Preventing plague, bringing balance: wildlife protection as public health in the interwar Union of South Africa

Jules Skotnes-Brown*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

This article proposes a new line of enquiry in the history of animal conservation by suggesting that African wildlife protection was a form of public health in the early twentieth century. Through examining the activities of South African epidemiologists, politicians, bureaucrats, farmers, and zoologists in the 1920s and 1930s, the author argues that wildlife was integrated into epidemiological strategies and agricultural modes of production. Against the backdrop of a series of plague outbreaks, carnivora once deemed “vermin” were legally protected as sources of human health and agricultural wealth. As public health, food security, and carnivore populations were imbricated, the categorical boundaries between human and animal health also began to blur. Ultimately, this case suggests the need to bridge environmental and medical history and to broaden the history of environment and health beyond canonical figures such as Rachel Carson. Paying attention to colonial “peripheries” and African thought is critical in understanding the origins of twentieth-century environmentalism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)464-496
JournalBulletin of the History of Medicine
Volume95
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2022

Keywords

  • Environmental health
  • Animal history
  • History of epidemiology
  • Bubonic plague
  • Economic zoology
  • Southern African history
  • Environmentalism
  • Wildlife protection

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