strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff

  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books

    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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Posts Tagged ‘art’

The War on Rhinos? It’s an Investment Bubble

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 26, 2016

Carved rhino horn offered at a 2011 Christie's auction in Hong Kong (Photo: Xinhua/Song Zhenping)

Carved rhino horn offered at a 2011 Christie’s auction in Hong Kong (Photo: Xinhua/Song Zhenping)

by Richard Conniff/

Since the start of the current war on rhinos, in 2006, journalists and wildlife trafficking experts alike have treated the trade as a product of Asia’s new-found wealth combined with old-style traditional medicine: Rich buyers pay astounding sums for rhino horn in the belief that it will cure cancer or a host of other ills.

This reporting often comes with an undertone of bafflement or even thinly veiled condescension. Buyers, mainly in China and Vietnam, appear to be so naive that they ignore the total absence of scientific support for the medicinal value of rhino horn and put their faith instead in a substance that is the biochemical equivalent of a fingernail.

But a new paper in the journal Biological Conservation raises a startling alternative theory. Rhinos are dying by the hundreds for what may be in essence

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Business Behaviors, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

How to Save a Natural History Museum

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 4, 2013

Art from the Dutch Commission explorers in what is now Indonesia

Art from the Dutch Commission explorers in what is now Indonesia

Natural history museums around the world are struggling to survive.   Even the celebrated Field Museum in Chicago recently announced a budget cutback targeted mostly at its scientific staff.   So this article from the Wall Street Journal caught my attention as I was traveling last week.

The gist of it is that the the Peabody Essex Museum, once a dusty little American history venue in Salem, Mass., decided to change its audience and vastly increase its endowment.  The aim was to avoid being caught in the trap of continually chasing short-term funding.

To get that endowment, it transformed itself to find a new audience–the audience, that is, living next door.  When Dan L. Monroe became director in the early 1990s, he realized that the museum’s main challenge was to give local residents reason to become repeat, lifelong visitors to the museum.

Natural history museums have the same basic problem.  They attract families with young children, and when the children get past second or third grade, the families fade away.  The other thing that struck me is that the Salem museum chose to emphasize art and culture over straight history.   Though naturalists will hate to think it, art not only brings in bigger repeat audiences, but it has more status appeal than science for the sort of people who might become museum endowment donors.

An Edward Lear pigeon

An Edward Lear pigeon

The idea isn’t to cut back on the science or to back off from the primary mission of preserving and documenting life on Earth, but to develop both by taking advantage of neglected strengths:  Early naturalists often produced great visual records of what they were seeing–and their drawings and water colors lend themselves to exhibitions.  (I know some museums are already doing this sort of thing.  But for instance:  A show on Audubon and Alexander Wilson, the rival fathers of American ornithology; a show on the pigeon art of Edward Lear, or the mycology of Beatrix Potter; a show on how natural history discovery shaped the entire genre of children’s books.)   The discoveries the naturalists brought home also showed up in the great art of the day, particularly in the Netherlands.  Finally, as I discuss in my book The Species Seekers, what the naturalists were discovering had a profound effect on poetry, fiction, music, and other cultural endeavors.   Staging exhibitions and concerts  and plays to celebrate these connections would draw a whole new audience in among the dinosaur skeletons.  What about comedy even?  British stand-up comic Bill Bailey is, for instance, currently doing a show about Alfred Russel Wallace, the … step-father of evolutionary theory.

Here’s part of the Wall Street Journal story:

… conventional wisdom in the museum world dictates that raising endowment money is too tough to tackle. “It’s a self-supported vicious circle that we have gotten ourselves into as a field,” Mr. Monroe says, “that people will only give to a new building where they can put their name on it.” When annual contributions come up short, both museum staffers and trustees tend to look first at ways to increase earned income—raising the price of admission; staging blockbuster exhibitions to draw more visitors; building destination restaurants; renting out event spaces and “renting” works from their permanent collections to other museums. Some have taken to Read the rest of this entry »

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