Conservation and Wildlife Management in South African National Parks 1930s–1960s

Journal of the History of Biology 41 (2):203-236 (2008)
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In recent decades conservation biology has achieved a high position among the sciences. This is certainly true of South Africa, a small country, but the third most biodiverse in the world. This article traces some aspects of the transformation of South African wildlife management during the 1930s to the 1960s from game reserves based on custodianship and the "balance of nature" into scientifically managed national parks with a philosophy of "command and control" or "management by intervention." In 1910 the four British colonies had formed the Union of South Africa, and by the 1920s there was wide acceptance of national parks, a development influenced by their success in the United States. It was not, however, until after the Second World War, that management of the expanding conservation estate altered from a rather unsystematic laissez faire variety, into more scientifically informed management practices with an efficient bureaucracy in charge. This was achieved by modifications in organizational structures and institutional cultures initiated by a change of government in 1948 which, this article argues, impacted in turn on wildlife management and shaped and professionalized many aspects of that field science. "Management by intervention" was the hallmark of South African wildlife and conservation biology from the 1960s until recently, when there have been shifts towards "adaptive resource management" in a period of further change in the country's politics.



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