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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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Posts Tagged ‘Deep River’

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Lessons for China from Righteous Connecticut Yankees

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 30, 2013


Wildlife products are big business in China, and the rabid desire for these products can be shocking to outsiders. Running down the list of species China’s newly rich are eating, or otherwise consuming, to the brink of extinction, it’s easy to get the impression that they are utterly depraved. Shameless.

Inhuman, even.

In fact, though, their appetite for wildlife products—from shark fin soup and pangolin stew to ivory trinkets—in some ways echoes our own nineteenth-century rise to wealth. We are the ones, for instance, who brought off the great slaughter of American bison, from 60 million animals down to about 700 in 1902. We alone are to blame for the mindless killing of billions of passenger pigeons, down to the death of Martha, the sole surviving female, in 1914. But those sad stories are already well known. I’m going to tell a hometown story instead, one that resonates with what China is doing to elephants in Africa today.

For many years, I lived in a Connecticut River Valley community that rose up entirely on the strength of the ivory trade. The rival companies at the heart of Deep River and neighboring Ivoryton, Conn., were makers of piano keyboards covered with ivory, and they dominated the ivory market in the Western Hemisphere. The river landing just below my house was an unloading point for ivory tusks. And at the beginning of the twentieth century, the factory at the other end of my street was cutting the ivory of 1000 elephants a year.

When I lived there in the 1980s and ’90s, people could still remember fertilizing their tomatoes with ivory sawdust. The local pond below the mill used to turn yellow with it, a local elder told me, and when he and a friend came home from swimming there as boys, “we looked like the Gold Dust Twins. How my mother would holler.”

For American buyers then, as for Chinese consumers now, ivory was all about status. In the prosperous decades after the Civil War, Read the rest of this entry »

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