Historical Incidence of Larger Mammals in the Free State

TitlHistorical Incidence Larger Mammmals in theFree State e: Historical incidence of the larger mammals in the Free State Province (South Africa) and Lesotho

Authors: André Boshoff and Graham Kerley.

Publisher: Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Date of publication: October 2013

Description: A4-size, hard cover, 480 pages of text (including 23 boxes), 5 tables, 55 figures, bibliography, index.


About the book

Prior to a progressive increase in their human populations, which commenced in the 1820s and 1830s, the Free State Province (one of the Republic of South Africa’s nine provinces) and its south-eastern neighbour, the Kingdom of Lesotho, incorporated a wide range of mammal habitats in a number of almost pristine wetland and terrestrial ecosystems. The latter were dominated by extensive grasslands, with lesser areas of savanna and karroid vegetation. These habitats in turn supported a remarkable array of medium- to large-sized mammals, including the large carnivores (such as the lion, the leopard, the spotted hyaena and the African wild dog) and the very large to smaller herbivores (such as the hippopotamus, the eland, the Burchell’s/plains zebra, the black wildebeest, the vaal rhebok and the steenbok).

Until now there has been no single repository for detailed information pertaining to the incidence of these animals, during the early historical period, in the territories in question. Given that many of them were exterminated, or underwent considerable declines in range and numbers, it is crucial to appreciate what occurred there historically, to enable the setting of policy to guide the reintroduction (where appropriate) and management of these species, on public and private land, today.

Using a diverse range of sources of information – notably the letters, diaries and journals of early, literate, travellers, explorers, missionaries, military personnel, hunters, traders and agri-pastoralists, supported by selected palaeontological, archaeological and museum records – this book attempts to establish the occurrence and estimate the distributions of 54 larger mammal species for the early historical period, i.e. from the 1820s (when the first written records were made) to the 1920s (before large-scale translocations of game animals were undertaken by landowners). All the known records are presented, by decade within each territory, in a series of independent species-specific accounts.  For those species for which the quantity and quality of the records is satisfactory, maps depicting the localities of qualifying written, historical records and supporting records are included. For each of the species covered, an ‘Overview’, which provides a brief interpretation of  the distributional information in the text and on the maps, is presented. Additional information is given in a series of Boxes.

To convey something of the life and times of the early chroniclers, and especially their interactions and experiences with the larger mammals that they encountered, the species texts contain numerous, verbatim, extracts from the original literature sources. In order to provide a human background, a brief summary of the picture – relating to the San, the Khoikhoi, the Bantu-speaking peoples (mainly of Tswana-Sotho origin) and the European visitors and colonists – during the early historical period is included.

The information in the book indicates that in the Free State Province, 16, or 17, larger mammal species were exterminated, five were nearly exterminated, and three, or four, underwent a marked reduction in range and/or numbers, during the early historical period defined above. In Lesotho, over the same period, 14, or 15, larger mammal species were exterminated and three, and perhaps five, species underwent a marked reduction in range and/or numbers.

The book also deals with a number of related topics, namely the potential, historical distribution of the larger herbivores in relation to bioregion, some interesting distribution patterns, changes in the status of the larger species since the early 1800s, and observations on movements and migrations of some of the larger ungulates. The very large numbers of herd-forming, plains-living, game species (notably the true quagga and the Burchell’s/plains zebra, the black wildebeest and the blue wildebeest, the blesbok and the springbok, and to a lesser extent the red hartebeest and the eland) indicate that the grassland-grazer ecosystem that once existed in the Free State Province and (mainly) western and south-western Lesotho was comparable to, and quite possibly eclipsed, that in similar habitat in East Africa, notably the Serengeti and Masai-Mara grasslands.

The information in this book will be of particular value to current and prospective game farmers and private nature/game reserve owners.

Information on the contents of the book, and how to obtain copies, is available at http://ace.nmmu.ac.za/home or by emailing ace@nmmu.ac.za or phoning 041 504 2316.