In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conservation and Wildlife

  • Introduction
  • Dissertations and Theses
  • African Wildlife Management in Global Context

African Studies Conservation and Wildlife
Heidi G. Frontani
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0022


Conservation in Africa, as elsewhere, involves decisions about the allocation and use of resources, including scarce ones, and, as such, tends to be highly politicized. Many human activities have had a conservation effect while serving a different primary purpose. Respecting sacred areas can create “no-take” zones that form biologically diverse “islands” in time. Indeed, virtually all modern techniques for resource conservation, including wildlife conservation, such as zones of limited or no access, closed seasons, size restrictions, and limited off-take, have been in use for millennia. Pharaohs in ancient Egypt set aside lands as hunting preserves to protect diminishing wildlife populations, reducing lands available to common people. Similarly, colonizers, especially the British, set aside lands in Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for hunting. New ideas about wildlife management came with colonial rule and some species, namely large predators, were designated as “pests” or “vermin” and their populations greatly reduced to protect colonial ranchers and farmers. Indigenous hunting was often banned at the same time that settler communities were paid for their kills. Colonial land and labor policies changed people-environment relationships. Communities became more sedentary, easier to tax and police, by moving them to indigenous reserves or reservations. Communal and customary land rights were weakened or lost with the increasing privatization of land. Mass relocations had a twofold effect, namely, to free the most productive lands for use by white settlers and for game parks, and to create overcrowded indigenous areas with a ready supply of labor. Colonial interpretations of environmental change generally involved mismanagement on the part of Africans and a need for corrective conservation measures that were generally based on best practices for European lands and often did not result in environmental improvement. Conservation during colonial rule rarely included respecting ancestral grounds, but became associated with fines and imprisonment for hunting, forced relocations without adequate compensation, and the creation of no-take zones for the leisure activities of outsiders. Independent regimes continued top-down colonial conservation approaches into the 1980s before reevaluating the cost effectiveness of trying to protect resources from people. By the 1990s many countries were looking for more people-friendly approaches to resource and wildlife management that included community development and local participation. In the early 21st century, wildlife conservation challenges have focused on how to move beyond community management rhetoric to more genuine and meaningful involvement of local people.

General Resources and Reference Collections

Available resources are somewhat limited if one is looking for a brief general overview or sets of bibliographic sources to assist with understanding conservation and wildlife in Africa. The topic is complex and people’s relation to wildlife on the continent has varied considerably depending on the time period. Perhaps the best way to begin, other than taking a look at DeGeorges and Reilly 2008, a more than 3,570-page, seven-volume set on conservation and development in sub-Saharan Africa, is to consider the time frame, species, country, or region one is most interested in knowing more about. A search of bibliographic or other reference works (Africa South of the Sahara: Selected Internet Resources, Bederman 1974, Howell 1978) is one starting point, but key term searches in journals (see also Journals) may prove the fastest way to narrow in on relevant works. Reference works will range from reports from agencies that gather information on fish and wildlife and provide a broader context (such as from the Food and Agriculture Organization), to richly illustrated and multivolume guidebooks (see Brown, et al. 1982–2004) and others that can be helpful in the field (see also Biology, Ecology, and Guidebooks).

  • Africa South of the Sahara: Selected Internet Resources.

    A compilation of sources available on the Internet relating to Africa.

  • Bederman, Sanford Harold. Africa, a Bibliography of Geography and Related Disciplines: A Selected Listing of Recent Literature Published in the English Language. Atlanta: Publishing Services Division, School of Business Administration, Georgia State University, 1974.

    Previous editions were published under the title: A Bibliographic Aid to the Study of the Geography of Africa.

  • Brown, Leslie, Emil K. Urban, Kenneth B. Newman, Stuart Keith, and C. H. Fry. The Birds of Africa. 7 vols. New York: Academic Press, 1982–2004.

    Each volume contains encyclopedic text on hundreds of species complemented by detailed paintings and drawings. Full bibliographies, acoustic references, and indexes complete the authoritative, comprehensive series.

  • DeGeorges, Paul Andre, and Brian Kevin Reilly. A Critical Evaluation of Conservation and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. 7 vols. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2008.

    A big-picture look at conservation, development, human rights, and foreign policy in Africa, including the history of conservation initiatives and their impact on policy formulation into recent times. Foreword by R. J. Gutierrez.

  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ “State of the World’s . . .” publications include statistical information and overviews globally, by region, or by country, and can be a good starting point for researchers interested in placing Africa or particular African countries in a broader context in terms of deforestation, fisheries production, and other areas related to resource management or conservation.

  • Howell, John Bruce. Kenya: Subject Guide to Official Publications. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1978.

    Kenya has more written about its wildlife than most African countries and may serve as a useful starting point for the researcher not entirely sure in which area he or she would like to focus.

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