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

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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.
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Keywords: Africa; Nile crocodile; colonial exploration; human animal conflict; hunting; natural history; wildlife

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2016

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  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2018) of 0.800. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.918.
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