Update

I have updated my post on the Unocal deal (scroll down). The unlikely coalition of The New Yorker and National Review Online are defending it. I remain skeptical…

The Eastern Wolf

The canid predators of the northeast have increased during my lifetime. When I was young and they were rare everyone called them “coydogs”, assuming that they were dog- coyote hybrids. This was biologically unlikely for several reasons– their uniformity, the difficulty of pups produced from a one- estrus parent (the coyote) and a two- estrus one (dog) surviving winter birth in a harsh land. Later everyone just called them “coyotes”, though they were almost twice the size of a western coyote, had much more robust skulls (until recently I had skulls of both) and had handsome, heavy, dark coats marked around the face like wolves. I remember seeing them when I was in western Massachusetts in the mid- seventies, and they didn’t just eat mice, either. I lived near Quabbin Reservoir, basically a huge wild lake with no habitation on its shores, with bald eagles, goshawks, fishers, bears,and many big “coyotes”. On many occasions in winter I saw them feeding on dead deer on the Quabbin ice, and once I saw them drive a doe out onto the ice and kill it.

Now Sari Mantila of Finland, web- godess and founder of Tazi List, sends this link to a story from the Caledonian Record in St Johnsbury Vermont. It seems like what some of us have always suspected is true: they aren’t just coyotes. The article quotes Fish and Wildlife biologist Thomas Decker: “It’s smaller than a wolf, and larger than a coyote,” Decker said. “It’s a hybrid… between a large, eastern coyote and a wolf.”

Of course, this thesis immediately gets hit by political implications. Some want to introduce regular “timber” wolves (Canis lupus) to the northeast. Some think the current “wolves” are just a humanly- influenced “mutt”.

But not so fast. What WERE the original wolves of the northeast? “The scant evidence, according to Jakubas, suggests they were not “timber wolves,” or gray wolves (Canis lupus), as northern and western wolves now are called. Rather, he said they appear to have been similar to the red wolves (Canis rufus) found in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park north of Toronto”.

The article goes on to say that most believe that when the wolves were hunted out they were then replaced by coyotes from the west that in turn hybridized with returning timber wolves. What none of them seem to realize is that the southern “red wolf” is already a natural hybrid of coyote and timber wolf! Using Occam’s razor, wouldn’t it be easier to believe that the northeast’s canid retreated briefly (if at all) into Canada and then returned?

One more thought. The red wolf is another post- glacial phenomenon, as C. lupus came over the Bering Bridge with Clovis man to mingle its genes with the “native” (doubtless, like the dire wolf, product of one of the Bridge’s earlier emergences) coyote. I guess they hadn’t diverged too far…

Au Contraire on Zebras

In Grayal Farr’s piece on St. Vincent Island he wondered if anyone ever hunted zebras. I knew they were sometimes used as lion bait but hadn’t really thought about the matter much. Reader (and writer you should read) Tom McIntyre writes: “Curiously, I just completed a feature story on this very topic, which will appear in Sports Afield”.

You’ll have to wait for the magazine to read the whole thing, but he writes an eloquent tribute to the beauty and toughness of these wild equids, reminding us our ancestors revered such animals as quarry. “Why does the most recognizable African big-game animal also happen to be the one that seems to earn the least respect from the hunters who pursue it on safari? It is certainly no fault of the animal’s. There is probably none other as visually arresting; and when it comes to stamina and sheer toughness, few equals exist…I find nothing trivial or ad hoc about hunting them. Zebras are never an afterthought on a safari for me, but a deliberate goal”.

Soviet Childrens’ Animal Books

Whatever my feelings about the late and monstrous Soviet Union’s government, anyone who knows me also knows of my (sometimes infuriated) love for Russia.

And one of the things I love is a certain strain of Russian art that ran beside and under the godawful “Socialist Realist” style, and has survived the Soviet Union (I hope to write soon and at length on my friend VadimGorbatov, Russia’s finest wildlife artist). A style of drawing and painting that mixes classical skills of drawing and painting with bold graphic innovation, demands the mastery of technique, and that seems dead or dormant in the US and the rest of the west, still exists there.

It seems it always has– Russians, despite the environmental horrors of places like Norilsk , are a nation of nature lovers, hunters, mushroomers, nature artists and poets. So I was delighted when Jonathan Hanson sent me links to this site featuring the art of early Soviet childrens’ books..

The best images are in In the Animal World and in The Soviet North .

Despite the propaganda in many (though apparently many were created by artists already unwilling to work in the propaganda machine) what beautiful images!

Decline and Fall 2

Second in a continuing series, a watch on the decline and fall of no- longer- Great Britain.

In John Derbyshire’s ever- entertaining monthly Diary for July, he tells of how perfectly normal young and middle aged Brits are abandoning the land of overwhelming PC and daunting costs for the Mediterranean, Australia, the US,and in the case of his nephew, Turkey!

He ruminates:”So, what? — Britain’s just going to…empty out?”

