Hunting and Tsetse Fly Campaigns in Zululand

Hunting and Tsetse Fly Campaigns

Hunting and Tsetse Fly Campaigns in Zululand
Upon visiting any of the Game reserves in Zululand one might feel as if time has frozen for hundreds of years and that you may be experiencing an untouched environment, free from human disturbance for eons.

But it is not always the case; humans have had a remarkable impact on most of the areas we now deem as the last remaining natural environments. Either through invading these areas as livestock farmers or exploiting them for commercial purposes, most of our protected areas today have seen a history of disturbance and bloodshed before sense prevailed and protected areas where formed to conserve the last remaining species of big fauna leftover. So here we will shed some light on the human activities that had a huge impact on especially big game hunters during the late 19th and early 20th centuries here in Zululand.

Before the coming of the white settlers, the area that was to become the colony of Natal had a rich variety of animal species. The settlers killed the game in great numbers: for sport, for subsistence, for trade, and for museum specimens. In 1824 British hunter-traders arrived from the Cape at Port Natal to obtain ivory and animal skins for trading in the Cape. With firearms they were able to hunt the larger animals - hippopotamus, elephant and buffalo - very efficiently and on a grand scale.

The vast herds of game to be found in Zululand, as northern KwaZulu Natal was known, attracted hunters from all over the world.  The growing demand for animal skins and ivory in Europe meant that colonials in Natal could profit more from hunting than from farming.

Between 1845 and 1855, the export of game accounted for 25% of the colony’s exports. The most abundant exports were ivory, the hides and horns of buffalo and buck, ostrich feathers and specimens of animals for museums, much of it coming from what is now Northern KZN, beyond the Tugela River.

zululand hunting

The colony of Natal was plundered to such an extent that many species of animal disappeared. The last elephants in Natal and Zululand were seen in the 1860s. Great numbers of hippo were shot on Lake St Lucia. The last elephant shot in the St Lucia area is currently on display in the Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg.

By 1870, lion, hippo and rhino were no longer seen in Natal, and eland, hartebeest, ostrich, leopard, buffalo and hippo were increasingly rare. Colonial settlers exploited the natural resources with little understanding of existing indigenous resource management and land tenure systems. 

Those who survived the malaria and black-water fever made considerable fortunes from the sale of ivory and related products. Some extracts from hunting journals of the well-known hunters at that time such as George Shadwell noted 150 Elephants and 92 Hippopotami shot in one season, and John Dunn’s notes record that “the finest day I ever made was, one morning before 10 o’clock  - 23 seacows”. Some early hunters were appalled by the indiscriminate slaughter of game in Zululand and called for controlled hunting of at least some species, such as Elephant. Thereafter in the 1890’s the first game reserves, namely Pongola, Lake St. Lucia, Hluhluwe and iMfolozi were established in order to conserve the remaining animals.              

Hunting and Tsetse Fly Campaigns in Zululand

Even though game was now protected by hunting regulations and confined mostly to protected areas, challenges such as the Tsetse fly campaigns still saw large numbers of animals destroyed in the years to follow the establishment of game reserves. Tsetse flies carry the African trypanosomiases, deadly diseases that include sleeping sickness in people and nagana (from the Zulu word unakane) in cattle. Tsetse flies and trypanosomes are believed to have co-evolved some 35 million years ago, and have been transmitting trypanosomes to mammals ever since. Tsetse flies and game animals have long co-existed, thus most African wildlife species that become infected by the parasite show no ill effects, while domestic mammals such as cattle and horses, bred only 13 000 years ago, have not yet developed tolerance to trypanosome infections.

Prior to the twentieth century, people in Africa had largely adapted human settlement patterns and agricultural practices to the presence of tsetse. In Ethiopia for example, draft powered farming was restricted to the highland areas where the flies were absent whereas lowland areas where tsetse were present were more sparsely populated by people living a nomadic, less agriculturally intensive life.

In parts of southern Africa, however, colonial government in the last decades of the 19th century coincided with, or helped to cause the growth of tsetse fly belts and the spread of the cattle disease, nagana. The reasons for this are complex, and still not entirely clear. With hindsight, historians have suggested that the wars of conquest and resistance in Zululand and the recruitment of men into a migrant labor force that followed these wars forced the abandonment of much bush cleared for farming, leading to bush encroachment and the breakdown of indigenous control systems which had kept the tsetse fly at manageable levels. In Zululand the colonial government of the day at first did not associate the fly with the spread of nagana.

The vast herds of game to be found in Zululand, as northern KwaZulu Natal was known, attracted hunters from all over the world.  The growing demand for animal skins and ivory in Europe meant that colonials in Natal could profit more from hunting than from farming.

Between 1845 and 1855, the export of game accounted for 25% of the colony’s exports. The most abundant exports were ivory, the hides and horns of buffalo and buck, ostrich feathers and specimens of animals for museums, much of it coming from what is now Northern KZN, beyond the Tugela River.

zululand hunting

Zulu-speaking pastoralists thought that the disease was associated with wild grazing animals such as antelopes, buffalo and wildebeest but believed that these wild animals left a sickening residue of saliva on grass as they grazed that infected domestic animals. The relationship between domestic cattle, wild animals and the bloodsucking tsetse fly was debated at various levels within a society that had recently suffered great social upheaval and many changes in land use patterns. It was only by the second decade of the twentieth century that the mechanics of the spread of nagana were well understood, although control methods were still experimental and unsuccessful.

