The last of the wild*

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Coati, or coatimundi, in Les Mammifères by Louis Figuier. 1879. 140 years ago. One of the many old books that gather dust on my shelves. That one fell apart. Had to restore it completely, all the while thinking I could make a buck cutting off the engravings and selling them for 10 euros a piece on the banks of the Seine. But no. Over my dead body. That – and other books – are a testimony to the wildlife that is disappearing at an alarming rate.

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Coatimundi, Villahermosa, Mexico. c. 1992. Those little pests are in fact thriving. Like raccoons, they have adapted to human habitat and can be found in large flocks around tourist areas. Experts at finding food, they will launch at any plastic bag you may carry. (All the more reason to ban plastic bags). They look cute? Don’t try to grab them. Sharp teeth. 🙂

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Cabiai or capivara, 1879. Three feet long, can weigh 100 to 180 pounds. The largest rodent on earth. Swims very well, lives in groups, the adults caring for the small ones. They live in many parts of South America, on the Amazon and other main rivers. Conservation status: LC, Least concern.

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Brenda, the capivara, on the Peruvian bank of the Amazon, near “Three borders”, where Colombia, Brazil, and Peru converge on the Amazon. c. 2006. It’s called chigüiro in Colombia. Brenda was a very large and gentle pet. Loved to be scratched under the chin. Whistled with joy. Guinea pigs are her closest cousins.

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Striped Hyena, 1879. One must remember that there were few photos then. Explorers went out to the heart of Africa or elsewhere with a sketch book. Completed the sketches on their return, handed the job to the engraver, and that’s what the public saw.

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Spotted hyena, Maasaï Mara National park, Kenya, 1988. Hyenas have a bad reputation as scavengers. But they also hunt in packs as Jane Goodall demonstrated in one of her books. And play an important role in “cleaning” up the dead animals. Their cubs are very cute. Saw a “nest”, dug in the ground at Amboseli, later in the trip. No pix. Just video I need to digitalize… Conservation status: Least threatened.

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Paresseux, sloth. 1879. Lives in South America tropical forest. The destruction of its habitat is a major source of concern.

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Sloth, 2006, on a hike in the Amazon forest, near Leticia, Colombia. The rain forest doesn’t have much wildlife. Lots of mosquitoes, monkeys, the occasional tapir, or the elusive Jaguar. Snakes. Butterflies. Colourful – and venomous – frogs. We were very lucky when we spotted this sloth moving ever so slowly from one tree to the other. Took it about 30-40 minutes. Conservation status depends on the species from vulnerable to critically endangered.

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Bubale, 1879. A large antelope once present across most of Africa, can now only be found in Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. The few countries that still maintain a strong conservation policy. There still are in South Africa too. (“Kikipedia” does not mention it, another evidence that it is not very reliable…) Conservation status: Least concerned.

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Topi, Kenya, 1969. I’ve heard many names for that antelope: Bubale, Topi, Hartebeest. I would call it Kongoni, which is the Swahili name. On occasions one can see a member of the herd on top of a small mound, as a sentinel watching out for predators, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs.

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*The last of the wild is a photo book by Eugen Schuhmacher I bought in 1967 on Kimathi Street in downtown Nairobi. (Still remember the bookshop) Even then there was mounting concern about the preservation of Nature and wildlife. Still have the book. But the wildlife?

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Last but not least, the pangolin. 1879. A toothless insect eater, it is a mammal that developed scales for protection. Scales that have now become its doom. It can still be found in tropical Africa and South-East Asia. The body measures between one to three feet, with an even larger tail. The giant pangolin is about 4 to 4.6 ft. They eat ants and termites with their one foot long tongue. Some live in the trees, other species dig holes for sleeping and protection. When threatened, the pangolin can curl up as a hedgehog or armadillo, the scales forming an armour.

