Wednesday, December 11, 2013

African Wildlife for a German - Herero War Gaming Table

North Star Africa! Kudu (modified to create cows from bulls)
Having spent several years living in Namibia in the 1990s, and having made a career as a conservation professional, it is not really surprising that my interest in modelling the German - Herero War as authentically as possible on my gaming table extends to getting the scenic and terrain elements right, including wildlife.

It is tempting to sprinkle the board with clusters of the classic African game and predator species on offer from two excellent manufacturers - Foundry and North Star Africa - but even with a personal knowledge of the wildlife that these areas of Namibia support today, it would be a mistake to assume that those animals had the same ranges and populations in 1904.

Two significant factors need to be considered.  The first is the impact of extensive harvesting of wildlife resources that occurred after European traders arrived and firearms were introduced to the regional economy in the mid-19th century.  In Land Filled with Flies: A Political Economy of the Kalahari (1989); Edwin M. Wilmsen makes a compelling case that even the most remote areas of the Omaheke sandfeld were well integrated into regional trade networks that produced hides, ivory and ostrich feathers for both African and European markets. 

Ostriches in particular were valued by the Herero and Matabele for their white feathers and the beads made from egg shells, and  in Europe for their black feathers until that fashion faded in the 1880s and ostrich farming started in South Africa.  More than 300 elephants a year are thought to have been hunted in the 1870s and 1880s in the western Kalahari alone.  These two species would have been rare to nonexistent in the ephemeral Swakop River catchment where most of the engagements in the German-Herero war took place.  The range of Namibia's healthy elephant population today only extends to one battle site: Fort Namutoni in Ethosa National Park.  Rhino would also have been under extreme hunting pressure at this time and were not found on the Waterburg Plateau where southern white rhino have been established today.

The other major factor was the regional Rinderpest pandemic that decimated both cattle herds and even-toed ungulate wildlife species in the region between 1896 and 1897.  The Herero lost up to 90% of their vast herds, along with what one study calls "unquantifiable destruction in the vast, free-ranging populations of fully susceptible wildlife."  These included some species such as cape buffalo and hippopotamus that require perennial water-bodies and regions with more rainfall than these parts of southwest Africa provide, but also giraffe and many antelope species such as kudu that thrive in central Namibia today.  It is estimated that most of these populations crashed to levels that were too small to sustain the virous and may have taken many decades to recover.  The worldiwde eradication of Rinderpest was declared just two years ago.

Wargames Foundry Vultures
So what would have been left?  Certainly there were predators, though these would have been subject to hunting for reasons of stock theft as well as for hides.  The region has cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena today, and all of these are available from either Foundry or North Star.   Lions would have been rare indeed.  It would have been a good time to be a vulture, though, and Foundry has an excellent set with two of these birds that I recently acquired.

I have also purchased the baboons and intend to get the warthog sets made by NorthStar (from a great series of African animals formerly produced by the Honourable Lead Boilersuit Company), as both of these species would have been present in 1904 across this region.  There might still have been a few oryx (gemsbok) in the lower Swakop or Omaruru drainages around Klein Barmen or Liewenberg, and North Star makes these, along with kudu, wildebeest and giraffes though they would be very scarce.  There might have been Hartmann's Mountain Zebra in the lower Swakop as well, though today the range of this endangered species along Namibia's escarpment has been augmented by artificial water points.

North Star Africa! Warthog AA08
I have not found much from  manufacturers in 25mm or 28mm scale to represent some of the smaller ungulate wildlife such as steenbok, diuker, impala or springbok that would have been supported by this landscape before the Rinderpest outbreak and do well here today.  Irregular Miniatures does make a gazelle that could be painted as a Springbok, but that's about it.  Nor have I found any good storks or hornbills. 

Venturing out of this period into the realm of Fantasy offers other unusual options in 28mm, some of which will work for this period.  You can get a falcon, raven, vulture and hedgehog (along with a cat and a baby dragon ) in Reaper Miniatures "Familiar Pack VIII.

I can imagine  fashioning the nests of social weavers in my acacia trees, and constructing termite hills the color of clay.  That project, though will have to wait for another time.

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