The new settler agriculturalists saw nagana as a serious block to the development of commercial agriculture in the area and demanded its elimination, by killing off or removing wild game from agricultural land. The Zulu-speaking pastoralists complained bitterly about nagana and its effect on the health of their cattle within their newly restricted range. The colonial government was under pressure from all sides to “deal with” nagana.

After the military conquest of Zululand the colonial government imposed spatial separation – reserves for the defeated people living in Zululand, reserves for wild animals – that had contradictory effects on the relationship between people, cattle, wild animals and tsetse fly.  Sir Charles Saunders, later Chief Magistrate and Civil Commissioner for Zululand, passed strict laws for the preservation of game in remote areas where wild animals could still be found in numbers. Strict measures for the preservation of game were introduced and enforced. At the same time sports hunters recognized the usefulness of game reserves for the preservation of prized species that were already threatened, such as the white rhinoceros.

By 1895 reserves for wild animals had been created in Zululand to separate wild animals from both commercial farmers and the newly dispossessed local pastoralists. With both “big game” hunting and hunting for the pot forbidden, the numbers of large game animals began to increase in Zululand, and there was a corresponding increase in tsetse flies and the spread of nagana among-st domestic cattle. Drastic action against nagana became an urgent necessity for the colonial government.

In 1894 Surgeon-Major Sir David Bruce arrived in the settlement of Ubombo near the land that was to become the uMkhuze Game Reserve in 1912. The Governor of Natal and Zululand, Sir Hely-Hutchinson, had invited Bruce to investigate the causes of nagana. From his research post at Ubombo Bruce reported that the whole of the Ubombo and Ingwavuma Districts were tsetse "fly belt" areas. Towards the end of 1894, by analyzing the blood of diseased animals, he had identified the tsetse fly as the carrier of nagana.  

The allocation of a third of Zululand for white settlement in 1906 worsened the nagana problem. Many of the new settlements were close to the new game reserves, and nagana continued to spread to domestic cattle. In 1921 the Union government appointed R.H. Harris to carry out further investigations into the tsetse fly problem. (Harris devised the famous Harris Fly Trap to capture tsetse flies and establish the areas of greatest tsetse intensity). Game reserves, particularly Umfolozi and uMkhuze, became central to experimentation in trypanosomiasis control. When farms in the uMkhuze area were allotted to white settlers in the late 1920 s, bush clearing and burning (the only measures thought to work against the tsetse fly) were intensified. The authorities of the day believed that if sufficient animals were destroyed the fly would be deprived of its host and nagana would disappear. A wholesale slaughter of wild animals began.

From 1929 through to 1931, 35 000 head of game were destroyed in Zululand, including 2 000 zebra and many inyala from uMkhuze. Critics of the campaign complained that this slaughter was unscientific and uncontrolled. It certainly failed to achieve its goal. A second major campaign involving the wholesale destruction of game was undertaken from March 1943 to February 1950 during which 38 552 animals were destroyed in the uMkhuze Reserve, adjoining Crown Lands and unoccupied farms close to Mkhuze. This figure included 6 726 blue wildebeest, 4 385 inyala, 17 060 impala and 7 436 grey duiker. Eighty rare Suni antelope were also shot, as well as 434 red bush duiker and two black rhino. These numbers were far greater than the total game population of the reserve estimated in a survey conducted in uMkhuze in October 1942. 

To avoid scattering the game and spreading the flies over a wider area, the method employed in these campaigns was to systematically destroy the game from the periphery of the reserve, moving inwards towards the center. The hunters were “game guards”, African employees of the game reserve, given guns for these duties.  All species of game were shot.

By 1945 laboratory tests had proved that the newly manufactured organochlorine pesticide DDT was effective against tsetse and other species of flies. uMkhuze was chosen for the first experimental aerial spraying because the flat terrain presented less danger to the pilots, who had to fly low over the control area in tight formation. Two more aerial spraying flights were carried out in August and September 1946. The number of flies caught in 230 Harris Fly Traps, used to gauge the success of aerial spraying, dropped from 22 007 in November 1945 to 3 705 in March 1946. By September 1946, 291 Harris traps caught only 405 flies. If the tsetse fly was not entirely eliminated, it had been established that it could be brought under control by the aerial spraying of DDT. When alarm grew at the discovery of high concentrations of DDT in animals which reached right up the food chain to human beings, more targeted techniques were developed, including pour-on formulations in which advanced organic pesticides were applied directly to the backs of cattle in tsetse areas.

Tsetse flies still occur in the area, although between 1955 and 1990, only sporadic cases of nagana occurred in KwaZulu Natal, mainly in dogs and horses that were resident in the thick coastal bush. During 1990, nagana in cattle reappeared in the Hluhluwe area. Affected cattle were treated and the dip material in communal dipping tanks was changed to Cyhalothrin, which is very effective against tsetse flies. The reason for this upsurge in nagana is unclear.

Conservationists oppose aerial spraying of insecticide to kill tsetse flies because such spraying also has significant effects on the abundance and community composition of non-target organisms, especially the pollinators on which the maintenance of biodiversity depends on.

The above sheds light on some of the turbulent history that existed between humans and animals dating back to more than a century, and some of the challenges that were faced by the far sighted conservationists of their time that fought for the conservation of species when the ‘culture’ of the time was set on destroying for the means of profit. We thank those who fought for the establishment of protected areas so we can share these amazing places with everyone visiting these Game reserves today. So why not visit St. Lucia and the surrounding areas of Zululand to come and experience and learn about the challenges modern day conservationists face and why it is so important that these special areas be preserved. Upon visiting any of these Game reserves, the raw beauty and serenity of these natural areas will answer the question of why it is important to conserve.

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