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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 ‘mining’

Look Who’s Nibbling Away at the World’s “Protected” Habitat

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 3, 2016

Mae way for uranium mining in The Selous.

A Toronto uranium company will displace many Selous Game Reserve residents.

My latest for Yale Environment 360:

It’s the saddest truism in wildlife conservation: When politicians announce that they are setting aside precious habitat “in perpetuity,” what they really mean is until somebody else wants the land.

Protected areas now get reopened so often under the pressure of population and economic growth that the trend has spawned an acronym, PADDD, for “protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement.” There’s also a web site,, jointly maintained by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Conservation International.

Abandoned uranium pit, Queensland, Australia

Abandoned uranium pit, Queensland, Australia

Michael Mascia, a social scientist who recently moved from WWF to Conservation International, developed the PADDD concept in 2011 “to define the problem” worldwide, he said, “and to try to mobilize” attention to it among scientists and ultimately the public.

The effort has begun to pay off, with Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the former director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, raising the issue in the journal Science. Noting the 52-percent decline in worldwide bird, mammal, and other wildlife populations since 1970, she warned that downgrading and delisting protected land “threaten the ability of societies to address climate change, food and energy security needs, and sustainability.”

The issue is timely now in part because of the goal, under the 168-nation Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to extend protection to 17 percent of the earth’s terrestrial and inland water areas by 2020. That means governments need to set aside an additional area more than three times the size of Texas, and do it in the right habitats and on a short timeline. But progress has stalled in recent years at about 15.4 percent, and Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Thank the Conquistadors for South America’s First Big Mining Pollution

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 11, 2015

Pizarro: Massey Energy Co. role model?

Pizzaro: Massey Energy Co. role model?

A few years ago in Suriname, I was struck by how the most remote and undeveloped areas are now polluted with mercury, from gold mining.  Now it turns out that the large-scale poisoning of South America got started by the Conquistadors. And you thought Pizarro and Cortés were only responsible for torture, religious persecution, genocide, and other such crimes.

Here’s the press release:

In the 16th century, during its conquest of South America, the Spanish Empire forced countless Incas to work extracting silver from the mountaintop mines of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia — then the largest source of silver in the world. The Inca already knew how to refine silver, but in 1572 the Spanish introduced a new technology that boosted production many times over and sent thick clouds of lead dust rising over the Andes for the first time in history.

Winds carried some of that pollution 500 miles northwest into Peru, where tiny remnants of it settled on the Quelccaya Ice Cap.

There it stayed — buried under hundreds of years of snow and ice — until researchers from The Ohio State University found it in 2003.

In the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report discovery of a layer within a Quelccaya ice core that dates to the Spanish conquest of the Inca, contains bits of lead and bears the chemical signature of the silver mines of Potosí.

The core provides the first detailed record of widespread human-produced

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s Not Just Deforestation, it’s Degradation. And Wildlife Loses

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 5, 2014

Black bear meets dragonfly (Photo: Reuters)

Black bear meets dragonfly (Photo: Reuters)

Deforestation—the worldwide destruction of forests—is the calamitous problem that everybody worries about.  But a new analysis makes the case that forest degradation is also happening at “alarming speed” and may be just as bad, particularly for wildlife.

Just since the year 2000, almost 250 million acres of the world’s last remaining undisturbed forests have become degraded, mostly by logging and new roads, according to the analysis, the first attempt to measure forest degradation on a global scale.   That’s more than triple the land area of Germany, and represents eight percent of the world’s remaining “Intact Forest Landscapes,” or IFLs.

Ilona Zhuravleva, a Greenpeace GIS scientist who worked on the analysis, said forest degradation poses a major threat to some of the most charismatic animals on Earth, particularly large, wide-ranging species that depend on genuine wilderness for their survival. Among the victims are forest elephants in the Congo, jaguars in the Amazon, woodland caribou in Canada, wolves and bears in Russia, and tigers in Asia.  Indigenous forest people also typically become displaced, or worse, when industrial forestry brings the outside world into formerly inaccessible regions.

In the worst case cited in the study, the South American nation of Paraguay has already Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »