In A Terrible Death, A Great Discovery
Posted by Richard Conniff on January 19, 2011
Readers have been sending in a steady stream of naturalists who lost their lives in the cause of discovery and I have been adding them to the Wall of the Dead. This one, suggested by reader Cagan Sekercioglu in Utah, caught my eye:
In the early 1890s, the Italian government sent out a mission to secure its colonial pretensions to an Ethiopian protectorate. Prince Eugenio Ruspoli, the son of the mayor of Rome and scion of a venerable noble family, seems to have played the multiple roles of emissary, leader of a conquering military force, explorer, and great white hunter.
He apparently wrote a book about his time in Ethiopia, In the land of Unexplored Africa and Mirra, published in Italian in 1892.
The following year, Ruspoli led an expedition to the Amara Mountains. In his 1897 book Through Unknown African Countries, the American explorer Arthur Donaldson Smith suggests that Ruspoli traveled with a large armed force and frequently waged war on local tribes. He also came to a violent end:
I now learned that Prince Ruspoli had got as far as the Amara, having followed up the river Jub far to the north of my line of march, and that he had been killed by an elephant near the foot of the Amara Mountains. The chief told me that Ruspoli had spent a long time in his village, and that after his death his body had been taken up the mountain again and buried alongside of the graves of some noted chiefs. One of the Amara told me that he was an eye-witness of the thrilling scene of Ruspoli’s last hunt.
When he reached the Galana Amara with his caravan, death overtook him. In the open plain ahead of his line of march appeared a large elephant. Ruspoli, who was ahead, motioned to his caravan to stop, and walked out alone to have a try for the beast. He crept to within thirty yards, and fired. Suddenly the huge animal turned on him, and in the twinkling of an eye the Prince was suspended aloft in the grasp of that powerful trunk.
To the excited natives, powerless to interfere, it seemed an interminable time that the beast kept swinging Ruspoli about in the air before he lowered the body to the ground and stamped out the little life that was left.
But in his baggage, Ruspoli had left behind a spectacular discovery, a specimen of the brightly colored bird that would later become known as Ruspoli’s turaco (Tauraco ruspolii). It was named by T. Salvadori, who studied and wrote about Ruspoli’s collection. You can find out more about the species here.
(A curious sidenote, you can now rent the Ruspoli family’s villa outside Rome.)