NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Gale Ridge could tell something was wrong as soon as the man walked into her office at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He was smartly dressed in a collared shirt and slacks, but his skin didn’t look right: It was bright pink, almost purple — and weirdly glassy.Without making eye contact, he sat hunched in the chair across from Ridge and began to speak. He was an internationally renowned physician and researcher. He had taught 20 years’ worth of students, treating patients all the while, and had solved mysteries about the body’s chemistry and how it could be broken by disease. But now, he was having health issues he didn’t know how to deal with.“He was being eaten alive by insects,” Ridge, an entomologist, recalled recently. “He described these flying entities that were coming at him at night and burrowing into his skin.”Their progeny, too, he said, seemed to be inside his flesh. He’d already seen his family doctor and dermatologist. He’d hired an exterminator to no avail. He had tried Epsom salts, vinegar, medication. So he took matters into his own hands, filling his bathtub with insecticide and clambering in for some relief.But even that wasn’t working. The biting, he said, would begin again. Ridge tried her best to help. “What I did was talk to him, explaining the different biologies of known arthropods that can live on people … trying to get him to understand that what he is seeing is not biologically known to science,” she said.
Tag Archives: Wild Life
In 1992, at Tangalooma, off the coast of Queensland, people began to throw fish into the water for the local wild dolphins to eat. In 1998, the dolphins began to feed the humans, throwing fish up onto the jetty for them. The humans thought they were having a bit of fun feeding the animals. What, if anything, did the dolphins think?
Charles Darwin thought the mental capacities of animals and people differed only in degree, not kind — a natural conclusion to reach when armed with the radical new belief that the one evolved from the other. His last great book, “The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals”, examined joy, love and grief in birds, domestic animals and primates as well as in various human races. But Darwin’s attitude to animals — easily shared by people in everyday contact with dogs, horses, even mice — ran contrary to a long tradition in European thought which held that animals had no minds at all. This way of thinking stemmed from the argument of René Descartes, a great 17th-century philosopher, that people were creatures of reason, linked to the mind of God, while animals were merely machines made of flesh — living robots which, in the words of Nicolas Malebranche, one of his followers, “eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it: they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing.”
Within minutes of our first meeting, and more or less in response to my saying good morning, Justin Schmidt began lamenting our culture’s lack of insect-based rites of passage. He told me about the Sateré-Mawé people in northwestern Brazil, who hold a ceremony in which young men slip their hands into large mitts filled with bullet ants, whose stings are so agonizing they can cause temporary paralysis; when initiates pass the test, they’re one step closer to becoming full members of society.
The world’s largest land animal, the biggest fish, the bird with the greatest wingspan, the largest primate: all are sliding towards extinction at astounding speed. If we will not protect such magnificent species, what are we prepared to do?
In just seven years 30% of Africa’s savannah elephants have been wiped out. The other African subspecies, the forest elephant, has crashed by more than 60% since 2002. Perhaps this month’s resolution to ban domestic sales of elephant tusks will make a difference, but governments have done so little to restrain the international trade that illegal ivory and other wildlife parts are still sold on the surface web, rather than the dark web.
Nell’ultimo secolo il ricordo del lupo sembrava relegato alle favole, dove l’animale è inevitabilmente il cattivo. Quello in carne e ossa, Canis lupus, era quasi scomparso, almeno in Italia e in buona parte dell’Europa occidentale. Poi però qualcosa è cambiato. Il lupo ha ripreso a popolare l’Italia: gli Appennini, le colline della Toscana, infine le Alpi con sconfinamenti verso Francia, Svizzera, Carinzia, Slovenia.
Tranquilli, non rischiamo di incontrarlo durante la prossima gita in montagna: il lupo ha imparato a sue spese che dagli umani è meglio stare alla larga. Però, certo, mangia le pecore e può anche attaccare le stalle: e infatti non tutti sono contenti di rivederlo.
The first hour of the day, before the sun is over the horizon: this is the time to see wildlife. In the spring and summer, when no one else is walking, when there is no traffic and the air is dense, so that the sounds of the natural world reverberate, when nocturnal and diurnal beasts are roaming, you will see animals that melt away like snow as the sun rises.Whenever I stay in an unfamiliar part of the countryside, I try to wake before dawn and walk until the heat begins to rise. Many of my richest experiences with wildlife have occurred at such times. In this magical hour, I too seem to come to life. I hear more, smell more, I am more alert. I feel that at other times my perceptions are muted, my senses dulled by the white noise of the day.
On the first day of a trip to Zimbabwe, in 2008, at the height of Robert Mugabe’s campaign of land seizures, directed at his country’s minority population of white farmers, I met an American hunter. A friend and I had driven up from Johannesburg, and entered the country by crossing the Limpopo River that afternoon. We planned to spend the night in a lodge in a wildlife preserve a few hours from the border. A hunting guide, the sort of man who used to be called a “white hunter,” lived nearby, and he and his client came to the lodge for dinner.
They looked exhausted, especially the American. They had spent the day hunting for hippo, and had begun before dawn. As they told it, they had lain in wait at a concealed spot on the shores of the Limpopo, but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that the American, who called himself Dick, was able to make a shot. He had fired a single round with his rifle, a powerful .375-calibre elephant gun, into the brain of a good-sized bull. The shot had killed the hippo, and it had remained where it died, out in the middle of the river. They had spent the remaining daylight hours arranging with some men in a nearby community to retrieve the carcass for them the next morning. In return for their labours, the local men would be given the meat; the American would take the hide and the head.
Redouan Bshary well remembers the moment he realized that fish were smarter than they are given credit for. It was 1998, and Bshary was a young behavioural ecologist with a dream project: snorkelling in Egypt’s Red Sea to observe the behaviour of coral-reef fish. That day, he was watching a grumpy-looking grouper fish as it approached a giant moray eel.
As two of the region’s top predators, groupers and morays might be expected to compete for their food and even avoid each other — but Bshary saw them team up to hunt. First, the grouper signalled to the eel with its head, and then the two swam side by side, with the eel dipping into crevices, flushing out fish beyond the grouper’s reach and getting a chance to feed alongside. Bshary was astonished by the unexpected cooperation; if he hadn’t had a snorkel in his mouth, he would have gasped.
This underwater observation was the first in a series of surprising discoveries that Bshary has gone on to make about the social behaviour of fish. Not only can they signal to each other and cooperate across species, but they can also cheat, deceive, console or punish one another — even show concern about their personal reputations. “I have always had a lot of respect for fish,” says Bshary. “But one after the other, these behaviours took me by surprise.”
When I read about the attacks on the world’s remaining elephants and rhinos, the first thought that enters my head is: “these creatures used to be everywhere.” Almost every area of land and sea, in every region of the world, had a megafauna.
Elephants lived throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and America until very recently in ecological time (30,000 years ago in Europe, 14,000 years ago in the Americas). Rhinos lived across Africa, Asia and Europe. Temperate forest rhinos lived in Britain during previous interglacials, and woolly rhinos lived here in colder periods. Russia was haunted by two gigantic species: humpbacked rhinos the size of elephants, eight feet to the crest, weighing perhaps five tonnes.
Lions were everywhere except Australasia (that had a marsupial equivalent); tigers ranged to the borders of Europe; hippos wallowed in British rivers; hyaenas survived into the early Mesolithic in Britain and northern Europe. All this is easily forgotten in a world afflicted by shifting baseline syndrome: our habit of conceptualising as natural and normal the ecosystems that prevailed in our own youth, unaware that they were, even then, in an extremely degraded state.