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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 Lure of Long Distances: Teddy’s Evil Adversary

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 6, 2013

In 1913, after a failed bid for a third term as president, Teddy Roosevelt undertook a punishing expedition in Brazil, down the unmapped River of Doubt and on to the Amazon.  Name the “evil” and ferocious adversary he encountered on route:

a. Piranhas capable of stripping a person to the bone.

b. An electric eel, which killed one of his boatmen on a river crossing.

c.  A political consultant sent out to savage his reputation.

d. A 20-foot-long black caiman weighing 3000 pounds.

And the answer is:

(a)  On the second day of his trip, when he had hardly gotten his feet wet, Roosevelt sent a letter to the newspapers back home.  “Piranhas,” he wrote, “are the most ferocious fish in the world…They will snap a finger off a hand incautiously trailed in the water…They will rend and devour any wounded man or beast.” In fact, piranhas generally do not bother people and should have been the least of his worries.  On the expedition, he would encounter dangerous rapids, hostile Indians, and deadly disease—but lived to recount his adventures in Through the Brazilian Wilderness.   The River of Doubt is now called the Rio Roosevelt in his honor.

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