28 April 2007

Historic Wildlife Trade

The blog I posted the other night was pretty random. I got really geeky excited over a bunch of old weights and measurements with no explanation. So now I'll try to explain.

Ivory - Museu da História Natural (Maputo). The tip of the tusks is at least 70".

Two summers ago, I got a small research grant to travel to Portugal to collect archival data from the colonial archives about the historic wildlife trade in Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay). It was a way for me to look for data about historic plant use, Ronga culture, and landscape descriptions as well.

I found old customs records containing information about a wide range of plants and animals being exported out between 1845 and 1906. The records provided monetary values (in Reis), number of tusks, teeth, and horns, packaging sizes, and weights, but not in a form that I could understand. This made it difficult to calculate the potential sizes of animals killed for their ivory, skin, or horns.

White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) - Museu da História Natural (Maputo)

Why bother trying to figure out how animals were hunted or how big they were? Or how many trees were harvested? It all goes back to my questions about the African savanna landscape we see today has been shaped by human activities and decisions in the past.

Hippo skull - Museu da História Natural (Maputo). Hippo ivory was used for dentures in the nineteenth century.

I now have some real numbers to crunch. In July, I will be presenting my preliminary results at the Society for Conservation Biology meetings in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This makes me more than a little nervous (the talking part), but I am hoping for some good feedback so that I can polish up my "little project" into something worth publishing.

The following is my abstract for the presentation:

Wildlife Trade Exports from Delagoa Bay and Its Hinterland 1845-1906

While previous investigation of East African export records has focused on the social, political, and economic changes generated by the slave and ivory trade in this region, these same records could be used to document regional long-term ecological change. This study analyzes available export records for Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay, Mozambique) and its hinterland from 1845 to 1906 in order to understand the potential ecological impacts of historic natural resource extraction on this region. Types, amounts, and values of exported biological, non-agricultural resources were collected from the alfândega registers held at the Archivo Histórico Ultramarino in Lisbon, Portugal. Published accounts of nineteenth century explorers and travelers were used to identify unusual items and the extent of Delagoa Bay’s hinterland. Information on the ecological niche of identifiable exports was drawn from the literature to determine potential ecosystem impacts. Elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn, and hippopotamus teeth comprise the top three exports from 1845-1906. Other listed exports include pelts, skins, bones, and horn of various wild animals, sea turtle shells, cowry and conch shells, whale oil and ambergris, fresh and dried fish, specialized timbers (Diospyros kirkii, Spirostachys africana, Dalbergia melanoxylon), mangrove bark, rubber (Landolphia kirkii), and a lichen (Roccella montagnei).

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