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    Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape from Contagion: “Ending Epidemics is an important book, deeply and lovingly researched, written with precision and elegance, a sweeping story of centuries of human battle with infectious disease. Conniff is a brilliant historian with a jeweler’s eye for detail. I think the book is a masterpiece.” Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer

    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 ‘squirrels’

The Squirrels in Our Parks Are A Rewilding Success Story

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 10, 2013

An urban comeback story (Photo:

An urban comeback story (Photo:

There’s hardly any more common wildlife in cities east of the Mississippi River than the gray squirrel, racing like greased smoke through the tree branches, or foraging, fat and wily, beneath every bird feeder. Watching them can at times induce laugh-out-loud delight—or push us to the brink of madness. (For laughter and madness both, check out any number of videos of failed “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.) On balance, I think most people would agree that city life without squirrels would be a far duller thing.

Until relatively recently, though, a life without squirrels was normal in most American cities. The spectacle of a squirrel in the city was so unusual for much of the 19th century, according to an article just published in the Journal of American History, that when a pet squirrel got loose near New York’s city hall in 1856, hundreds of people gathered to watch—and ridicule—the hapless attempts to recapture it. Squirrels were known not as city dwellers but as shy inhabitants of thick forests and as occasional agricultural pests.

Etienne Benson’s account of how that changed comes at a useful time. Today’s nascent urban wildlife movement is trying to figure out how to bring more birds, butterflies, and other species into the city—and beyond that, how to keep any wildlife alive in an increasingly urbanized world. So how did the squirrel become part of our daily lives even as other species, such as the passenger pigeon and the ivory-billed woodpecker, were being driven to extinction?

“In order to end up with squirrels in the middle of cities,” writes Benson, a University of Pennsylvania historian, “you had to transform the urban landscape by planting trees and building parks and changing the way that people behave. People had to stop shooting squirrels and start feeding them.”

Early settlers had exterminated the gray squirrels, sometimes encouraged by bounties. But a few wildlife lovers reintroduced them, first in Read the rest of this entry »

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