A Game Ranger’s Note Book 

Arthur (A.) Blayney Percival, (Whitefriar’s Press, Ltd., 1924, 372 pages.)
Reviewed by Ken Bailey


Arthur (A.) Blayney Percival (1875 – 1941) arrived in British East Africa in 1900 from Arabia, where he had been in charge of a British Museum expedition. A naturalist and ornithologist, he started as an Assistant Collector before being appointed Ranger of Game Preserves in 1901. In 1915, he was promoted to Chief Game Warden, a position he held until his retirement in 1923. A keen and passionate student of wildlife, A Game Ranger’s Note Book is an assemblage of his observations from his years in the field.


This is a fascinating and informative read from a time when game management and hunting regulations were first being codified in East Africa. Using personal anecdotes from his countless hours covering the vast area for which he was responsible, he describes in great detail his observations of the habits and behavior of a vast array of wildlife, along with his thoughts and advice for hunting them.


This book is divided into 25 chapters, 22 of them focussing on a specific species (a few chapters lump similar species) and is chock full of information about each species’ life history and how they interact with other animals and within the various habitats in the region. He dedicates seven full chapters to lions, a species of special interest at that time, both as a trophy for the growing safari industry, but also because of the increasing conflict between lions and people as the region underwent significant “development.” There were so many lions at the time that interactions were an almost daily occurrence for Percival, and this is reflected in the numerous and compelling experiences he relates. If you’re interested in learning about, or hunting, lions, these chapters alone make this book a worthwhile read.


Other species Percival devotes chapters to include leopard, cheetah and the smaller cats, hunting dogs, hyenas, elephant, rhinos, hippos, buffalo, giraffes, the pigs (including warthogs, giant forest hogs, and bush pigs), zebra and the spiral-horned family, including greater and lesser kudu, bongo and eland. Each chapter follows a similar format, including a description of the animal’s distribution, their behavior, and their relevance to and/or interactions with people.

Most of Percival’s thoughts and interpretations are pertinent today, while some have proven to be inaccurate. As but one example, when discussing the leopard’s habit of carrying his prey up into a tree, Percival says, “The puzzle is how such an animal as the leopard can haul a “palla” (impala) ram, which weighs as much as he does himself, up into a tree. My own belief is that when a heavy carcass has thus to be dealt with, leopards help each other.”


Notwithstanding the odd interpretation that we know today to be wrong, Percival is an exemplary student of wildlife and wildlife behaviour, and his observations are largely as relevant today as they were a century ago. And unlike so many books about African wildlife, his thoughts are borne on actual field observations and his personal experiences—the man was clearly walking the walk.


The final three chapters in Percival’s A Game Ranger’s Note Book are dedicated to his thoughts on tracking and stalking, birds and their relationships to other wildlife and man, the influence of railways and other infrastructure development on game, and the photography of wild animals. And on the specific topic of photography, once again Percival demonstrates clearly that he knows what he’s talking about; he took many of the full-page black and white photos that illustrate this book.


A Game Ranger’s Note Book should be required reading for all those with an abiding interest in learning more about Africa’s game animals. Perhaps a description of Percival in the time sums him up best: “A man of adventurous life before coming to BEA to hunt big game. He found a task eminently suited to his capabilities. One could always appeal to him for positive information about the habits of wild game and the hunting possibilities in various outlying regions.”