For years I have studied the animals of Africa, always intrigued with the amazing array of spots, stripes, horns and tusks. And, I am not alone. Along with studying the animals, one must also study those that have made efforts to protect those wild creatures and the wild habitat in which they exist. The conservationists, game wardens and rangers, filmmakers and photographers share that passion with me.
When I created Safari Studio Adventures, I knew I wanted to educate others on the lives of these wonderfully adventurous people. It seems that their stories, biographies and efforts have been lost in history. Over the years, I have collected the books, films and stories that record the lives of these daring pioneers. I pray that my efforts may enlighten others on the work done by these forerunners, excite and engage them in sharing the love and passion for the creation that is Africa.
One such conservationist was Joan Wells-Thorpe Root (pictured above). Joan was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1936, the daughter of a British banker turned coffee planter. Along with her husband, Alan Root, a very dedicated British-born filmmaker, she documented African wildlife on page and screen. Alan once was referred to as "the man who was eaten alive" by George Plimpton. And, rightly so, for Alan had been chomped in the calf by an angry hippopotamus, torn in the rear end by a leopard, bitten by a puff adder which caused him to lose an index finger and had his thigh ripped open by a mountain gorilla while filming Gorillas in the Mist, the 1988 movie about Dian Fossey. (It was actually Alan who had introduced Dian to gorillas in the first place decades before).
Joan and Alan followed the thundering herds of wildebeest across the Serengeti and recorded the migration in The Year of the Wildebeest. For one sequence of that movie they had used a hot air balloon which inspired a second film, Safari by Balloon. During which the couple made the first hot air balloon trip over Mt. Kilimanjaro. One of my earlier blogs noted that the first flight made over this mountain, the tallest in Africa, was accomplished by Martin and Osa Johnson in their Sikorsky planes years earlier.
The couple would continue making documentaries and winning awards until their divorce, completed in 1981. Alan would continue filmmaking, but, Joan would take up the conservation and activism effort. She chaired and funded an anti-poaching task force in the Lake Naivasha area. Locals were enraged with the strictly enforced fishing restrictions, with the arresting of fishermen and confiscation and burning of nets. Villagers considered fishing a communal and necessary resource for food.
On January 13, 2006, Joan was murdered, five days before her 70th birthday, at her home in Lake Naivasha by four men who came to her door carrying AK-47s. There were many suspects such as disgruntled former employees, criminal gangs, organized crime rackets, poachers, those whose economic interests were threatened by her activism and even task force members. The four men were arrested for her murder pleaded not guilty and were acquitted in 2007.
In March of 2017, Alan was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a most aggressive cancer that begins within the brain. He died on August 26, 2017 in Nanyuki, Kenya at the age of 80.