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

  • Advertisements

Posts Tagged ‘rewilding’

How Cities Could Still Save Us

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 23, 2018

22conniff-superJumbo

(Illustration: Lan Truong by permission)

by Richard Conniff/The New York Times

Before the environmental activist and gay rights lawyer David Buckel set himself afire in Prospect Park in Brooklyn on April 14, he wrote a letter explaining that he had chosen his “early death by fossil fuel” as an act of protest against the environmental catastrophe that we are bringing upon ourselves and the planet. It was a horrifying end, not least because in life Mr. Buckel had successfully taken on issues as seemingly intractable as the legalization of same-sex marriage. If someone so capable had given up on the environment, one woman remarked to a Times reporter, “What does that mean for the rest of us?”

I was thinking about Mr. Buckel and about despair a few nights later, over a drink with Joe Walston of the Wildlife Conservation Society. As director of that organization’s worldwide field conservation work, Mr. Walston routinely comes face-to-face with the dark forces of human overpopulation, mass extinction of species, climate change and pollution. But he is also the co-author of a paper being published this week in the journal BioScience that begins with the uplifting words of Winston Churchill to the British nation in June 1940, under the shadow of the Nazi conquest of France: “In casting up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye,” Churchill declared, “I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair.”

Mr. Walston and his co-authors go on to argue against the increasingly common view that these are the end times for life as we know it. Instead, they suggest that what the natural world is experiencing is a bottleneck — long, painful, undoubtedly frightening and likely to get worse in the short term — but with the forces of an eventual breakthrough and environmental recovery already gathering strength around us.

Mr. Walston sipped his beer and listed what he called “the four pillars” of conservation in the modern era — a stabilized human population, increasingly concentrated in urban areas, able to escape extreme poverty, and with a shared understanding of nature and the environment — “and all four are happening right now.” He singled out the trend Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

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

How the British Countryside Got Sheepwrecked

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 25, 2014

26SHEEP-articleLarge

My latest, for The New York Times:

You don’t have to look far to see the woolly influence of sheep on our cultural lives.  They turn up as symbols of peace and a vaguely remembered pastoral way of life in our poetry, our art, and in our Christmas pageants. Wolves also rank high among our cultural icons, usually in connection with the words “big” and “bad.”  And yet there is now a debate under way about substituting the wolf for the sheep on the (also iconic) green hills of Britain.

The British author and environmental polemicist George Monbiot has largely instigated the anti-sheep campaign, which builds on a broader “rewilding” movement to bring native species back elsewhere in Europe.  Until he recently relocated, Monbiot used to look up at the bare hills above his house in Machynlleth, Wales, and seethe inwardly at what Lord Tennyson lovingly called “the livelong bleat/Of the thick-fleeced sheep.” Because of overgrazing by sheep, he says, the deforested uplands, including a national park, looked “like the aftermath of a nuclear winter.”  In any direction, there were fewer trees than when he used to work in the semi-desert regions of northern Kenya.

“I have an unhealthy obsession with sheep,” Monbiot admits, in his new book Feral, recently published in the UK and due out next year in the United States. “It occupies many of my waking hours and haunts my dreams. I hate them. “  In a chapter titled “Sheepwrecked,” he calls sheep a “white plague” and “a slow-burning ecological disaster, which has done more damage to the living systems of this country than either climate change or industrial pollution.”

The thought of all those sheep—30 million nationwide—makes Monbiot a little crazy.  But to be fair, something about sheep seems to lead us all beyond the realms of logic.  The sheep-nibbled landscape that Monbiot denounces as “a bowling green with contours” is beloved by the British public, who regard those ruined uplands as an eternal cultural heritage.  Visitors (including this writer, otherwise a wildlife advocate) tend to feel the same when they hike the hills and imagine they are still looking out on William Blake’s “green and pleasant land.”  Even British conservationists, who routinely scold other countries for letting livestock graze in their national parks, somehow fail to notice that all 15 of Britain’s national parks are overrun with sheep.

Monbiot recently attacked the Lake District, immortalized by writers from William Wordsworth to Beatrix Potter, as the worst-kept landscape in Britain, because Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »