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)

  • Wall of the Dead

  • Categories

Posts Tagged ‘Namibia’

Namibia’s Hidden Poaching Crisis

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 29, 2015

From the ivory black market in Okahandja, Namibia (Photo: Shi Yi)

From the ivory black market in Okahandja, Namibia (Photo: Shi Yi)

This story is dismaying for me, as I have often written about Namibia as a model of smart conservation and anti-poaching common sense. But no place is safe in the current war on wildlife. Or, let’s call it what it is –China’s continuing war on wildlife.

Here’s the reporting by Shi Yi, a Chinese investigative journalist working in southern Africa:

Caprivi imagesIt was a quiet evening in Zambezi, until a herdsman heard a gunshot in the wilderness. By the time the police arrived, they found an elephant carcass – and the tusks had been taken.

“It could be a good trophy animal. Poachers never take small ones,” said chief control warden Morgan Saisai at the Katima Mulilo office of Namibia’s Ministry of Tourism and Environment (MET).

The carcass brought the number of elephants poached in Zambezi, [a region until recently known as “the Caprivi Strip”] in the far north-eastern region of Namibia, to 37 this year.

Namibia is known for its extremely dry climate and desert landscape, but Zambezi is an exception. With the Zambezi river and its tributaries flowing through lush wetlands, it is home to nearly 10,000 resident elephants and thousands of migratory elephants, according to MET.

Poachers take advantage of this. Since 2011, more than 230 elephants have been reported poached in Namibia, more than 90% of them killed in Zambezi.

In the southwest of the country, more than 100 black rhinos have been poached. In addition to these two iconic species, poaching of other animals such as lions and pangolins is also on the rise.

There are indications that Chinese are the buyers behind some of the cases. Despite the anti-poaching messages that can be seen at many places in Namibia, I was frequently approached by locals for ..

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Proud of Your Ancestry? Namibia’s Khoisan Have You Beat

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 5, 2014

141204074144-largeOne of the great experiences of my life was to travel with Khoisan hunters as they tracked wildlife in northwestern Namibia. They didn’t dress all that differently from other Namibians. (That traditional half-naked look in the photograph is something they seem to do now mainly at the behest of photographers.) But, lord, they were different: For me, it was like being illiterate among scholars who had devoted their lives (and hearts and souls) to studying the subtle nuances of the footprint.

I remember one night when an African wild cat had come into the camp and stolen the precious organ meat from a kill, which the Khoisan had hung up a tree for safekeeping.  When they discovered their loss in the morning, the two hunters simply followed the trail back to the cat’s lair, and re-claimed their meat. But, sorry, let me get to the point.

A new genetic study has revealed just how different, and ancient, the Khosan lineage really is.  And yet they were the majority of the human species just 20,000 years ago, meaning their evolution was our evolution. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

Through advanced computation analysis, a team from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) and Penn State University found that these Southern African Khoisan tribespeople are genetically distinct not only from Europeans and Asians, but also from all other Africans.

The team also found that there are individuals of the Khoisan population whose ancestors did not interbreed with any of the other ethnic groups for the last 150,000 years and that Khoisan was the majority group of living humans for most of that time until about 20,000 years ago.

Their findings mean it is now possible to use genetic sequencing to reveal the ancestral lineage of any ethnic group even up to 200,000 years ago, if non-admixed individuals are found, like in the case of the Khoisan. This will show when in history there have been important genetic changes to an ancestral lineage due to

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Evolution | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are Namibia’s Rhinos Now Under Siege?

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 2, 2014

Early this year in The New York Times, I wrote an op-ed in praise of Namibia’s work in restoring populations of endangered black rhinos and, more important, in avoiding the poaching nightmare taking place next door in South Africa (on track to lose 1100 rhinos this year).  Here’s part of that piece:

Daniel Alfeus //Hawaxab-- aka Boxer

Daniel Alfeus //Hawaxab– aka Boxer

Namibia is just about the only place on earth to have gotten conservation right for rhinos and, incidentally, a lot of other wildlife. Over the past 20 years, it has methodically repopulated one area after another as its rhino population has steadily increased. As a result, it is now home to 1,750 of the roughly 5,000 black rhinos surviving in the wild … In neighboring South Africa, government officials stood by haplessly as poachers slaughtered almost a thousand rhinos last year alone. Namibia lost just two.

But a new report says the poaching situation there has dramatically worsened. Here’s how the story begins, from Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism:

The air over Sesfontein this time of year is usually a peculiar metallic hue, tinged by the talcum-fine dust whipped by the harsh desert wind blowing from the Skeleton Coast, 250 kilometres away to the west.

But today, the white heat seemed bleaker than ever, and another metallic taste stirred in the air: that of blood, redolent of greed and betrayal, of witchcraft and a strange death by anthrax. Boxer was dead.

As the oldest and most experienced tracker of the three-man Save the Rhino Trust’s (SRT) Damara-speaking team, Daniel Alfeus //Hawaxab – aka Boxer – was by all accounts an exemplary employee. At age 37, he had spent his entire adult life looking out for the world’s last free-roaming black rhinos of the Kunene region.

His knowledge of the rugged mountains and deep valleys, watered by secret fountains where the last free black rhinos live, played a major role in the recovery of their numbers after the 1980s slaughter during the South African occupation that left fewer than 20 animals alive. Their numbers now are officially kept secret to deter poachers – but the secrecy also serves to obscure the true state of affairs.

For 20 years, after the last reported case at Mbkondja in 1993, there had been no rhino poaching, as the SRT’s tactics of constantly patrolling the rhino ranges kept the poachers at bay. But on Christmas Day 2012,

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

A Trophy Hunt That’s Good for Rhinos

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 20, 2014

(Illustration: Liam Barrett)

(Illustration: Liam Barrett)

My latest, for The New York Times:

Let’s stipulate up front that there is no great sport in hunting a black rhinoceros, especially not in Namibia’s open countryside. The first morning we went out tracking in the northern desert there, we nosed around in vehicles for several hours until our guides spotted a rhino a half mile off. Then we hiked quietly up into a high valley. There, a rhino mom with two huge horns stood calmly in front of us next to her calf, as if triceratops had come back to life, at a distance of 200 yards. We shot them, relentlessly, with our cameras.

Let’s also accept, nolo contendere, that trophy hunters are “coldhearted, soulless zombies.” That’s how protesters put it following the recent $350,000 winning bid for the right to trophy hunt a black rhino in Namibia. Let’s acknowledge, finally, that we are in the middle of a horrific global war on rhinos, managed by criminal gangs and driven by a perverse consumer appetite for rhino horn in Southeast Asia.

Even so, auctioning the right to kill a black rhino in Namibia is an entirely sound idea, good for conservation and good for rhinos in particular.

Here’s why: Namibia is just about the only place on earth to have gotten conservation right for rhinos and, incidentally, a lot of other wildlife. Over the past 20 years, it has methodically repopulated one area after another as its rhino population has steadily increased. As a result, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »