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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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An Elephant Story That Should Resonate for Modern China

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 19, 2014


Tusks in the factory at the end of my old street in Deep River, CT

Tusks in the factory at the end of my old street in Deep River, CT

Back in 1987, when Audubon Magazine had a more ambitious and expansive view of its role in the world, a great editor there named Les Line gave me an assignment to write about a story that had turned up literally on my doorstep.  At that point, I was traveling all over the world reporting stories on wildlife.  So I was startled, one day at home, to discover that the town where I had bought my first house had once been the center of the ivory trade in the Western Hemisphere.

It turned out to be an especially interesting story for me, as I dug into it, because the nineteenth century founder of the ivory company at the end of my street had also been a leading abolitionist.  But he had somehow never noticed that his business depended entirely on the slave trade in East Africa.

The resulting story of moral complication, “When The Music In Our Parlors Brought Death to Darkest Africa,” still resonates for me personally, and apparently also for others in the context of the modern slaughter of elephants.  NPR’s “Morning Edition” nicely paraphrases that original Audubon piece (with a few minor mistakes) in today’s show.  It’s only seven minutes long and worth a listen.

If you’re interested in hearing more, here’s an interview I did a while back with NPR’s Colin McEnroe, about what China can learn about the ivory trade from small town Connecticut. It runs 10 minutes, starting at 38:00: … …  And here’s a piece I published here on the same topic.

I keep meaning to publish that original Audubon piece as an e-book, and maybe one of these days I will get around to it.  Will keep you posted, if so.


New York (August 19, 2014) – The following statement was issued by John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Director of the 96 Elephants Campaign:


“Today’s landmark study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authored by 96 Elephants partner Save the Elephants and other groups, confirms the widespread slaughter of elephants throughout Africa driven by ivory poaching.  These tragic numbers underscore

the urgency of banning the ivory trade. Recent WCS research has shown that any legal trade of ivory will only embolden organized crime syndicates to continue poaching and smuggling.


“Strong ivory bans recently passed in N.J. and N.Y. give us hope that the political will is there to pass state bans. However, the proposed federal ivory ban is under attack in Congress by the anti-ivory ban supporters.  We hope that today’s news showing the loss of 100,000 elephants over the past three years will serve as a wake-up call that now is the time to ban ivory before these magnificent creatures are lost forever.


“The 96 Elephants campaign – named for the number of elephants killed each day – will continue its work through its 160 coalition partners, including 120 North American Zoos, to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.” 


To learn more about the elephant crisis and how to help eradicate the demand for ivory, visit



One Response to “An Elephant Story That Should Resonate for Modern China”

  1. waxwings said

    Your original 1987 piece in Audubon about Deep River’s dark past with elephants, “When The Music In Our Parlors Brought Death to Darkest Africa” is excellent. We urge you to get it reprinted and hopefully e-published, at least on your website/blog for more people to access. It was a real eye-opener, and one of the best things ever written on the topic. Thank you for your work on this issue. May the elephants survive!

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