SI Vault
Horace S. Mazet
April 02, 1956
Is it doomed to extinction? Here is an on-the-spot report of game conditions on the last great hunting ground
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April 02, 1956

The Threat To Big Game In Africa

Is it doomed to extinction? Here is an on-the-spot report of game conditions on the last great hunting ground

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I stood under the hot, direct sun near Ikoma in the big game country of Tanganyika less than six months ago and listened to an assistant game warden tell our photographic safari that he feared for the future of his job. It was only a question of a few years, so he said, before all big game would be gone from the plains of East Africa.

It was a shocking disclosure, and difficult to believe. But what I learned there, and subsequently elsewhere, indicates that a disaster is overtaking wild life in central Africa, and that unless something is done immediately to check it, big game will vanish just as completely and thoroughly as the bison have disappeared from our own western plains. And this within a space of perhaps ten years!

For months during the past summer and fall I interviewed experts in various parts of Equatorial Africa. There is no encouragement in their statements for sportsmen and lovers of wild life. The situation is compounded of governmental apathy, insufficient staffing and financing of game departments, ineffectual, penalties assessed on convicted game poachers, unwise use of grazing lands, indifference to despoliation of cover with resultant erosion, growing encroachments of civilization and agriculture, and politics.

Legal hunting by sportsmen from all over the world on big-game safaris is a relatively insignificant factor. However, because such hunting is an important source of revenue to Kenya and Tanganyika, there is hope for some improvement in the present grim picture; wild life is the main attraction bringing tourists to East Africa. Tourists spend more than �3 million ($8.5 million) per year in Kenya alone, or more than the revenue derived from all exports except coffee and sisal. Big game hunting is glamorous-true; but in 1953 only 120 hunting licenses were issued in Kenya for the entire year.

" Africa without big game is about as fascinating as yesterday's cold dishwater," said famed White Hunter Harry Selby to me not long ago, and I agree. There is agitation to save the game, but little action. I have just returned from more than seven months in Africa filming authentic wildlife backgrounds and traveling on safari 11,000 miles. Without big game, Equatorial Africa will draw as many sportsmen and photographers as most parts of South Africa—almost none—because wild life there has been ruthlessly exterminated.

The Chief Game Warden of Kenya spent two hours explaining the dire necessity of establishing adequate national parks and adjacent reserves so that game will have some place to go. It is now being driven into the hinterland and there destroyed.

"If the game once vanishes, it never comes back," said Donald Ker of Nairobi, veteran safari white hunter of 27 years' experience. "Parks, adequately staffed, must be a big part of the program or we shall never put an end to the frightful poaching. Game is now on the way to total extinction in British East Africa. It isn't the hunters from overseas. It's policy—and the people themselves. Why, in one native camp not long ago I found and confiscated 400 severed wildebeest tails gathered by poachers to be sold as fly whisks. The animals, of course, had been left to die for the lions and hyenas of Tanganyika." I asked him how long it would take, at the present rate, for big game to disappear. He replied, "Ten years at the most—perhaps five."

Syd Downey, honorary game warden, veteran white hunter and member of the firm of Ker & Downey, Ltd., told me, " Africa is the last stand of big game in the world.

" Kenya's game areas are being reduced partly by the inevitable advance of civilization and by hunting, but principally by the African with his vast herds of stock. I'm speaking about overgrazing, which forces the game which has always lived there to retreat in search of its requirements elsewhere.

"You hear people say, 'The game must look after itself.' This ridiculous statement is proof that those who make it are unaware that nature alone can decide how many head of various types of animals can live in a specified area. If more than the ecological maximum are forced into this area by having nowhere else to go, it will be to the detriment of all, with the obvious result—the disappearance of game.

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