Hunting safari useful information

History of hunting in Africa

The ‘discovery’ by Europeans of large parts of the African continent was very much driven by the desire to hunt the great beasts of the interior. It is a sorry tale whose previously adventurous exploits now generally repulse a modern audience. But you cannot hope to understand modern day hunting without this context.

When the Cape Colony was founded in 1652, virtually the whole of Africa was rich in wildlife. In fact the settlers used to go on hunting expeditions south onto the Cape Peninsular to hunt elephant in the forests of Hout Bay. As traffic increased around the Cape, so the demand for agricultural produce increased and the settlers turned their attentions inland, establishing Stellenbosch in what is now the Cape Winelands in 1679. To get there was a serious expedition into uncharted game-rich territory, with wild lions and elephants posing a constant threat. Hard to believe these days as you speed along the A2 highway across the heavily urbanised Cape Flats.

Over the next century, as the settlers spread from the south into what is now South Africa, the wildlife was systematically decimated. The great springbok herds of the Karoo, which once contained herds of a million and more animals, were largely shot out by a wave of farmers and prospectors.

The ‘Great White Hunters’

Ahead of this wave rode a vanguard of what became known as ‘great white hunters’, whose company ranged from titled members of the aristocracy in search of thrills, to simple adventurers out to make their fortunes. These men expeditioned into the interior in search of the big game and it soon became not uncommon for a man to have single handedly killed over 1000 elephants. The products of these massacres, various choice bits of animal, were portered back to the coast and shipped off, largely to adorn the fine houses of Europe or be worn by the fine ladies of the day.

It does have to be remembered that back then the resources of the world were considered to be infinite and there to be tamed and plundered in any way which man saw fit.

As the slaughter continued, the thought that it might be unsustainable was held back by the commonly held concept of a ‘dark interior’, an Africa so apparently vast and unexplored that most of it continued to elude the cartographers of the day. But unsustainable it most definitely was and as the hunters returned to the killing grounds, each year they were forced to push on further and seek out new territories. No surprise therefore that it was the hunters themselves who made the first small noises about conservation and quotas.

The Roosevelt Massacre

But the era of the great hunting safari was still to come. In 1909 American president Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Kenya for the first of a sequence of safaris that was to capture the world’s imagination. He travelled in lavish style, with hundreds of porters carrying an enormous and comfortable camp out into the bush, where he stayed for weeks on end, shooting an enormous amount of wildlife. It is a reassuring sign of how far we have come as a species that the murderous achievements of this man and others like him now appall most people, but back then the world was mighty impressed. The fashion for safari was firmly established.

The period from 1910 to 1935 was the boom period for the hunting safari. In Kenya the British authorities encouraged their aristocracy to colonise by tempting them with “a winter of big game hunting in Africa on your own private estate”. The game was absolutely decimated. In Tanzania adventurers would drive out to the Serengeti and shoot 20 or 30 lions over the course of a week. There were very few controls and virtually no monitoring of resources.

The first steps to proper conservation

It was during this period that we meet the first real signs of conservation. In South Africa the first national park, Kruger, was established in 1926, whilst at the same time in East Africa controls over land use started to come into effect.

After the Second World War the landed aristocracy in Europe and America was a little less able to afford such lavish expeditions and the appetite for killing had perhaps subsided a little. By now the pressure on resources had become obvious and the move was towards the establishment of national parks and other conservation areas, led by the Serengeti in 1948.

By the time independence came to most African countries during the 1960’s, most had an established network of conservation areas and a system of monitoring and control of hunting.

The rise of photographic safari

But the great innovation of this period was the popularisation of photographic safaris. At first the idea of heading out into the bush and not shooting animals seemed quite bizarre and it certainly took the commercial hunters a good deal of time to get their heads around the idea. The facilitating factors were the proliferation of lower cost air travel and the easy availability of decent camera equipment.

But the main inspiration was the film Born Free in 1966. It would be difficult to overstate the impact of this movie, it real did inspire a generation to become interested in African wildlife.

Another major source of inspiration since that time has been the advent of the wildlife documentary on television, which has caused so many people to take an interest in wildlife in Africa ever since.

The death of hunting

In the half century since the advent of the photographic safari, its popularity has grown consistently, to the extent that it now generates significantly higher revenues than hunting in most areas.

At the same time there has been a rising tide of opinion against the morality of hunting. In most socially advanced societies hunting large animals for pleasure is generally considered to be abhorrent. The majority of trophy hunters these days tend to come from emerging economies in Eastern Europe, Arabia, Asia and South America, although the industry is still heavily dependent upon business from North America, most notably those states where there are relatively low population densities and murdering rare animals for fun is still considered an acceptable leisure activity.

Whilst the general trend continues to be a conversion from hunting to photographic safari, it is probably safe to say that there will always be people out there who feel that killing wild animals enhances their personal prestige and are willing to pay to make it happen.

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