strange behaviors

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  • 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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How the Natural World Deals With Bears

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 19, 2008

This commentary aired yesterday as part of the NPR Marketplace series “What’s The Fix?”  As soon as I heard it, I thought, “Oh, my god, I said ‘fawns’ when I should have said ‘calves.’  Feed me to a grizzly bear!”  But I really like that idea that CEOs at companies taking a federal bailout should do their job for $1 a year.  If we are all going to have to learn to sacrifice, I can hardly think of anyone I’d rather sacrifice first have as our heroic leaders.

I haven’t figured out how to download MP3 files to this website yet.  So click here to go to the NPR Marketplace website and then press “Listen to this story.”  Or read the original text below:


I spend a lot of time with animals, so I look to the natural world for ways to fix the financial panic.  Let’s take a herd of elk at Yellowstone National Park, for example. They really know what it means to have a bear threaten their security.  So when they’re out grazing, somebody’s always popping his head up and keeping an eye out. It’s an early warning system.  When all the elk start to turn and stare in the same direction, it generally means there’s a grizzly bear out there. Smart animals sidle off in the opposite direction.

What’s that got to do with the stock market?  We were all staring at the bear for more than a year as the credit crisis unfolded.  But let’s say you ignored the warning signals and missed the chance for a graceful exit.

A couple of lessons from the natural world can still help.   First, when a herd panics, animals just get trampled and become food for the bear.  We need to calm down and look out for each other.  And we need real leaders to help.  In the wild, strong animals sometimes walk straight toward the bear, as if to say, “I see you and you don’t scare me.”  At Yellowstone, I’ve also seen mother elk band together and run interference to protect fawns from a charging bear.  That’s kind of what Warren Buffett’s been up to lately.  But now we need other big-money types to get into the market with everything they’ve got and show some nerve defending the system that made them rich.   It’s a chance for the golden parachute gang to redeem themselves.  If you’re a CEO taking federal bailout money, do your job for a dollar a year and be an American hero.

I saw forest fire ravage Yellowstone in 1988.  It looked like the end of the world then, too.   But when I went back a few years later, the blackened areas were flourishing with new growth.  The same thing happens when financial markets go up in flames.  Buck up your courage, buy some stock, and the grass can be green again for us, too.

2 Responses to “How the Natural World Deals With Bears”

  1. Jim Doherty said

    There was a guy in Alaska a few years ago tried pulling a Warren Buffet on a grizz. He got his ass ate up, and then the bear had his girl friend for desert. Sometimes maybe you’re better off staying home, pulling down the shades, turning off the TV and hibernating in bed until it’s safe to go outside again. Buy stocks? I dunno. Check out TIPS. Inflation’s gonna turn Yellowstone into charcoal again. Meanwhile, my wife and I out here in rural southwestern Wisconsin are subsisting on Redneck (not Warren) Buffet: Turnip soup and poached venison.

  2. […] some reason, a lot of visitors to this site seem to be visiting my NPR commentary that aired on November 18, 2008, about lessons learned from the natural world for dealing with the financial crisis.  Here was my […]

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