Ross Douthat -- a very perspicacious reader, obviously -- comments on the controversial work of Mark and Delia Owens, the two American conservationists, and authors of such works as "Cry of the Kalahari" and "Eye of the Elephant," I wrote about the other week in The New Yorker:

The whole story has a Conradian flavor, with the cause of environmentalism replacing the 19th century mission civilisatrice, and a hint of the Kurtzian, "exterminate all the brutes" spirit visible in the Owenses' attitude toward the native populations threatening their beloved animals....

But he goes on to express a qualified (well, highly-qualified) sort of sympathy for the Owenses, who spent ten years in Zambia's North Luangwa National Park:

"The poachers seemed to have all the advantages: Money, guns, tight connections to the locals, and the gangster-ish ability to cross the legal and moral lines that the conservationists tried to respect, at least at first. To the Owenses, it no doubt felt like they had become players in a Western -- Shane confronting the cattle barons, Gary Cooper taking on the Miller gang, Ransom Stoddard facing off against Liberty Valance. And we all know how those stories are supposed to end: With fundamentally-virtuous people doing what had to be done to tame a lawless country, and leaving the delicate ethical arguments about ends and means to the next generation.
This wasn't a movie, and Zambia wasn't their country. But if it's important to stand outside the Owenses' strange story and pass judgment, it's also important to step inside it and recognize how understandable every step they took probably felt, how easy it was to justify going to extremes, and how the fine the line can be between heroism and something much darker."

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