strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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“Bitch.” A Poem.

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 27, 2015

Just belatedly read this in The New Yorker.  It’s by Craig Raine, and so good I thought it worth sharing here.  Hilarious to see idiots on Twitter denouncing Raine as a misogynist.  It’s a poem about a dog, for crissakes.

This Weimaraner in spandex,

tight on the deep chest,

webbed at the tiny waist.


The drips and drabs of her dugs:

ten, a tapering wedge,

narrowed toward the back legs.

Wish I could show you the whole poem here, but click on over to The New Yorker and at least take the time to enjoy it there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

For T-Day: Save Yourself from the Digital Zombie Apocalypse

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 25, 2015

(Photo: Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

(Photo: Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

My latest for Takepart:

The other day I was sitting on a porch on the coast of Maine watching as a red-throated loon hunted underwater. I couldn’t see the bird beneath the surface, but the trail of bubbles it left behind let me follow the action. It shot along for a while in one direction, circled, jinked out to one side, then sent the water boiling in a tight little spot. It surfaced momentarily to gobble down its prize, a small fish, then dove again to hunt some more.

I was lucky to be in that place at that time. And even more so not to have my attention monopolized at that moment by an electronic screen. Lucky, because most of the time I am as bad about this as everybody else. My work as a writer means I often spend eight or 10 hours a day at the keyboard of a laptop. I unwind after dinner with a Netflix show and a beer. When I can’t sleep at night, I browse Facebook or Feedly on a tablet. (Yes, I know, looking at a video screen is like firecrackers for sleep. But it doesn’t stop me.) And when I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is check the time and weather on my smartphone.

The Internet doesn’t just offer endless possibilities; it offers endlessly updating possibilities. It is addictive because of the fear that if we don’t look now, we could be missing something big, something important, something viral.

All the while what we are missing is life. We are missing wildlife and the natural world too.

Even worse,

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in The Primate File | 3 Comments »

Terrific Video of Siberian Tiger Cubs

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 24, 2015

This just came in from the Wildlife Conservation Society.  It’s camera trap video of rarely seen Amur tigers from Russia’s Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve.

Fewer than 500 of them survive in the wild. But here you can see an adult female trailed by three of her big cubs.  I’m using a Twitter link here, so hoping this works:

The cats are using an overgrown forest road as a travel corridor; the same type of road patrolled by poachers with spotlights. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Cool Tools | Leave a Comment »

Leopard Stalks Steenbok at Kruger

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 19, 2015

Turn off the sound on this one.  Too much microphone wind.  Or just don’t watch if you are a Friend of Bambi.

Posted in Food & Drink, Kill or Be Killed, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

GOP Still Blocking The Land & Water Conservation Fund

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 18, 2015

Back in February, I wrote about how Congress has chronically stolen funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Check out that article. It will make you mad. And you’ll be even madder to know that in September, our eminent representatives actually let the law expire, to mark the passage of its unanimous approval by a wiser Congress in 1965.

It’s a law that has benefited every single American community, and yet the relentless, petty, narrow-minded squabbling goes on. Republicans want to minimize use of the fund to acquire and preserve land.  They’d rather we spent out money on buying easements from private landowners.

Easements can in fact be more cost effective than outright purchase.  But what’s really motivating the Republicans isn’t efficiency or the opportunity for greater environmental and wildlife protection.  They’re only interested in minimizing federal influence and maximizing benefits to private property owners, even if it is to the detriment of the recreational and other needs of the American people.

As always, they are all about protecting the 1 percent.

Here’s the latest update from the Land Trust Alliance:

With the Land and Water Conservation Fund expired since September, the House of Representatives is determining the future direction for one of the nation’s foremost conservation

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Cambodian Soldiers Kill Cambodian Police, as China Profits

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 17, 2015

Sieng Darong FA Patrol Leader and Sab Yoh District Police patrol member

Forest ranger Sieng Darong (left) and police officer Sab Yoh with a confiscated chainsaw hours before their murders on Nov. 7. (Photo: EIA)







It is a familiar story in Southeast Asia. In truth, it has become a familiar story almost everywhere: China’s vast appetite for luxury items was the underlying cause of last week’s execution-style killing of two government conservation workers in Cambodia.

Sieng Darong, a 47-year-old forest ranger, and Sab Yoh, a 29-year-old police officer, were murdered as they slept on November 7, shot with AK-47-style heavy weapons. A third member of the team survived with injuries, and a fourth escaped. The killings happened shortly after the team confiscated chainsaws at an illegal logging site in northwestern Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Protected Forest.

Investigators have arrested six soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces on charges of illegal logging in the incident. One of the six has already been jailed to serve a prior sentence of ten years in prison on an old armed robbery conviction. But so far, no formal murder charges have been filed, nor has anyone above the level of foot soldier been implicated in the case.

The killings happened in an area heavily affected by the illegal trade in rosewood (also known as hongmu), a rare precious wood prized in the Chinese luxury market for Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Shit Happens & It Makes the World a Better Place

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 10, 2015

(Photo: Richard Conniff)

(Photo: Richard Conniff)

My latest for Takepart:

Not long ago in South Africa’s Soutpansberg, I watched a line of otherwise fastidious visiting high school students standing at a workbench happily sifting with their fingertips through specimens of excrement. Leopard excrement, to be precise. They were picking out hair, teeth, bones, horns, and claws, the undigested remnants of victims of predatory attacks—to be used in identifying the shifting dietary habits of local leopards.

