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  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books


    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 ‘urban wildlife’

The Land Mafia Schemes to Gobble Up A Wildlife Oasis in the City

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 29, 2015

Moving in on Mumbai's Aarey Milk Colony

Moving in on Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony (Photos: Richard Conniff)

When a builder hungers to develop a patch of open space, he finds an environmental consultant to conclude that there isn’t any wildlife living there. It’s an ecological desert, the consultant dutifully reports. A wasteland. Really, the developer is doing a public service by even offering to put a building there.

I have seen this Big Lie prevail at home, where critical wetland habitat in the Jersey Meadowlands has given way to a hideous mega-mall described, by Gov. Chris Christie, no less, as “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America.” And I saw The Lie at work again early this month on a visit to Mumbai, India’s largest city and the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the world.


The cattle stalls in the middle of Mumbai

One of the odder things about Mumbai is that it contains a 40-square-mile national park, in the middle of a metropolis of 20.5 million people. Also oddly, the park has a very agricultural 4,000-acre appendage on its southern end called Aarey Milk Colony. The name means what it suggests: In the 1940s, the city moved dairy farmers 20 miles north to what was then forested countryside with the aim of providing a reliable milk supply for the city. About 16,000 buffalo now live in open sheds there, and the rest of the colony is a mix of woodlands and fields growing fodder for the cattle. Locals sometimes refer to Aarey as “the green lungs of Mumbai.”

But pressure to develop open land has become unbelievably fierce in the surrounding area, where population density can top 71,000 people per square mile. Developers nibble away at open space, regardless of whether they actually own it. Early this year, for instance, local journalist Ranjeet Jadhav reported that the so-called “land mafia”—developers and their collaborators in government—were selling off shanty-size chunks of Aarey Milk Colony for Read the rest of this entry »

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

This Week’s Green News Roundup

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 8, 2014

Here’s the latest conservation news from The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog.


Tony Abbott, prime minister of Australia, declares the country will create no new parks under his administration. Scientists, not surprisingly, are outraged. (Conservation Bytes)

Stranger than fiction: Tiny pseudo-scorpions hitch a ride on beetles. (Mongabay)

Why being good for medicine is bad for the humble horseshoe crab…but being obsolete may be worse. (Atlantic)


The orange, cave-dwelling crocodiles of Gabon. (Abanda Expeditions)

The second edition of the Sibley Guide to Birds is here. Here are 10 things serious birders should know about the changes. (10,000 Birds)

Where do turtle toddlers disappear to? A mystery solved. (Discover)

Beavers back in the Bronx River. What will the zoopolitan future look like? (Strange Behaviors)

New Research

Meet the “information parasites” (they’re Read the rest of this entry »

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

Making Way for Urban Wildlife

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 6, 2014

A peregrine falcon over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn (Photo: Patrick Cash/MTA)

A peregrine falcon over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn (Photo: Patrick Cashin/MTA)

by Richard Conniff/Yale Environment 360

A few years ago in Baltimore County, Maryland, environmental staffers were reviewing a tree-planting proposal from a local citizens group. It called for five trees each of 13 different species, as if in an arboretum, on the grounds of an elementary school in a densely-populated neighborhood.

It seemed like a worthy plan, both for the volunteer effort and the intended environmental and beautification benefits. Then someone pointed out that there were hardly any oaks on the list, even though the 22 oak species native to the area are known to be wildlife-friendly. Local foresters, much less local wildlife, could barely recognize some of the species that were being proposed instead. As if to drive home the logical inconsistencies, both the school and the neighborhood were named after oak trees.

“Why are we doing this?” someone wondered.

That sort of epiphany has been happening a lot lately in metropolitan areas around the world, as people come to terms with both the dramatic increase in urbanized areas and the corresponding loss of wildlife. The portion of the planet characterized as urban is on track to triple from 2000 to 2030—that is, we are already almost halfway there. Meanwhile, 17 percent of the 800 or so North American bird species are in decline, and all 20 species on the Audubon Society’s list of “common birds in decline” have lost at least half their population since 1970.

Those kinds of stark numbers, repeated around the world, have made it disturbingly evident that it’s not enough for cities to plant a million trees, preach the gospel of backyard gardens, or build green roofs and smart streets. The trees, shrubs, and flowers in that ostensibly green infrastructure also need to benefit birds, butterflies, and other animals. They need to provide habitat for breeding, shelter, and food. Where possible, the habitat needs to be arranged in corridors where wildlife can safely travel.

Though it may be too soon to call it an urban wildlife movement, initiatives focused on urban biodiversity seem to be catching on. The U.S. Forest Service, which once laughed off the idea that anything urban could be wild,now supports Read the rest of this entry »

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

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 »