strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

In the Field (and City) with Leopards

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 10, 2015

Lit by a camera-trap flash and the glow of urban Mumbai, a leopard prowls the edge of India’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park. (Photo: Steve Winter)

Lit by a camera-trap flash and the glow of urban Mumbai, a leopard prowls the edge of India’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park. (Photo: Steve Winter)

My article on leopards appears in the December issue of National Geographic magazine, and a slightly reformatted version appears today online. I did the reporting in southern Africa, and India.  Here’s the lead:

We were sitting in the dark, waiting for the leopards beside a trail on the edge of India’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, 40 square miles of green life in the middle of the sprawling gray metropolis of Mumbai. A line of tall apartment buildings stood just opposite, crowding the park border. It was 10 p.m., and through the open windows came the sounds of dishes being cleaned and children being put to bed. Religious music floated up from a temple in the distance. Teenage laughter, a motorcycle revving. The hum and clatter of 21 million people, like a great machine. Somewhere in the brush around us, the leopards were listening too, waiting for the noise to die down. Watching.

About 35 leopards live in and around this park. That’s an average of less than two square miles of habitat apiece, for animals that can easily range ten miles in a day. These leopards also live surrounded by some of the world’s most crowded urban neighborhoods, housing 52,000 people or more per square mile. (That’s nearly twice the population density of New York City.) And yet the leopards thrive. Part of their diet comes from spotted deer and other wild prey within the park. But many of the leopards also work the unfenced border between nature and civilization. While the city sleeps, they slip through the streets and alleys below, where they pick off dogs, cats, pigs, rats, chickens, and goats, the camp followers of human civilization. They eat people too, though rarely.

They are fearful of people, and with good reason. Humans make

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Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Plan to Mine Coal in the Birthplace of Rhino Conservation

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 21, 2015

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(Photo: Richard Conniff)

My latest for Takepart:

A few years ago, I was reporting a story about South Africa’s war on rhinos. I suppose you could call it “Vietnam’s war” or “Asia’s war,” since that’s where most of the rhino horn ends up, to supply a bogus medicinal trade. But let’s face it: South Africa’s own political and financial elite tolerate the poaching of more than 1,000 rhinos in the nation every year, probably because they profit from it.

In any case, the obvious place to start my reporting was the birthplace of rhino conservation: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in the coastal state of Kwazulu-Natal. This is where an earlier generation of South Africans saved the white rhino from certain extinction, carefully breeding the species back from just 20 animals in the world at the end of the 19th century to a population of 20,000 today.

In 1895, they also designated Hluhluwe-iMfolozi (pronounced “shluh-shloo-ee”) Africa’s first nature preserve.

This should be a great national heritage, and also a source of cultural pride: The broad river valleys and rolling highlands of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi were once the favorite hunting ground of Shaka, the storied Zulu warrior king. The park is home not just to white rhinos but also to critically endangered black rhinos, as well as elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, and 340 species of birds.

But now Ibutho Coal, a little-known mining company Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

In South Africa, Coffee with Friends

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 25, 2014

And a very vervet monkey morning to you.

And a very vervet monkey morning to you.

I’m in the Durban area at the moment, working on a story about leopards.  These artful dodgers strolled into my room this morning to steal the sugar packets.

Posted in Funny Business | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Nasty Beast

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 11, 2013

Cape Buffalo (Photo: Keith Connelly)

Cape Buffalo (Photo: Keith Connelly)

To a dismaying extent, our faces make us who we are.  If you are born with a lowering brow, the world will never believe that you are at heart a happy-go-lucky guy.  Few animals on earth have a meaner, more malevolent face than the cape buffalo, and I am afraid they have the disposition to go with it.

“I am afraid.”  Yes, those would be the key words. Cape buffalo kill a great many people who wander in the African bush.  They like to catch you by surprise, gore you in the gut, and then hammer you into the earth relentlessly with that helmet-like boss on their foreheads.  You are not just dead.  You are pulverized.

The ranking of deadliest animals in Africa is an entertaining pastime, and Cape buffalo always find their way up near the top of the list, well ahead, for instance, of lions.

(With apologies, here’s a link to a really bad web site about Africa’s most deadly animals.  Just for starters,  mosquitoes do not rank second behind hippos.  By spreading malaria, they kill roughly 700,000 people a year.  The 80,000 or so hippos on the continent would have to score nine human deaths apiece per year just to stay in the game.  Which would be fun, of course.  But tiring.)

Anyway, Keith Connelly’s excellent photo brought this all back to me this morning, and I recalled the last time I was wandering with Cape buffalo, while reporting on rhinos in Kwazulu-Natal’s Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park:

We spot the droppings first, and then
a lone bull out on a slope, browsing and looking characteristically angry and forlorn.

“The males in the herd Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Fear & Courage, Sex & Reproduction | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »