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Modern Conservation and the History of Colonial Hunting and Tourism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2974 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Modern Conservation is directly descended from colonial hunting and tourism.

To be able to understand how early hunting and tourism came to become what we now know as modern conservation one must understand the early periods of romanticism and how they came to influence new attitudes towards nature and encourage conservation. Romanticism was/is an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. (Britannica, n.d.)

The English Romantic Period contained many descriptions and ideas of nature- this manifested to Northern America where famous writers also promoted scenic and aesthetic views of nature. All these authors discuss in varying degrees, the role of nature in acquiring meaningful insight into the human condition. (Sofi, 2013)

They recognized distinct categories of scenic nature and terms like “beautiful,” “picturesque,” and “sublime” were used to describe landscape types, all of which were anticipated to provoke uplifting—though differing—emotional responses in people. (Chapman, n.d.) This essay will cover how several prominent individuals who were both hunters and world travellers helped jump-start the conservation and formed one of the most known conservation agencies in the world.

Hunting is defined as “the pursuit of, and the capture or kill of, prey.” As such, hunting is a part of every animal’s life where they are either predators or prey. (Robinson, 1986)

Throughout prehistory and historical times, humans’ survival depended upon their ability to hunt successfully. Their ability to hunt contributed to their survival, but the hunt may have been as much a mythical and religious act. (Loveridge, et al., 2006) identifies three different types of hunters, based on motivation:

(i)                   subsistence hunters, who seek to acquire food and other useful products for themselves and their immediate families;

(ii)                 market or commercial hunters, who seek to acquire animal products to sell for profit; and

(iii)               recreational hunters, who enjoy the practice of hunting as a sport or leisure activity.

The 19th century was also the period where industrialization and democratisation. This changed the patterns of travel and tourisms significantly and prepared the path for mass tourism and an extensive tourism industry. Hunting and tourism would later play a huge impact to what conservation is today.

In Britain the nineteenth-century hunting cult had an extraordinary range of cultural manifestations. As the century progressed the hunting cult was transferred overseas (MacKenzie, 1988) (Southern/Eastern Africa and India), often searching for “genuine” wilderness which was still being highly emphasized by the European and American romantics. Across the world, in North America, the late 18th century, there was no such thing as ‘conservation ethic’, but rather a complete disregard for the future of wildlife resources that persisted into the nineteenth century. (Jim, et al., 2013) During those dark times, market hunters drove wildlife to near extinction apparently proving the validity of Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. (Hardin, 1968)

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Tourists in the form of hunters killed prodigiously and wrote best-selling books about their exploits. They combined two Victorian enthusiasms, for natural history and for shooting as sport. (Adams, 2004) Their trophies started to grace walls in illustrious Victorian houses, and their specimens the collections of public and private museums. The sale of ivory and other products provided a valuable subsidy for their expeditions, and sometimes substantial profits. (Adams, 2004)

The debate surrounding Darwin’s Origin of Species transformed insights regarding the human nature relationship. The image of humans as divinely created beings was replaced with the realisation (or possibility) of affinity with animals. (Jepson & Whittaker, 2002) Cruelty to animals was seen as disturbing, not only because of what it did to the victims, but also because of what it implied about human nature.

Hunters quickly recognised the destruction their sport could inflict on large mammal populations. The killing of animals lost economic and achieved ritual significance. The well-publicised wave of extinctions in the second half of the nineteenth century, including the sudden extinction or near-extinction of once abundant species, such as the Passenger Pigeon, the vast North American Bison herds (Jepson & Whittaker, 2002) and the visible game exhausted fields of South Africa in many ways became a wakeup call for naturalists. Sportsmen began to criticize the excessive destruction of animal stocks and argued for preservation measures to promote the survival of species and continued hunting for sport. By the end of the nineteenth century, concepts of nature as a robust preordained system of checks and balances had been replaced by the notion of delicate and intricate systems sensitive to human interference. (Jepson & Whittaker, 2002)

Africa often being referred to as the “lost Eden”, was the main target of the newfound conservation practices for the British. In a sense, conservation had existed when the Southern Cape was under Dutch colonisation where animals such as vermin and hippos were protected however, ideas on wildlife conservation in British colonial Africa were borrowed from the world of English aristocratic rural estates even as the institution died out in England. (Neumann, 1996 ) (Neumann, 1997)

Edward North Buxton (September 1840 – January 1924)

