South African Journal of Science
Print version ISSN 0038-2353
Written historical records are widely used to estimate the previous distributions of the larger mammals in southern Africa. However, such records have some limitations and the use of those older than 100 years has been questioned. Written historical records, from the broader Eastern Cape, South Africa, were investigated to examine this contention critically. They were classified according to record quality (acceptability of identification and precision of locality) and analysed according to two levels: 'all' species and 'noticeable' versus 'non-noticeable' species. Records that comprise acceptable identification and precise locality information are the most suitable for mapping historical distributions; they form 33% of the records for the 27 mammal species analysed. A further 49% of the records have acceptable identification but imprecise locality information; they can fulfil a useful function when supported by records where both parameters are of good quality. Thus, the majority (82%) of written historical records from the study area are useful for compiling historical distribution maps and the quality of these records is consistent back to 1750 for this data set. The number and quality of written historical records varies between species. Historical distribution data should be evaluated for reliability (quality) and degree of usefulness, rather than simply discarded a priori.
Keywords : mammals; historical distribution; written records; record reliability; translocation policy; South Africa.