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Man has become the dominant species now in Africa as well as on the rest of the planet. This truism would scarcely need statement were it not a development of the last halfcentury, of the last quarter-century and even of the last decade. In Africa many races, nations and communities of men exist within the whole range from hunter and food gatherer to the urban dweller sealed off from nature by pavement, plumbing and prophylaxis. The rate of change is accelerating to such an extent that one cannot keep up to date with Africa. The African peoples have suddenly become aware of ways of life not their own and are fired with ebullient enthusiasm about they do not quite know what: nationalism, in a world that must overcome the jejune irrationality of nationalism, and a desire to copy the West in a continent which might better realize its own innate dignity.
In the intoxication with technology, Africa south of the Sahara is seen as an area of fabulous potential merely awaiting the magical touch of modern technology. What could be more inevitable than the vision of the bush bulldozed into agricultural production, of the grassy plains carrying huge herds of the familiar domesticated animals? Of course, out of deference to conservation, it is agreed that the extraordinary assemblage of wildlife that still occupies the open country may be preserved as something of the past in a few national parks.
But conservation has come to be a subject of more than purely sentimental or academic interest. As a realm of scientific investigation called ecology, it has assumed urgent importance in the maintenance of the human habitat. The vast number of species and races of plants and animals defined and named by earlier naturalists have been recognized by the ecologist as living in mutual interdependence in characteristic associations and communities. Man has been able to become a member of most terrestrial biological communities. As a hunter and food gatherer he was in the nature of an indigenous animal. Where he exists in such conditions today, limited in numbers and in the power to aggregate, he continues as a species that lives by virtue of and within the environment. The arts of agriculture and pastoralism bring about direct modification of the environment in time and space. Subsequent limited independence of the environment, with technical advance, allows human aggregations of a permanent nature and that increasing complexity of organization which we call civilization. It is at those times especially, when he emerges as the dominant species in an environment, that man must take care not to make demands upon the community that may destroy his habitat.
Time and again in recent years disastrous experience has shown that the habitats afforded by Africa are brittle and susceptible to ruin. The monumental failure of the earth nut (peanut) project in Tanganyika—a megalomaniac pipe-dream advanced in ignorance of the plainest facts about African soils—is well known. There have been other failures. Where the vegetation of the great African plateau is replaced by crop plants, many soils either set rock-hard or erode. Within a few years after pastoralism is attempted, it is found that the vegetation becomes degraded, erosion sets in and carrying capacity declines.
The record supports one radical conclusion to which many students of African ecology have now been persuaded. It is their opinion—and the thesis of this article—that only under the natural communities of game animals can a high biological capture and turnover of solar energy be maintained. This conclusion calls for the management and cropping of game to produce the protein element in the food supply. The techniques and the economics of this proposal remain to be developed. But even the little that is known about the natural history of Africa argues that to exchange the wide spectrum of 20 to 30 hoofed animals, living in delicate adjustment to their habitat, for the narrowed spectrum of three ungulates exotic to Africa—cattle, sheep and goats—is to throw away a bountiful resource and a marvelous ordering of nature.