History of Hunting

South Africa

Herodotus, the great historian of old, reports that in the year 700 BC, the Egyptian Pharao challenged those brilliant sailors, the Fenicians, to try and sail around the southern landmass on which Egypt was build (Africa).

A few boats, reports the historian, did depart from the Red Sea at the Arabian side of the continent that would later be called Africa. More than two years later, some of the ships sailed through the pillars of Herakles (Gibraltar, near Spain) to finish a most mysterious journey which is almost beyond believe. Their tales was just as unbelievable: they told untrustworthy stories of the sun which turned to the wrong side of the boat, of a wonderful green jungle beneath the dry Sahara desert, of this jungle being inhabited by dwarfs so who in his right mind could believe such fairytales?

So, because of disbelieve, it took man another 2200 years before the Portugese discoverer, Bartolomias Dias, also experienced the same incredible sun which turned to the wrong side of the boat (in 1488) when he sailed around the Cape. His boat however, was damaged so heavily in the waters of the "Cape of storms" that his sailor staff refused to finish the trip to India. On Christmas day, 1497, Vasco da Gama discovered Natal, sailed pass the whole of Southern Africa and became the first man to do what the Fenesians did 2209 years ago, according to the legend that Herodotus described.

In 1503, a man with the name of Saldanha, was the first to discover Table Bay and to report a climb to the top of Table mountain in the Cape Peninsula. This sight of the South African shores, fauna and flora have ever since took the breath of whomever went up that mountain after Saldanha.

In 1510, the Portugese crew which included their captain, D. Almeida, lost their lives in a fight with the Koi people at the shore of Table Bay. By 1600, the Xhosa migration to the south, have reached the Umtata river in the (now called) Eastern Cape. In 1652 the Dutch East Indian Company planted a outpost in the Cape under command of Jan van Riebeeck. They started to hunt big animals, but, as is recorded in Van Riebeeck's journal, only to protect people and crops. More and more people from Holland came to the Cape, and some of them turned from company employees to "Free Citizens" of the Cape and became full time farmers. This was helped by the arrival of the French Hugenote who fled their country after the Law of Nantes, that protected Protestants, was cancelled in France in 1685. Hunting naturally went with it.

In 1725, the Dutch East Indian Company send an expedition of 31 men under the leadership of Francois de Kuiper from the old Delagoa Bay to inspect possibilities for trade with the indigenous people. At Gomondwane, in the area which today is called the Kruger National Park (near Pretoriuskop), fighting occurred against the locals, which kept that area of abundant wildlife clear of any white people for another 100 years.

From the Cape's side, the white hunters, nomad farmers and, all the same, explorers, reached the Gariep River (Orange River) in 1760. It was crossed the first time by Jacobus Coets ©, possibly with the aim of hunting elephants!

Almost at the turn of the eighteenth century, the missionary movement from Europe and England also made an impact on Southern Africa when, at different places simultaneously, missionaries moved into some of the continent's biggest people groups. Dr. Livingstone was such a missionary who later did a lot of discoveries in Southern Africa as well.

Two of the biggest historical movements that permanently changed the scene in South Africa, was first the coming of the British settlers in 1820, and the inland movement of the Voortrekkers from 1838. Some of the British settlers didn't make it as farmers or tradesmen, and opted for the idea of professional hunting as a living. Improved rifles became available for hunting. One of them, John Thackwray, have killed lots of elephants in just a few years, and was killed himself by an elephant in the Fish River bush. They solely hunted for profit. And there were many of these hunters.

The Voortrekkers helped to safeguard movement of the white people in the midlands of the later Free State, parts of Natal and the later Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek by breaking the military might of the Zulus and Basotho people. For the first time, the inland plato's was open for fairly free and safe movement of people and cattle. This wasn't good news for the millions and millions of wild animals that was roaming the vast fields of South Africa, for it turned South Africa into the greatest game-hunting ground this world has ever seen. The Voortrekker farmers themselves wanted to cultivate crops and raise cattle. It suited them to shoot the wild animals that disturbed their farming ideals.

