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Environment and History

The Entangled Relations of Humans and Nile Crocodiles in Africa, c.1840-1992

Simon Pooley

Environment and History 22 (2016): 421-454. doi: 10.3197/096734016X14661540219357

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The nature of European explorers' and hunters' perceptions of the wildlife they encountered during their travels, and how this shaped their responses to it, has been surprisingly little studied. This may in part be because of the wealth of primary material and the dearth of secondary sources. Animal studies has come of age in recent decades, with a focus on how humans have conceptualised and related to animals, but much of this new field concerns domesticated or captive animals and has tended towards philosophical, political and theoretical approaches. Yet there is much to be gained from a historical exploration of the abundant sources on Europeans' encounter with wildlife, notably during the height of colonial exploration and adventuring in Africa. This review focuses on the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) in Africa. Crocodiles had a major impact on European travellers, elicited extreme reactions and reveal an irrational difference in attitudes to large mammalian predators, as opposed to reptilian. The oft-repeated statement that Nile crocodiles kill more humans and are more hated than any other predator (or even, all other predators) in Africa is still current. The expansion of human settlement and activities into the habitats of crocodiles and increasing demands on water supplies is resulting in escalating conflicts and some experts regard crocodiles as a 'growing threat to rural livelihoods and development'. If these important apex predators of the continent's waterways are to be conserved, then a good place to start then a good place to start is with an exploration of the long history of human-crocodile interactions that have shaped expert and public perceptions of crocodiles.

KEYWORDS: Africa, wildlife, colonial exploration, hunting, natural history, human animal conflict, Nile crocodile

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