BOOKS: Cats Of Africa

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:

Cats Of Africa by Luke Hunter
Photography by Gerald Hinde
Johns Hopkins U. Press (2715 N. Charles St., Baltimore,
MD 21218), 2006. 176 pages, hardcover. $39.95.

As well as the well-known lion, leopard,
and cheetah, and the less familiar but still
reasonably common caracal, serval and African
wildcat, Africa hosts the golden cat, jungle
cat, sand cat, and blackfooted cat. Cats of
Africa author Luke Hunter, a Wildlife
Conservation Society carnivore specialist,
covers them all–but his volume is not to be
confused with the distnguished Cats of Africa by
Anthony Hall-Martin and Paul Boseman, published
in 1998, now out of print.
We were surprised to read that “none of
the big cats purr.” This has been alleged by
others, but we have personal experience that
cheetahs purr, a loud deep purr sounding much
like a small motorbike. Lion expert Paul Hart,
of the Drakenstein Lion Park near Cape Town,
South Africa, advises that lionesses in heat
express themselves by what could be described as

Cats of Africa suffers from Hunter’s
effort to cover everything from taxonomy to
animal behavior to the pro-hunting arguments for
all 10 species of cat. Much of the detail he
presents may be of absorbing interest to
biologists, but means little to others, while
observations such as “Cheetah have a harder time
surviving in habitat where lions are present”
tend to belabor the obvious.
Hunter asserts that, “For considerable
parts of Africa the only realistic solution” to
habitat conservation “is hunting. There is no
doubt,” he claims, “that hunting makes a
substantial contribution to protecting African
wilderness. Concessions given to trophy hunting
comprise huge areas of many African countries,
and the revenue generated by the industry ensures
that governments do not consider those areas for
alternative uses like agriculture or cattle.”
This sweeping statement would not bear
serious analysis, even without the example of
seven years of government-promoted land invasions
in Zimbabwe, which have reduced countless former
hunting ranches to degraded pasture.
First, hunting is notoriously difficult
to police or supervise, with abuses widespread.
Hunting stunts wildlife by reversing natural
selection to take out the big and strong instead
of the sick and weak. Target species live in a
state of elevated stress. Hunting ranches offer a
fa├žade of wildlife habitat, but the habitat is
often extensively manipulated to build
concentrations of target species in accessible
Thus Hunters’ statement really amounts to
an argument that allowing hunters to terrorise
wildlife can be called conservation if the
activity keeps out cattle. But often hunting
ranch operators keep cattle as well.
Hunter refers with approval to the
Ju-Hoan project in Namibia, where a settled
Bushman community was given an opportunity to tap
into ecotourism. But Hunter fails to mention the
experiment failed dismally because the Bushmen
would not refrain from killing leopards, no
matter how much more money they made from
This is not a book for animal lovers.
–Chris Mercer
South Africa

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