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Major P.J. Pretorius and the decimation of the Addo elephant herd in 1919-1920: important reassessments

DOI: 10.4102/koedoe.v36i2.372

Keywords: African elephant , Loxodonta africana , conservation , hunting , arid savanna , culling , ivory trade

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Abstract:

Between June 1919 and August 1920, the largest population of elephants in South Africa at the time was reduced from about 130 to 16 individuals by one man. Major P. J. Pretorius. Conflict between farmers and the elephants over dwindling water resources, coupled with the threat that the elephants posed to the future agricultural development of the region, precipitated the Provincial Administration's extermination order. Major Pretorius' figure of "120-odd" elephants killed during the year is reasonably accurate and the fate of the animal products is traced. Most of the skins were processed, by Pretorius himself, to make whips. A few specimens can be traced to local and overseas museums. Because records of the sex and age of animals killed by Major Pretorius have either been lost or were never detailed, reconstruction of the Addo elephant herd before the decimation, is difficult. Finally, details of the alleged public debate are discussed. It is concluded that it was probably a handful of individuals that convinced the Provincial Administration to spare 16 animals. The Rev J.R.L. Kingon as well as Major Pretorius himself are two key figures in the debate. There is little evidence to confirm the view that a public outcry, in the modem sense of the word, stopped the killing. Six photographs are included as an appendix. They show Major Pretorius at work in the Addo Bush.

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