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)

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Posts Tagged ‘urban areas’

How Cities Could Still Save Us

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 23, 2018


(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 »

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

That Rat Poison? It’s Killing Bobcats in Your Backyard

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 7, 2014

Bobcats live all around us.  (Photo: John Fowler/Flickr)

Bobcats live all around us. (Photo: John Fowler/Flickr)

A few years ago, I was driving in a Connecticut suburb when a bobcat crossed the road in front of me. He was heftier than a house cat, or even a fox, with tufted ears, a short, “bobbed” tail, and a ballsy, street-smart attitude.  He stopped in front of me as I was slowing down, and glowered, as if to say “You got a problem, pal?”  When I looked suitably chastened, he turned away and strolled onward.

If ever a species was ready to find room for itself in our increasingly urbanized world, the bobcat (Lynx rufus) is it.  My encounter to the contrary, bobcats are generally ghostssolitary, nocturnal, and elusive, slipping through the dark corners of our lives. They’re relatively small, only about 15 pounds for females and 20 for males, which helps them live around us unnoticed.  They thrive on the sort of small and medium-sized prey species commonly found in developed areas, including mice, rats, squirrels, and rabbits.

In his 2010 book, Urban Carnivores, Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with the National Park Service, called bobcats “perhaps the most adaptable cat species in the Western Hemisphere.”  Riley has seen bobcats raising kittens in

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