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  • Richard Conniff

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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 ‘Lions’

Animal Music Monday: “Wondering Where the Lions Are”

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 22, 2016

Given the rapid disappearance of lions from entire regions of Africa, this song seems appropriate, though mostly for its title.

Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has said he was inspired by reading Charles Williams’s fantasy novel The Place of the Lion, which I suspect is about lions the way C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is about lions, and in that one the Aslan the lion is Jesus Christ’s avatar.

Anyway, here’s a Read the rest of this entry »

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

Last Act for Africa’s Vanishing Lions

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 26, 2015

Walking dead. (Photo: Patrick Bentley/, by permission)

Walking dead. (Photo in Zambia: Patrick Bentley/, by permission)

The lion, long regarded as the king of wild African landscapes, is now rapidly vanishing from much of the continent.

Where perhaps 200,000 of them roamed across Africa in the mid-twentieth century—and an estimated 500,000 in pre-colonial times—only about 20,000 now remain.

Half of those are likely to disappear over the next two decades, according to a report out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

They are being crowded out by habitat loss, depletion of their prey base by bushmeat hunters, and retaliatory or preemptive killings to protect livestock and people—all symptoms of a sub-Saharan human population on track to grow to four billion people by the end of the century.

Poorly regulated sport hunting also contributes to the problem, according to the report.

Weirdly, this catastrophic decline of one of the most celebrated species on Earth is happening almost without public notice, even as rampant poaching of elephants, rhinos, and tigers dominates the attention of the conservation community. That’s partly because, to visitors on safari, lions can seem just fine.

“Tourists go to the Serengeti or to Kruger National Park,” said Philipp Henschel, a lion specialist for Panthera, the cat conservation group, and a co-author of the PNAS report, “and they get the impression that there is a lion lying under every single tree.” Lions are the easiest of the so-called “Big Five” African wildlife species for a tourist to see, and in these protected areas the lions are completely comfortable lounging around and looking picturesque for hours on end.

“But these are the last surviving populations,” said Henschel. “Outside protected areas, lion populations are in freefall.” They typically face shooting, spearing, trapping, or poisoning if they step across a park border. Even within some protected areas, they are in decline because of inadequate funding for park management.

The PNAS report provides a starkly divided picture of lion conservation. Populations are stable or increasing in a handful of southern African nations—Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. (Yep, despite the furor over the illegal trophy hunting of Cecil the Lion by a Minnesota dentist, and despite that country’s atrocious political and economic problems, Zimbabwe still manages to provide a degree of wildlife protection, much of it funded by trophy hunting.) A remnant population in India’s Gir Forest National Park is also on the increase. According to the PNAS authors, those populations merit “of least concern” conservation status.

But everywhere else, lion populations Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Splendor in the Grass? Lions on a Very Hot Date

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 25, 2014

Chitabe 392

(Photos: Dave Hamman)

The photographer Dave Hamman took these photos of lions in flagrante delicto.  I was immediately reminded of Lord Chesterfield’s remark about sex: “The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.”

At least in this case the female maintains a certain decorum.

Chitabe 394

Or maybe she’s just bored.

The male meanwhile seems Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Sex & Reproduction | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Are Fences The Only Way to Save Africa’s Lions?

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 3, 2014

(Photo: Marvin E. Newman/Getty Images)

(Photo: Marvin E. Newman/Getty Images)

Is building fences the best way to protect wildlife from people, and people from wildlife? For a lot of wildlife enthusiasts, the question conjures up memories of zebra and wildebeest carcasses piled high in the 1980s, when cattle fences cut off ancient migration routes in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. But this time, some biologists think that fences might just be the only way to save Africa’s rapidly disappearing lions, which have lost half their population just since 2000.

And while Africa is the focus of the argument, the debate has extended to the idea of building fences to separate wildlife from people and livestock even around habitats as remote and sacrosanct as Yellowstone National Park.

The argument this time got started in March 2013 when lion biologist Craig Packer and more than 50 coauthors published an article in the journal Ecology Letters noting that Africa’s lions have already lost 75 percent of their original habitat. It predicted that almost half of the remaining unfenced lion populations “may decline to near extinction over the next 20-40 years.” On the other hand, “every fenced population is expected to remain close to its carrying capacity for the next century,” largely because Read the rest of this entry »

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

On The Brink of a World Minus the Tooth & Claw

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 14, 2014

(Photo:Christian Sperka/Panthera)

(Photo:Christian Sperka/Panthera)

Everybody knows the haunting tune and those words: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.” The song is a reminder of the power of wilderness and of the awe it can make us feel even across oceans and at the other end of the earth. What West Africa’s lions are facing today, though, is the Big Sleep—that is, extinction.

Researchers who spent six years scouring protected areas in the 11 West African nations where lions were once at home found evidence of fewer than 250 surviving adult lions. Think of it this way: That’s smaller than the high school student body in my small town in New England, distributed across an area longer than the distance from Portland, Maine, to Jacksonville, Fla.

It’s not just West Africa: Lion populations are in dramatic decline across the continent. In Kenya, where they are the symbol of national strength and an essential factor in the tourist economy, biologists have predicted that lions will disappear from the wild within just 15 years. Continent-wide, the rapidly dwindling population is down to about 35,000 lions in 67 isolated pockets.

Until the new study, published in the journal PLOS One, scientists had paid hardly any attention to West Africa’s distinctly different lions, which are more closely related to a remnant subspecies in India than to lions in eastern and southern Africa. They began the research for the new study in 2006, following pug marks through the forest, monitoring camera traps, and occasionally broadcasting a lion’s roar and listening for a response, almost always in vain. If it was a jungle out there, it was a largely empty one.

The study concludes that West Africa’s lions are in a “catastrophic collapse,” hanging on in just five nations. The news is even worse than that sounds: Almost 90 percent of the lions live in a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso, making them highly vulnerable to political upheaval, poaching, or an outbreak of disease. The other surviving lions are in Nigeria and Senegal. In some of these countries, parks exist on paper only, without staff or budget.

The discouraging news about lions came in the same week as another study showing a dramatic decline in almost all of the Read the rest of this entry »

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