Snyder is building
a house on a cliff-side in another corner of the park. An avid hang-glider, he
spends his time off from Boma in the Ngong Hills near Nairobi, flying his kite.
He likes to think that once the cliff house is finished and things settle down,
he will unroll his glider and soar above the Boma herds. In her book Out of
Africa, Isak Dinesen wrote, "The wind runs straight against the Ngong
Hills, and the slopes of the hills would be the ideal place for setting up a
glider that would be lifted upward by the currents, over the mountaintop."
Snyder has proved her correct. Visiting one site in the south end of the park,
he clambered up a cliff and admired the view. "Look at us," he said.
"We're nowhere!" Describing a wide arc with his hand, he pointed out
the wet-season lands he wants to include in the park. Buffalo, oryx, eland,
roan, tiangs, Grant's gazelles and ostriches wandered the prehistoric landscape
below; and stretched across the southern horizon was the ancient Precambrian
spine of Kenya's Northern Frontier District, a place as desolate and devoid of
humans as Boma. The savanna was gold in the westering sun.
The new park has
had only 30 visitors since its official opening in 1979. All of them were hardy
adventurers in four-wheel-drive vehicles, carrying their own food, gas,
medicines, water and spare parts. All told, the year-round human population of
the Boma Plateau is about 6,000, Snyder estimates, most of them tribesmen.
Haspels lives with his wife and three children in the cool tropical forest on
the Boma Plateau overlooking the park. After the meat-getting kob hunt, Snyder
drove up to the Haspels' camp to exchange a haunch of kob for a load of bananas
though—and Snyder, with his long experience of Africa's capacity for instant
disruption, must have sensed it—everything was going too smoothly. Sooner or
later Sudan's endemic violence was bound to catch up with this wildlife
One morning in
late June, it happened. Aveling and Pscheidt awoke with rifle barrels staring
them in the eyes. "My initial reaction," Aveling said, "was that
they were game scouts who had got too much to drink—this sort of thing has
No such luck. The
dozen ill-clad gunmen were members of a fringe rebel group seeking independence
for black African southern Sudan from the Arab Muslim north. As a first step
they had decided to "liberate" the game park. And then only as an
In fact, the
rebels had been looking for a Sudanese Air Force MiG-19 fighter that had been
sent south from Khartoum to Juba to quell an army mutiny against President
Nimieri. But the MiG got lost, flew 200 miles off course and, before running
out of fuel, spotted Boma's tiny dirt strip. Remarkably, the pilot landed
safely. Snyder, ironically, was up in Khartoum at the time, fighting the
unending battle with the Sudanese bureaucracy, trying to get flying clearance
for his new plane. The MiG pilot prevailed upon Tear and Pscheidt to lengthen
the runway, and two weeks after the emergency landing, the MiG barely got
airborne and finally made it to Juba.
Three days later
the rebels came trekking in through the rain-sodden bush. Finding they'd just
missed their quarry, they instead rounded up the handful of whites in the
area—the Haspels family, Aveling and Pscheidt, a Dutch male nurse and two
air-group pilots, one American and the other Canadian, who had just flown in
with the monthly supply run. They threatened to shoot the hostages unless their
demands were met: nearly $100,000 in Sudanese pounds, shoes, shirts and
trousers for 150 men and an international broadcast airing their political
Then, in a hastily
conceived attempt to establish an independent state on the plateau, the rebels
ransacked and looted Snyder's base camp, smashing up half a million dollars'
worth of vehicles and road-building equipment, including the mighty Faun.
Everything was ruined, and the playful leopard had disappeared.
Sixteen days after
the takeover, when negotiations with the rebels failed, 130 loyal Sudanese
paratroopers swept into the area by helicopter and retook Boma. They killed 18
terrorists in the ensuing firefight and freed the hostages—all of them
miraculously unharmed. Snyder's intimate knowledge of the area played a major
part in the raid's success.
As for the park,
no one has gone back there on a permanent basis; there still are rebels in the
area. Haspels, who returned for a day, says he would like to continue his work,
but the umbrella organization for mission work in Sudan wants him to pull out.
It's too dicey, they say. Snyder has recommended to Dr. Faust that the park
project be trimmed down for now, concentrating on "game
wardening"—i.e., the protection of wildlife—rather than tourist
development. He plans to visit Boma periodically, to pay his game scouts and to
do his administrative work. Some observers predict a renewal of civil war in
Sudan, and with combat raging in Chad just to the west of the country, the
situation seems right for trouble-making. Others think the region can, in its
own bizarre way, hold together. Whatever the case, Snyder and Faust intend to
keep the project going.