The other focus at Mkomazi was the rhino. ‘I knew if Mkomazi was going to survive we had to get it out of the reserve status and into national park status, and we needed an iconic species to do that. I thought the rhino would obviously be the animal to do that.’ In 1989, when Fitzjohn arrived at Mkomazi, there were two dozen rhinos in Tanzania. A decade earlier, there’d been 10,000. While a 1970 count showed a rhino in every square mile at Mkomazi, with every female having a calf. ‘But when I arrived, there wasn’t a single rhino,’ says Fitzjohn grimly.
With the help of friends, he created a plan to buy rhinos from national parks and foreign zoos, creating highly-fenced sanctuaries, and guardian them day and night until the world regained its sanity and allowed rhinos to live.
As the operation grew to greater success, Fitzjohn and his wife founded an education project. They helped build 40 local schools, as well as creating their own secondary school. ‘If you’re going to survive, you’ve got to get your neighbours on the side,’ explains Fitzjohn pragmatically. ‘Education for their kids was what they wanted most so that’s what we did.’
‘I realised that what my job entailed wasn’t to carve out a piece of Africa for myself in someone else’s country and say look at me, I’m the king of the castle. My job was to train Tanzanians to do this job. Ultimately if these animals are to survive, they have to accept the responsibility and have the feelings to want to do it for themselves. I could not cling on to it forever. I had to pass it on.’