But by far the most devastating effect on the wild fauna of South Africa, came from hunting parties. Led by ruthless professional hunters, they came from the Cape or Natal to the seemingly endless masses of brilliant wildlife in the midlands of the country. One such a hunter was M.J. Koekemoer who, in the middle of the nineteenth century, shot 108 lions in just one single year! There was various herds of antelope, each well over a million, available on the beautiful open grasslands.And the hunters caused havoc, shooting for the pleasure of killing and this was the case for 60 to 80 years. They shot the majestic Cape Lion, Blue Buck and Quagga to total extinction. Some of their guests included the royal houses of more than one country. One such hunting party (at the end of the nineteenth century by the prince of Whales), caused the death of an totally unbelievable number of animals. At the infancy period of the British occupation of Natal, the British lived by hunting and trading in big game. Ivory, ostrich feathers, hides, skins, trophies or exceptional horns, and animal specimens of any rare quality, in fact any exceptional or strange natural object, filled many a hunter's purse, and then the middle man, then the VIP's dining room or the museum's chamber.

The discovery of gold and diamonds in the midlands of the country during the second half of the nineteenth century didn't help either. By 1869, the time of the discovery of gold in the district of Lydenburg (and also Baberton), the wildlife in the Plato regions of South Africa had already been given a severe blow. But suddenly, people were flocking to the Lowveld regions which, because of the heat and malaria, had been ignored until then. The abundance of wildlife once again seemed unending. The wonderful winter weather came to be well known and farmers started to take their cattle to the region during winter times. And: again, the hunting parties came in and started shooting almost indiscriminately.

It was in this circumstances of declining game numbers, that the famous pres. S.P.J. (Paul) Kruger proposed in the parliament of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek in 1884 that a wild animal reserve should be erected to save the wild from extinction. This was only done 14 years later, on 26 March 1898that the proclamation was made.

But the worst period for the game in South Africa was yet to come.The last straw in the South African game destruction history came with the devastating Anglo-Boer War which raged from 1899 to 1902. The British scorched earth war policy ruined the wildlife to such an extend that the midlands of this country totally lost all its game. What was left, was driven to the most densely bush and border areas.

The plans that Kruger started gracefully survived, and in 1903 the Sabi- and Shingwedzi Reserve was formed as a conservation area of 4600 square kilometer. But only after the Law on National Parks was passed on 31 May 1926, did the tide again turned in favor of the conservation of the wildlife in South Africa. Since then, millions of square km was added to Nature Parks in this country, but it was done mostly with state funding.

At that time, professional hunting was no longer done. Some people had the means to continue hunting, but only as a sporting game. This era was necessary, for it helped to restore some of the very low numbers of game. But it was also a dangerous time for the South African wildlife. There was no money in hunting anymore. Farmers thus all switched to cattle and crops to make a living and wild animals was seen as pests.

The movement that helped to turn the tide once and for all, was the introduction of legitimized tourists-hunting. This was the single most important economic safeguard for the protection of wildlife this country has ever seen, because since the farmers realized that it was an economical option to host hunters and Eco-tourist, the money for conservation became available via the introduction of new Game Parks, the well managed buying and selling of game, the erection of a tourist infrastructure and the professional conservation strategy to meet nature's own demands.

Now, the farmers good knowledge of rifles, the game and the bush became useful to zoological investigation and geographical study, while many a black citizen's extensive field knowledge, gathered over generations, and his craftsmanship, could come to use in favour of conservational purposes, for tourism and to preserve the age-old art of tracking a spoor and hunting in a positive, synergistic way.

Today the number of free living game in South Africa is well on its way to equal some of those astounding figures that our own fathers and grandfathers never experienced, but was reported by their grandfathers!