbulence resulting from wind curling over mountains—behind the plateau above the new park's base camp can make even the most routine flying missions hair-raising.

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