Being a game warden in Uganda has not been an easy task over the last decade. Simply staying alive has been hard enough under the scourge of Idi Amin and a myriad of tribal conflicts that followed the overthrow of the dictator three years ago.

Paul Ssali has survived a planned execution ordered by Amin, political ostracism and wars with poachers to become one of Africa's leading wildlife conservationists.

When he became a warden 10 years ago, he was a rarity--a black man in a field where whites had dominated. Before that, he was Uganda's first black professional hunter, a field so traditionally reserved for westerners that the men were usually referred to as "white hunters."

A man who does not waste words, Ssali, 39, is frank about the key role whites play in the international effort to save Africa's endangered animals.

"I've always gotten donations, but I would get more if I were white," he said.

He said he would like to see Africans play a bigger role, but that it will take a lengthy, expensive education program.

"We have so many rich Africans, but I've never heard of them giving anything," he said. "Instead, they expect you to poach and ask you to bring them a kob," a type of antelope.

He can be just as hard on whites, saying many "expatriates prefer Africans to be yes-men and not to challenge them."

Some simply come to Africa for the privileges granted expatriates, he said, adding: "If an expatriate is interested in conserving wildlife, he will be my friend. If not, I take him lightly."

Ssali apprenticed from 1970 to 1972 under the last British warden in the country, Iain Ross, a man famed for rigid discipline.

"In the beginning I found it difficult to deal with him," Ssali said. Their clashes and later friendship were the subject of a British television documentary that focused on the changing of the guard in Uganda.

Ssali said he soon realized that Ross "followed principles" while other wardens were "weak, allowing poachers and encroachment on their parks."

Ssali now acknowledges that some of his wardens regard him the same way he originally reacted to Ross.

"Some senior staff dreaded my arrival" in Queen Elizabeth National Park, he said.

He took over as warden in the southwestern Uganda park earlier this year, after previously serving as warden at the other two parks, Kidepo and Murchison Falls.

International wildlife experts acknowledge that there has been a noticeable decline in poaching in parks where he has been the warden. He is currently the only Ugandan warden licensed to fly and uses a Cessna 182, donated by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, in antipoaching activities.

He spoke with pride about running Murchison Falls on a shoestring during the chaotic last days of Amin's regime before he fled the dictator's execution squad. Even after the liberation he was politically suspect and was only brought back as a park warden this year.

He ticked off the problems faced by the parks: lack of money, fuel, transport, spare parts, even uniforms. Rangers have been known to go without pay for as long as five months.

With a touch of weariness in his voice, he said, "The problems never end. People should give credit to all the wardens in Uganda for having any animals around at all."