• U.S.

Animals: Paradise Lost

5 minute read

Seventeen African animals, three birds and a plant were last fortnight put beyond reach of Man, as the articles of the International Convention for the Protection of the Fauna and Flora of Africa went into effect. Signed in 1933 by nine governments, still awaiting ratification by four (France, Portugal, Italy and Spain), the Convention was wangled by sporting Britain. Britain’s African territories, colonies and protectorates promptly ratified it, as did Belgium. Thus a new fauna and flora safety zone was created from Egypt to the Cape, along Africa’s “all-British backbone,” in the Belgian Congo, and the British west coast properties of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast. Most of the specified animals, however, are restricted to territories controlled by the four non-ratifiers.

The Convention sets up one of the world’s sternest, smartest and most thoroughgoing sets of game laws. It forbids hunting any game with bush fires, poison, dazzling lights, nets, pits, snares, set guns, bothering it with automobiles or airplanes, practically embargoes elephant and rhinoceros horn. Furthermore it patches all Africa with game reserves in which hunting will be wholly or partially prohibited. Besides the 21 beasts, birds and plants absolutely protected everywhere, the Convention listed another 22 that may be hunted only with special licenses that will be nearly impossible to get from local governments. These licenses will limit the bag to a specified number of a specified animal for a limited time in a limited area for a satisfactory reason, such as supplying an accredited museum or zoo.

Africa thus ceased to be the insatiable killer’s paradise. Said Britain’s Secretary of State for Air, Viscount Swinton: ”It is the man who has made the killing of animals and the getting of trophies his life’s profiteering work . . . whom we have got to meet.”

Despite the restrictions and prohibitions of the Convention, Africa still remains a decent sportsman’s paradise. Its “dark heart” had long since been opened by railways and excellent automobile roads. A man who has never shot anything bigger than a partridge may go from Manhattan to Nairobi in Kenya in five weeks. There on the cool plateau, he may dress every light for dinner. At the swank Avenue Hotel, he will find elevators, a manicurist, a good jazz band and a fine table. His safari, entirely organized for him by experts, will cost him about $2,000 a month per gun. His white hunter will take him where the game is, stand by with an express rifle in case he misses. His black boy will have a hot bath and a cold drink ready at the finish of a day’s hunting. The only things the sportsman is advised to bring to Africa with him are: dinner jacket, Springfield rifle & ammunition, alligator raincoat, chamois windbreaker. camel’s hair jacket, light polo coat for chilly evenings, camera & films, light, ankle-high walking boots.

The game he can still get with a full license includes three lions, leopard, cheetah, lynx, common hippopotamus, crocodile, hyena, wild dog, jackal, wart hog, badger, baboon, civet, buffalo, ordinary zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest, impala reedbuck, eland gazelle, the lesser kudu.

Of the Convention’s 21 proteges, many are amazing oddities, few are of great natural distinction or usefulness to man. On the Convention’s list:

The finest antelope in Africa, the Giant Sable, an animal with the lines of a thoroughbred horse, is nearly extinct. The Nyala, once abundant, the Mountain Nyala and the Barbary Stag, have been shot down to scattered survivors.

The one plant is the amazing welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis). The only member of its genus, it lives to be 100, grows a radish-like root four feet in diameter, puts out two trailing ten-foot leaves. It is found only in two remote little districts in Britain’s Southwest Africa.

The water chevrotain (Hyemoschus aquaticus) is Africa’s only example of the so-called “mouse-deer”‘ of Asia, a deer-legged, rabbit-sized water animal which swims or wades about for its food.

The aye-aye (Chiromys daubeutonia) is one type of the little, twerp-faced lemurs of France’s Madagascar, remarkable for the fact that the third finger on each hand is preternaturally long and slim for delicately picking up caterpillars.

Madagascar also produces the little fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), a very aggressive, weasel-like kind of civet, remarkable as the relict of another era.

The aard-wolf is a repulsive, hyena-like little animal which lives in colonies underground and is becoming extinct because, like the others above, it is not very good at avoiding collectors who want it for its rarity.

Equally ignoble as game is the gorilla, rapidly being killed off by frightened natives and photographers who have irritated bull gorillas to the point of charging. The gorilla was given absolute protection because it is naturally amiable, while the chimpanzee, which has acquired the habit of kidnapping native children and dropping them from trees, was relegated to the partially protected list.

The pygmy or Liberian hippopotamus, like its big, common brother, is amiable too unless it is a mother with young, wounded or just an old bull “rogue.” Only six or seven feet long, it has always been very rare and for that reason badly wanted by zoos. Unfortunately it lays itself open to shooting by doing a lot of cross-country rambling.

Close to extinction except in a Zululand preserve and along the Upper Nile is the white (actually grey) rhinoceros. Only elephants are bigger than this creature. As long as 15 ft., very fast, agile and ferocious when angry, its charge is usually impotent because of its poor eyesight. Connoisseurs call the meat delicious.

Oddest of all is the zebra-like okapi, a kind of short-necked giraffe so rare that it is usually caught only by native pygmies with pitfalls.

The remainder of the Convention’s 21 proteges: Abyssinian ibex. Northern hartebeest, wild ass, mountain zebra, whale-headed stork, bald-headed ibis, white-breasted guinea fowl and all elephants with tusks no heavier than five kilograms (11 lb.).

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com