In the 1800s, game was seen as a commodity, to be exploited for commercial gain. In the early 1900s, attitudes became more romantic, thanks to the writings of various game rangers and naturalists (including James Steven Hamilton himself).
The ideal of an untamed wilderness, left largely to its own devices, gained credence and the splendid isolation of the bush became an ideal to which some people aspired. This emotional response to nature grew stronger when the reserves were opened to tourism in the 1920s.
After the Sabi Game Reserve became the Kruger National Park in 1926, attitudes towards game conservation went through another metamorphosis. This time, it was the turn of enthusiastic amateurs on the National Parks Board who thought they could improve on nature, or at least give it a helping hand.
Their often ill-informed but well-intentioned ideas drove the warden crazy. These included: the introduction of alien animal species, such as the lechwe, springbok and blesbok, to make the wildlife more interesting; the importation of fruits and grasses from Kenya to bolster the park’s food supply; and Gustav Preller’s observation that the park didn’t have enough birds.
His solution: shoot all the jackals. In the background of this struggle over the management of the Kruger National Park were the scientists, intent on studying the wildlife from an academic perspective. They wanted to know the habits of each species, how many there were, what they ate, how they lived. James Stevenson-Hamilton, for his part, hated the scientists.
He felt that they stripped the wilderness of its wonder. He also associated them with the veterinarians of old, who reviled the game reserve as a vector for livestock diseases.By David Fleminger