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  • 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 ‘India’

Here’s an Eyeful About Why We Need Wildlife Sanctuaries

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 9, 2017

Two young tuskers play-jousting in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India (Photo: Anuradha Marwah)

Two young tuskers play-jousting in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India (Photo: Anuradha Marwah)

Wildlife refuges and sanctuaries are the best hope for many wildlife species in a world that is rapidly being overwhelmed by humans.  The Sanctuary Asia web site holds an annual photo contest and these are Read the rest of this entry »


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That Big Rise in Tiger Numbers? It Was a WWF Fantasy.

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 15, 2016

(Photo: Jim Cook/Getty Images)

(Photo: Jim Cook/Getty Images)

My latest for

Lately, media worldwide have been frothy with happy talk about an unexpected increase in populations of the endangered tiger, with the global count suddenly up from 3,200 to 3,890. The World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum reported the result based on a tally of recent counts by government agencies and conservation groups.

The announcement predictably produced headlines everywhere that tiger populations were on the rise for the first time in 100 years. Even National Geographic and the BBC sang along, in tune: “Tiger Numbers Rise for First Time in a Century.”

There was only one problem: The news was a publicity-friendly confection of nonsense and wishful thinking, unsupported by any published science.

Instead, the timing of the announcement had everything to do with politics: It came the day before the scheduled opening of the Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in New Delhi, bringing together scientists and political leaders from 13 nations.

That group has committed its member nations to the daunting (and arguably unrealistic) goal of doubling the population of tigers between 2010 and 2022. With half that time elapsed, WWF Senior Vice President Ginette Hemley apparently meant to kick things off with some good news and a key takeaway message for the conference attendees. “When you have high-level political commitments, it can make all the difference,” she said. “When you have well-protected habitat and you control the poaching, tigers will recover. That’s a pretty simple formula. We know it works.”

At various points, Hemley carefully attributed the results to better counting methods, not to an actual increase in tiger numbers. “The tools we are using now are more precise than they were six years ago,” she told The New York Times. But that nuance got lost along the way, as it was perhaps intended to do. The Times headline: “Number of Tigers in the Wild Is Rising, Wildlife Groups Say.”

WWF did not respond to a request to interview Hemley—a policy person who spends most of her time in Washington, D.C. So for a reality check, I phoned a tiger biologist: John Goodrich

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Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 15 Comments »

Killing Buddy MacKay

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 4, 2016

Leopard  in Nagarahole (Photo: K Subbaiah, WCS India Program)

Leopard in Nagarahole (Photo: K Subbaiah, WCS India Program)

When researchers are trying to understand how leopards live, where they go, and what they need to survive, their best hope is still to go into the bush with them, by vehicle and on foot. That hasn’t changed despite the coming of ubiquitous digital camera traps, satellite tracking, and other technologies.

It is difficult, sometimes dangerous work. The leopards face the usual pathological hatred human dole out to big, dangerous predators almost everywhere, only more so.  Their lives often end by poisoning, trapping, or shooting at the hands of angry livestock ranchers.  Some of that animosity also rubs off on the people who study leopards.

The standard procedure for radio-collaring a leopard is to lure it, with bait, into a box trap and sedate it.  The biologist then has less than an hour to work with the animal as it recovers, taking samples, making measurements, and fitting the collar.  When it wakes up again, the leopard goes free. The biologist may never see it again in the wild, even when the slow, high-pitched bpp…bpp…bpp picked up from the radio collar via earphones reveals that the leopard is just 50 meters ahead. Leopards are the grand masters of staying hidden in plain sight.

And yet because researchers often work alone, amid hostile neighbors, the bond with that unseen animal can become their best consolation. Their great fear is not that the leopard might turn on them, but that the steady pulse from the collar will suddenly double, meaning an animal has gone motionless for too long, not rolling over in its sleep, not shaking its head.  That’s called the “mortality signal.”

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of sad stories from leopard researchers about their study animals, but none stuck harder, for me, than the lynching of Buddy MacKay.  I heard it one night last year, sitting on the verandah of a forest bungalow, drinking whiskey, in the

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

They Gave Up Their Home For Tigers. Would You?

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 11, 2014

Imam Hussein and family in their new home

Imam Hussein and family in their new home


Ten years ago, Imam Hussein reluctantly moved his family out of their traditional home in the Terai Arc Landscape, a hilly, forested sliver of northwestern India, as part of a government resettlement plan to protect tiger habitat. It was a struggle. The move forced the family to give up the buffalo they had depended on for a pastoral livelihood, and though the resettlement put them on a small plot of arable land, they knew nothing about farming.

But the Husseins’ lives have gradually improved: They farm wheat, they own cell phones, and a 12-year-old daughter is in school. The tigers have benefited too. Hussein used to look around his threadbare forest home and recall, with regret, how it had looked when he was a child. Now, when he visits, that lost forest is visibly recovering.

But the most dramatic change is that his fellow Gujjars, who once clung fiercely to their pastoral way of life, now want to follow him out of the forest. In a new study published this month in Biological Conservation (for which Hussein served as a field assistant), more than 98 percent of the Gujjar families surveyed indicated Read the rest of this entry »

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