PoachingFacts rating: 4 of 5 stars
A deep and cerebral memoir, The Snow Leopard Project reveals the unique mixture of foreign policy, cooperation between agencies and NGOs, and a variety of front-line field work required for large conservation projects. The familiar yet startlingly diverse setting of Afghanistan is the backdrop for many of the interesting and amusing complications encountered by Alex Dehgan while working on the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Afghanistan Program.
Dehgan’s memoir of his time with the reversed, US-based WCS is interspersed with interesting, not always “fast-paced,” personal and historical anecdotes as well as background on his own experience working in the State Department among other interesting jobs. The Snow Leopard Project is also a fairly technical observation of the frustrations and challenges of wildlife conservation and humanitarian aid when mixed with international and regional politics. Dehgan offers poignant and humanizing insight into the workings of high-level conservation efforts coordinating with multinational agencies along with the logistics, leadership, funding, and security challenges faced by members of his team like many conservationists working in dangerous parts of the world. Through the context of setting up projects to support the conservation of indigenous snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep, and other endangered species of the region, he also speaks to the resilience of rural people and minority groups wronged by a succession of short-lived governments and Taliban rule. In doing so he makes it possible to empathize with their struggle and see the problems that they face as ones that can be overcome.
Although The Snow Leopard Project has fewer than 260 pages, it is dense reading that will be most accessible to academics, post-graduates seeking specific insight in the field of environmental conservation or humanitarian aid, and people who enjoy reading about politics. A somewhat dry narrative doesn’t make for the easiest reading, nor does it make the book an irresistible read. However the memoir provides a lot of insight into a field where there is no similar alternative; it also sheds light on the unfortunate bureaucracy that sometimes helps, sometimes hampers well-intentioned programs and is a struggle for small NGOs to overcome.