The yuck factor aside, animal excrement, dung, scat, spoor, feces, poop, crap, or just plain shit is a topic of enormous importance for biologists and for biodiversity. It is of course also a source of many bad jokes, as anyone who has performed an owl pellet dissection in high school biology may recall.

But never mind that. Let’s start with the biodiversity, or rather, with the story of the honey locust tree. It produces long, leathery seedpods, which look completely unappetizing. But the woolly mammoth and a few other ancient megafauna used to gobble them up, inadvertently dispersing the seeds in their droppings. Then the megafauna went extinct, and the honey locust would inevitably have followed them–except that humans rediscovered the tree and widely dispersed its seeds (by hand) in cities and suburbs around the country.

Other fruiting plants have been less fortunate, and many are now on the path to extinction. New Zealand and Hawaii in particular are full of what botanists call “widow plants,” because extinctions have taken away the species they depended on to consume their fruit and defecate their seeds.

This form of partnership is common to a huge variety of plant species, which over the course of their evolution have come to depend on a bat, a bird, a fish, a gorilla, or even a crocodile to perform this vital service of dispersal by defecation. Beyond the coevolutionary richness of the connection Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Cool Tools | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

In the Field (and City) with Leopards

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 10, 2015

Lit by a camera-trap flash and the glow of urban Mumbai, a leopard prowls the edge of India’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park. (Photo: Steve Winter)

Lit by a camera-trap flash and the glow of urban Mumbai, a leopard prowls the edge of India’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park. (Photo: Steve Winter)

My article on leopards appears in the December issue of National Geographic magazine, and a slightly reformatted version appears today online. I did the reporting in southern Africa, and India.  Here’s the lead:

We were sitting in the dark, waiting for the leopards beside a trail on the edge of India’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, 40 square miles of green life in the middle of the sprawling gray metropolis of Mumbai. A line of tall apartment buildings stood just opposite, crowding the park border. It was 10 p.m., and through the open windows came the sounds of dishes being cleaned and children being put to bed. Religious music floated up from a temple in the distance. Teenage laughter, a motorcycle revving. The hum and clatter of 21 million people, like a great machine. Somewhere in the brush around us, the leopards were listening too, waiting for the noise to die down. Watching.

About 35 leopards live in and around this park. That’s an average of less than two square miles of habitat apiece, for animals that can easily range ten miles in a day. These leopards also live surrounded by some of the world’s most crowded urban neighborhoods, housing 52,000 people or more per square mile. (That’s nearly twice the population density of New York City.) And yet the leopards thrive. Part of their diet comes from spotted deer and other wild prey within the park. But many of the leopards also work the unfenced border between nature and civilization. While the city sleeps, they slip through the streets and alleys below, where they pick off dogs, cats, pigs, rats, chickens, and goats, the camp followers of human civilization. They eat people too, though rarely.

They are fearful of people, and with good reason. Humans make

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Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Solution to Criminal Overfishing Comes Closer

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 2, 2015

(Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

(Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

My latest for Takepart:

The odds that American consumers will be able to go into a store and buy fish that’s safe and legally caught have begun to improve, perhaps dramatically, over the past week. At the same time, a new report from the World Wildlife Fund illustrates just how bad the situation has become: It estimates that 86 percent of global fisheries are now at high or moderate risk of pirate fishing.

The official term is IUU, for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fisheries, and it means that those glistening imported fillets in your local market are highly likely to have been harvested in the wrong place or with the wrong methods. They may not even be the species advertised on the label. Or they could be contaminated with antibiotics, other drugs, or toxic chemicals used in some countries in farming or processing fish.

IUU, including fishing in protected marine reserves, is also a major factor in the global “empty seas” crisis. It’s been implicated in human trafficking. And it undercuts U.S. boats working in highly regulated and largely sustainable American fisheries. With an estimated value of $10 to $23 billion every year, IUU implicates every seafood merchant and every consumer in some of the worst criminal wildlife trafficking in the world. This is a lot to swallow for dinner.

The promising news is that Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues, Food & Drink | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Fake Science That Keeps Cats on the Streets

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 31, 2015

“Cat eating a rabbit” (Photo: Eddy Van 3000)

This is a piece I wrote a while ago. I read it again today and realized that it still makes an awful lot of sense, especially because the fake science of TNR is still alive in the world and at least some eager-to-please politicians are gullible enough to buy it:

Various estimates say that anywhere from 20 to 100 million feral cats—an introduced and heavily subsidized predator—now roam the United States. Together with pet cats that are allowed to wander free, they kill billions of birds, mammals, and other animals every year. Every time I write about the need to deal with this rapidly worsening problem, certain readers argue for a method called TNR, which stands for “trap, neuter, and release,” or sometimes “trap, neuter, and return.”

So let’s take a look at how it might work.

TNR is an idea with enormous appeal for many animal welfare organizations, because it means cat shelters no longer have to euthanize unwanted cats: They just neuter and immunize them, then ship them back out into the world. It’s a way to avoid the deeply dispiriting business of putting animals down, not to mention the expense of feeding and caring for the animals during the usual waiting period for a possible adoption. And it enables animal shelters to put on a happier face for donors: “We’re a shelter, not a slaughterhouse.”

TNR advocates generally cite a handful of studies as evidence that this method works. The pick of the litter is a 2003 study in which TNR enabled the University of Central Florida to reduce the feral cat population on its Orlando campus by 66 percent. On closer examination, though, what that study actually showed Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »


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