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Granary door, Senufo tribe, Ivory coast. c. Mid 20th century. I’ve never seen a pangolin in the wild, though there were some in West Africa. All I have is this old granary door on a wall. Many African traditional cultures stored grain in clay granaries, with a small door at the top, to protect the grain against rodents or insects. But I’d never “seen” a pangolin. Until a few days ago in the blog of a dear E-friend:

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Pangolin, South Africa, 2019. (c)ourtesy Dina Van Wyk. Dina was born and lives in South Africa. She is a great photographer and an ardent lover of wildlife. Do visit her blog at:

https://perdebytjie.wordpress.com/2019/11/26/die-natuur-verstom-my-elke-dag/

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See the long claws? Useful to dig out termites. The small head and eyes. The scales are the pangolin’s doom. Conservation status: critically endangered for several species. Why? The scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Yes, like Rhino horns. To cure anything from acné to rheumatism to cancer… (Seriously?) The meat is also considered a delicacy. According to some reports, 1 to 2 million pangolins are poached every year. For scales that are nothing more than keratin. Our nails are keratin. Save your nail clippings. And sell them.

I was told in Paris that a rhino horn can fetch up to a million dollars on the black market. In comparison, the pangolin is cheap. One kilo (2 lbs) of pangolin scales is worth 3,000 bucks. 120 tons of pangolin and pangolin parts were seized between 2010 and 2015 worldwide (source: Guinness World Records). If we assume only 10% of illegal substances are seized, we’re talking 1200 tons of global pangolin traffic during that period. 240 tons a year at 3 million dollars a ton? Do the math.

 

 

82 thoughts on “The last of the wild*

    • LOl. Brenda was great. Imagine a 50kgs guinea pig whistling with delight. And yes some pests look cute. One of those coatis just tried to forage in the bag under our new (1 month) granddaughter’s carriage in Cancun. Looking for food! Shooo!

  1. Very interesting! Thanks for mentioning my blog and using my photo’s. It was so special to see this endangered animal, that I am happy to share it with the whole world!
    I am glad you did not sell those engravings.They are very special and also nearly extinct.Nowadays photo’s replace all that wonderful artwork.

    • Dankje. Your pix were the perfect conclusion for the post. 🙂
      And of course I would neither sell, nor buy those engravings. On the banks of the Seine, one can buy just any kind of engraving, generally torn off an old book no-one cares to read anymore. I’ve seen rare editions of classical French authors given away for 20 Euros. I know many of those booksellers on the boxes of the Seine. They tell me if they sell the book at a higher price, it just doesn’t sell. 🙂

    • Thank you Gigi. The idea for the post came when I was pasting the book back together. Took pictures of some of the engravings I knew I had shots of the same animals. Except for the pangolin, which Dina appropriately provided at the right moment. 🙂
      And yes, it is a heartbreak. Even more so to me, because I saw it as a child and a teenager. I don’t know what can be done. Greed will destroy all…
      Take care.

      • I’ve only realized that recently, in London a few years back. We were having a coffee near Covent Garden. The owner, a Scot, and I started chatting, and he said: “It’s all about Grrrreed, mate.” His Scottish accent made it all clearer. Sigh.

  2. Des cabiais, j’en ai vu toute une famille qui sortaient d’un étang près de Kourou. Les deux parents étaient des bêtes énormes, pas loin d’un sanglier moyen par ici. C’était en 2001, avant les appareils photos numériques courants. Une femelle paresseux qui portait un petit, j’ai eu la chance d’en voir une lors de mon dernier séjour, en août dernier : https://aeolusweb.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/j-2-paresse-d-2-laziness/
    Merci, Brieuc, et une belle et douce journée à toi.

      • Pas dangereux du tout, ni craintifs. Ils sont passés à 4 ou 5 mètres de moi exactement comme si je n’étais pas là ! Malheureusement ce n’était pas moi qui avait l’appareil photo du projet ce jour là … pas plus que le jour où j’ai rencontré une araignée monstrueuse, 26 cm de diamètre. Je l’avais le jour où j’ai rencontré un jaguar ondi mais le jaguar a été bien plus rapide que moi !
        Bel après-midi, Brieuc.

