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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The Water is Not Fine

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 1, 2011

Anyone who has ventured alone in remote and difficult corners of the planet knows that discovering new species entails a considerable dose of danger and also tedium, wonder and also absurdity, discomfort and also loneliness.  My book The Species Seekers is full of such stories, but I just came across a couple that ended up on the cutting room floor:

Fossil-hunter Louis Leakey described the experience of sharing a water hole with large animals at his camp in East Africa’s Olduvai Gorge this way:  “We could never get rid of the taste of rhino urine even after filtering the water through charcoal and boiling it and using it in tea with lemon.”

And botanist Joseph Banks contemplated his own death in a ship, The Endeavour, hung up on the Great Barrier Reef, in June 1770: 

“The most critical part of our distress now approached … if (as was probable) she should make more water when hauld off she must sink and we well knew that our boats were not capable of carrying us all ashore, so that some, probably the most of us, must be drownd:  a better fate maybe than those would have who should get ashore without arms to defend themselves…”

The indomitable Capt. James Cook eventually managed by considerable effort to get Endeavour off the reef and into a safe harbor for repairs, and Banks made it back to London alive.

As to the taste of rhino urine, I am pretty sure Leakey just learned to live with it.


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