Primary Source Analysis: Report of the “Preservation of African Wild Animals” Treaty

In relation to my topic about Britain’s 19th century conservation policies in its African colonies I chose to analyze a news column published on August 4, 1900 in the journal Scientific American. The publication reported about the “Preservation of Wild Animals of Africa” treaty signed two months prior in May. This unprecedented international conservation treaty duly sparked interest far beyond the city of London where it was signed. Being a scientific journal, the editors were interested in the environmental implications of conservation on the ecological communities, notably the wildlife under governmental protection. As the publication describes, the imperial powers of Europe– Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the Republic of Congo — agreed on parameters to conserve wildlife within their African colonies.

The roughly 500 word column briefly overviews the treaty and its conditions, and in general supports its clauses. Specifically, it references the benefits these policies, such as the conservation quotas on certain animals, will bring to hunters. Inherent in this condition, is the treaty makers’ impetus to conserve, not out of forefront concern for the wildlife, but for the recreation of those hunting it. Though environmentalists did celebrate that this hopefully would repress the wanton slaughter of wildlife by poachers and reproachable hunters, as the publication writes: “By hunters who often shoot innocent, valuable animals in large quantities for mere sport” (67). Referenced numerous times is the advantage it will bring hunters who will, with these conservation policies, have more animals to hunt from.

The article provides extensive detail on what wildlife qualifies to be conserved as well as the licensure required to hunt said animals. These measures brought great harm to African subsistence hunters, who, according to historian Ray Bonner, were often denied permission and licensure to hunt (due to the costly expense and racial discrimination). Consequently, Africans just by hunting to sustain themselves were in violation of conservation policies and subject to punishment. Historian Martha Honey writes, “The colonialists’ premise was that Africans, left to their own devices, were wiping out the continent’s wildlife. But, by 1900, the record had already proved it was white interlopers, not the indegenous peoples, who were most swiftly and systematically killing off Africa’s wildlife” (223). European hunters didn’t depend on the animals they hunted for a food source, but for recreation.

As to how this relates to material we’ve discussed in class it recalls two examples. First, in general this treaty is similar to how foreign corporations extract resources for the sake of profit at the expense of degradining land which local people depend on using for subsistence (I think specifically of Shell oil company in context to degrading the Nigerian delta. Additionally, this theme recalls the Firestone Rubber Corporation and its land seizures in Liberia.

The complexity is that “trophy hunting”, or hunting for the sake of prestige and recreation, was a western practice and thus was foreign to Africans. Africans hunted for survival, ritual and cultural expressions, or self-defense; they did not purposefully travel on hunting tours. The article reports on the treaty banning effective indigenous hunting methods: “Nets and pitfalls for taking animals are not allowed” (67). These traditional practices were deemed illegal, and, writes Ray Bonner in At the Hand of Man, “Africans who shot wild animals for meat … or to protect their livestock became, ipso facto, poachers” . Again, there is an ignorance of this publication’s bias to this unsettling reality: that the policies would give them no benefit, only harm.

Historically, the treaty in nature is eerily similar to the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885. Partly due to the fact that the two conferences involved the same host of imperial parties with the intentions of dictating non-consensual colonial policies. The American journal’s article reveals no awareness of this major power imbalance inherent in the treaty’s nature. Environmental historian Roderick Neumann uses the phrase “conservation without representation” to describe this imbalance and imposed conservation style of management.

The use of studying this treaty towards understanding global environmental history is examining by what perspective we choose to approach our very study. First, a moral objective standard must be applied to hold European colonial powers accountable for non-consensually imposing conservation policies that neglected African traditional and rightful environmental habits and lifestyles. This would be in opposition to an environmentally determinist perspective, as will be explored.

Within the study of environmental history exists the perspective of the environmental determinist. These scholars, such as Jarden Diamond, argue that the behaviors of man (the degree to which they degrade or oppress) can be “determined” by their environmental advantages and disadvantages. Hence, Diamond’s famous book titled Guns, Germs, and Steel which explains why European nations were able to colonize Africa, primarily because of those three resources. What this perspective does not account for, in relation to the Treaty of 1900, were it to be taken, is what I would call moral accountability. By passing the treaty those leaders excluded the opinions of their African subjects and strengthened the powers of their colonists and encouraged their hunting recreation. This decision can not be solely contextualized and explained by the environment which gave them dominant advantages: these were amoral decisions guided by unethical principles.

Works Cited

Bonner, Ray, At the Hand of Man, pp. 39–41

Diamond, Jared M. “Guns, Germs, and Steel : the Fates of Human Societies”. New York :Norton, 2005

Neumann, Roderick, “Local Challenges to Global Agendas: Conservation, Economic Liberalization, and the Pastoralists’ Rights Movement in Tanzania” Antipode 27, no. 4 (October 1995): 364.

“THE PRESERVATION OF WILD ANIMALS OF AFRICA.” Scientific American 83, no. 5 (1900): 67–67.

The above source is the primary source I chose to analyze. It is from Jstor.



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Ryan Lynch

Ryan Lynch


Hello! I am Ryan Lynch. I have a few existential essays, analytical essays on The Tempest, poems, and vignettes. Enjoy.