      • Haha. De belles rencontres. Pas grave pour les photos. Il reste les mèmoires. (Mais c’est pour ça que j’aime bien l’Iphone. On l’a presque tjrs avec soi. PLus facile de prendre une photo sur le coup)
        A + Gilles

      • J’y suis bien resté une vingtaine de minutes. L’agilité du paresseux, dans les arbres, est très impressionnante. Au sol, c’est mieux de ne pas regarder !
        Merci et un tout bel après-midi à toi, Brieuc.

  3. It’s incredibly sad to see so many species that are already gone or which has been categorized as very likely to become extinct in the near future and I haven’t even had a chance to see them in their natural habitat. Although a loss of habitat can happen naturally, most of it is our fault. Thanks for sharing, yet another beautiful and informative post! Aiva

  4. I love capybaras. Like huge guinea pigs that can swim. I hear they eat them for Easter in Venezuela.Such strange creatures we have on this planet. And humans are the strangest of all. 🙂Thanks for the virtual zoo. Hope you are well, mon ami. Bzzzz.

  5. I am saddened that some species have disappeared. It seems there are so many varying species in different regions of the world, some so very strange to us but I imagine we have some strange ones too. Great text and photographs Brian…enjoyed tremendously 🙂

  6. Pingback: The last of the wild* — Equinoxio – Truth Troubles

  7. The Coati are very cute. I will remember about the teeth, however. The Pangolin’s seem to be mythical they are so artfully arranged. Hope people can stop harvesting their scales while they’re still using them!

    • The more I “dig” into preservation, the more stupidity I encounter. I didn’t know about pangolins. Learnt about their sorry fate in Dina’s blog. But seriously… I was standing in line at the pharmacy the other day when a sales rep approached the lady behind me offering some “natural” stuff and staying “and it even helps with cancer”. I couldn’t hold my tongue and told the sales rep to shut up. “You cannot say it helps with cancer. That is a lie!” She made a face, Shut up, turned around and approached other customers as soon as I was at the counter… Tsss.

      • Joe Jackson has a song called, “Everything Gives you Cancer.” Biyearly in the news we go through coffee’s the best, coffee’s the worst; butter is the devil, butter’s part of a healthy diet; no wine (whine) yet wine’s good for your heart I throw my arms up and say. I think I’ll stick with the middle way. -R

      • Middle way is good. Of course being French butter is indispensable. Now, last year, when they cleared butter of all evil, there actually was a shortage of butter in France!!
        B. Good R.

  8. The Pangolin is amazing! Why have its protective scales become its doom?
    I adore this article you have written about all of these wonderful creatures. Brenda is a beauty!
    Yes, save the books. One day man will implode electronically, and the books will be more precious than they are now!
    Thank you!

    • Pangolin: mankind is stupid I’m afraid… all evidence point to that… 😦
      Brenda was very cute. A huge cuddling guinea pig…
      And I will save the books. But I realize that many will be dispersed after I’m gone. When my father passed away, I had to donate half his books. Books that I’d know since I was a child. But. Don’t have enough space. Even though I now have a full library in our new house. But not enough space. And then some or many of the books have become out of date… I donate the books to the French Lycée in Mexico City. They go over the moon! 😉

  9. Traditional Chinese medicine does seem to be a major driver of the illegal trade in wildlife – although rare woods and other flora are also equally threatened. Then there’s climate change and habitat destruction to add to the mix. I remember seeing hundreds of shark fins for sale in Bangkok’s Chinatown, it’s almost unbelievable that millions of sharks are killed for soup. Just like the pangolin, rhino horn is just hair, also known as keratin. We human’s are idiots.

    I recall watching a gang of coati mugging people for food at Iguazu, quite scary. They will certainly survive the sixth mass extinction.

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