National Geographic : 1950 Mar
Roaming Africa's Unfenced Zoos BY W. ROBERT MOORE T HE DRIVER of an approaching car jerked his thumb backward like a hitch hiker and slowed down. We held up two fingers. "There's a pride of nine lions a mile down the road; they've made a kill," he shouted as we drew abreast. "Thanks. We just saw two leopards on the left by-pass 300 yards back," we replied. Having thus exchanged information, we accelerated again. A herd of fifty impalas and several shy kudus moved toward the near-by river to drink. A family of monkeys scampered through the bushes. At the moment we gave them scant attention, but drove to the spot where the lions were snarling over a zebra kill and noisily crunching its bones. Vultures wheeled overhead anticipating leftover mor sels. In Kruger National Park This was my introduction one morning to African wild game. We had driven from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park, in the northeast corner of the Union of South Africa. All about us, as we threaded the bush trails, was a veritable alphabet book of beasts and birds. Ranging from antelopes to zebras, our list included baboons, cheetahs, crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, hippos, inyalas, leopards, tsessebes. Here also were weird wildebeests (those crossword-puzzle gnus!), duikers, klipspring ers, stalking secretary birds, and ugly wart hogs. And lions-we counted 65 in two days!* This was no fenced-in zoo, but a vast wild life domain of roughly 5,000,000 acres where the animals wander at will and fight their own battles unhampered by man. We in our cars were the ones that were "caged"; the animals are free. Thanks to "Oom Paul" Kruger, president of the onetime Boer Republic of Transvaal, and other kindred-minded persons who set apart this and several smaller reserves in the Union, South Africa still has a striking sample of the wildlife that roamed the land before man came to dig gold, hunt diamonds, culti vate farms, and build cities. The satirist, Jonathan Swift, once taunted map makers with the verse: So geographers, in Afric maps, With savage pictures fill their gaps, And o'er unhabitable downs Place elephants for want of towns. As you travel through the Rhodesias, Tan ganyika, Kenya, Uganda, French Equatorial Africa, the Belgian Congo, or elsewhere on the continent, you wonder if those old map pictures weren't appropriate after all. Africa has its unhabitable downs (tracts of open uplands) and its elephants, plus a fabu lous variety of other animals. No other con tinent possesses such abundant wildlife. But here, as in other parts of the world, game is retreating before man's quest for land. Fortunately, as the demand for farms and pastures expands, most countries and colonies are making provision to preserve at least a portion of their rich heritage of wildlife, par ticularly species threatened with extinction. Scattered over the face of Africa today are well over 100 game reserves of one type or another. Among the best known are Kruger National Park in South Africa and Parc Na tional Albert in the Belgian Congo. Natives Protest Game Protection In many places African natives fail to ap preciate the preservation of game. They see no reason why they should not kill animals when and where they please. "Those Government cattle," growled one old chief who lives beside one such reserve. "They eat our crops, yet the Government protects them!" While the destruction of game in Africa is nowhere so wanton as was the slaughter of bison in our West, there is a striking similarity between Buffalo Bill's shooting of buffaloes to supply meat for railway construction gangs and the acknowledged slaughter in the Bel gian Congo of 60,000 elephants annually, mainly to provide food for native workers in the mines. Elephants, biggest of all land mammals, range over a sizable portion of the continent.t In places such as South Africa where they once were plentiful, their numbers now can be counted in scores or a few hundred at most. But from the Rhodesias northward there are thousands. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Wings Over Nature's Zoo in Africa," 20 ills. in duo tone, October, 1939; "When a Drought Blights Africa," by A. T. Curle, April, 1929; "Wild Man and Wild Beast in Africa," by Theodore Roosevelt, January, 1911. T See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Nature's Most Amazing Mammal (Elephants)," by Edmund Heller, June, 1934; and "Elephant Hunting in Equatorial Africa with Rifle and Camera," by Carl E. Akeley, August, 1912.