Early groups of organized hunters were instrumental in providing the political support to implement many of the laws that coalesced into the system of conservation we have today (Jim, et al., 2013) The central character in the first decades of the Society was Edward North Buxton. (Prendergast & Adams, 2003) By the late 1800’s he had already demonstrated commitment to conservation in the UK. Buxton was a hunter who held strongly that hunting ‘‘must not be done in such a way as to endanger the existence or seriously diminish the stock of game’’ he thought that it would be in the interest of “Real sportsmen” to keep some of the large mammals protected. Buxton argued that even if game preservation cost money, all necessary sacrifices had to be while there was still time. (Adams, 2004) In 1900, he called a conference with all the colonial African powers which included Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and France in London. (IUCN, 2004) This conference resulted in the initiation of the 1900 Convention for the Preservation of Animals, Birds and Fish in Africa and although it was never enforced, it signified history’s earliest agreement on nature conservation. The creation of the first successful conservation agency was in 1903 by a group of British naturalists and American statesmen in Africa. This agency was called Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire (SPWFE) and was a logical extension to Buxton’s views on wildlife preservation in Africa. (Prendergast & Adams, 2003)

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Many key founders of the famous hunters’ the organization the Shikar Club were SPWFE members. These included P.B. Van der Byl, Sir Alfred Pease, Lord Hindlip, F.C. Selous, and Abel Chapman who were widely known hunters and politicians. From the outset, the Society had to contend with allegations from certain groups that it was merely a sportsman-hunter’s lobby group. Sir Peter Scott (1978) points out that the Society was portrayed as composed of ‘‘penitent butchers’’ sportsmen who, having had their fill of hunting in their younger days, now wished to repent for past deeds by preserving game at the expense of others. (Prendergast & Adams, 2003) The Society pursued, rather uncomfortably, to balance an official ideology about the compatibility between properly conducted sport hunting and the preservation of large and a desire to portray itself as a scientific society.

Edward North Buxton built his model of preservation upon a belief that a share of the revenues from hunting licences could help pay for effective game protection by well-qualified staff. He argued that reserves could even create a profit (SPWFE, 1907)

Theodore Roosevelt Jr (October 1958 – January 1919)

On the opposite side of the globe was President Theodore Roosevelt born in 1858 in New York City, he was the son of Theodore Roosevelt Sr., a founder of the American Museum of Natural History; also playing a big part in what we now call modern conservation. Theodore was a passionate hunter, he loved the thrill of tracking and chasing game and the skill in marksmanship. Roosevelt’s path to importance in the cause of wildlife preservation began, strangely enough, with a retaliation he experienced at the 1885 publication of Hunting Trips of a Ranchman where he documented his hunting expeditions and recorded his kills.

Theodore Roosevelt organized the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887 by assembling some of the powerful and influential conservation-minded people of the day – many of them hunters. (Boone and Crockett Club, 2017)

The establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 was ground-breaking, however, the nation’s first national park existed in name only. Yellowstone’s borders, uses, and purposes were ill-defined or non-existent. Its wildlife and other resources were being plundered and there were plans to build a railroad to cross through the heart of the park. The Club worked diligently to secure Congressional legislation that added over four million acres to the Park, blocked the railroad, and established laws enforced by the U.S. Army to protect the park against poaching and timber extraction -among other things. (Boone and Crockett Club, 2017)

The club over decades continued to establish more national parks, 1900 Lacey Act named after a club member essentially brought the end to commercial hunting and hunting laws were officially kept in place. (Forest Legality Initiative, n.d.) Canada and Europe closely followed the examples of North America. As president later on, (1901 to 1909) Roosevelt also provided federal protection for almost 230 million acres of land. (Dray, 2018) He then appointed as the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service the visionary Gifford Pinchot, who shared his philosophy of natural resource conservation through sustainable use, and he convened four study commissions on conservation for policymakers and leading authorities to shape thought about the then-new field of conservation. (Theodore Roosevelt Association, n.d.)


What is now referred to as the wildlife conservation was created by travellers and hunters and arose out of the massive wildlife destruction in the nineteenth century (Sandlos, 2013). Hunters have been the cornerstone of this success from the beginning. Wildlife thrives whenever and wherever it is seen as valuable to human beings. (Geist, 2006) noted: with self-interests in wildlife, hunters become concerned, active spokesmen for and supporters of wildlife, and experience shows that wildlife will then flourish. Hunters did start from a more selfish place, where ideas of preservation were merely for the purpose of keeping the remaining animals in order to be able to exercise game further throughout the years. However, as the influence of Darwin was more understood, more of the population began to think of their actions and how what they really said about human nature. Naturalists, politicians and scientists began to take more initiative and two decades later much had been done already as compared to the previous century. The romantic era also influenced the love for nature throughout the 18th and 19th century and allowed the masses to fully appreciate wilderness. The Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire now known as FFI (Flora and Fauna International) further on helped establish Kruger National Park in 1926, and became a founding member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1948. The Boone and Crockett Club later had one of the most influential people as their members – Aldo Leopold for example, who developed the “land ethic” which was a call for responsibility to the world. These stepping stones were all influenced by colonial travellers and hunters.


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