And recounts this story: ” Jay Nordlinger likes to tell of a conversation he had in London once with David Pryce-Jones, about some constitutional outrage the British government was perpetrating. Jay: “Why do the British people put up with it, with that great tradition of liberty they have?” P-J: “Jay, the British people don’t live here any more.” “

“Looks like this may soon be literally true!”

Ill Wind Power

Odious at Odious and Peculiar has a post on why wind is hardly a major energy contributor, and why it most likely won’t be:

“Distressingly little of the country is suitable for this type of power generation.

“Moreover, you really want to find a place where, to start with, no one lives, no one cares about the view, and no birds sing. Whether it is necessary for the sedge to have withered, I leave to committee. But wind turbines tend to chew up birds and spit them out, much in the manner of the comical antics of Warner Bros.’ Tasmanian devil.

“I am all for “alternative” energy sources, by which I mean “not coal”. I believe in man’s influence on global warming. I like things that are free–wind, sun, water. But, leaving aside the fact that they aren’t really free, they don’t scale. It is difficult to tell the wind that, come five o’clock, we need a quick boost in power production. Add to that the ugliness of a turbine field, and the potential loss of, say, a California condor, and I find myself thinking nuclear thoughts.”

Many more good things there, on everything from Sappho to the Supreme Court. Odious has been productive.

Grayal on St. Vincent Island, Florida

Guest poster Grayal Farr on an alien that does no harm (also an occasion for a good Kipling quote. But then again, what isn’t?)

“St. Vincent Island NWR is one of the bigger remaining chunks of near-pristine Florida. Visitors are allowed over every day, but no motorized transportation is allowed except for refuge staff and volunteers. The island is almost ten miles long, and except after a lot of rain, the roads and beaches are deep soft sand, so bikes aren’t that good an option either. Public access, except for the nights before a couple of primitive weapons hunts, is dawn to dusk.

For decades it was the private hunting preserve of rich Yankees. They imported exotics, Zebras (Why, I don’t know. Who ever hunted zebras?), Blackbuck, and Sambar Deer. The zebras and Blackbuck were hopeless, and came into the hunting camp on the eastern end of the island for feed from the very beginning. The Sambar, on the other hand, seem to have discovered that rare thing, an unoccupied ecological niche. They just sort of looked around, glanced meaningfully at each other – and disappeared into the marshes. They continue to flourish. When FWS took over the place they immediately got rid of the freeloading zebras and Blackbuck. The Sambar were another matter. A decision was made to let them be, partly (though never explicitly acknowledged) because of local sentiment. Anyway, they’re still there, giving me an opportunity to experience some of Kipling’s genius for description…

As the dawn was breaking the Sambhur belled –
Once, twice, and again!
And a doe leaped up and a doe leaped up
From the pond in the wood where the wild deer sup.
This, I, scouting alone beheld,
Once, twice, and again!

It does get you. They crash off like Elk in heavy cover. Nothing like it in Florida.”

Oh and– they have red wolves, too. That poem is, for non- Kiplingites (shame!) narrated by a wolf.

NAGPRA alert!

From Grayal Farr, naturalist, archaeologist, and retired Special Forces Major, comes a warning, in the form of a letter to his senator. If you heed it, remember to fax– emails are often discounted, and Grayal says that mail takes three weeks to actaully get to your senator.

“I am writing to urge that you vote to delete Amendment 108 from Senate Bill 536, sponsored by Senator McCain.

As a retired veteran I greatly respect Senator McCain and support his principled stands on many issues. However I am also a graduate student in Archaeology. I’m aware of the stifling effect the amendment would have on our ability to investigate how the western hemisphere was first explored and settled.

The constitution provides for the Senate to advise and consent in matters pertaining to “the Indian tribes.” Amendment 108 would push back definition of Native Americans far past any ability of science or even oral history to trace tribal affiliation and allow Indians to claim as tribal ancestors the remains of people who may actually have arrived from Europe. In fact, the amendment represents an attempt by modern tribes to preclude discovery of further evidence that there were such people.

Treatment of our tribal populations by the United States, whether governmental abrogation of solemn treaties or anthropological violation of tribal burials and traditions, is a historical blot on our conduct as a nation. Congress in recent decades has moved in many ways to correct those historical wrongs. The Native American American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was and is an appropriate measure to redress some of the harm done by anthropologists in the name of museums and academic institutions. I fully support NAGPRA as written.

However, federal court decisions have affirmed and reaffirmed that NAGPRA does not apply to human remains so old that no tribal affiliation can be ascertained. The proposed amendment would codify concepts such as the belief of many native groups that “we have always been here.” We should no more codify such concepts as United States law than we should pass a law affirming that the earth is flat because some well-meaning citizens sincerely believe it.

Respectfully,

MAJ (U. S. Army Special Forces, retired) Grayal E. Farr

Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford

Sir Terence Clark, a fellow tazi-saluki fanatic, just sent me a link to an exhibition of photographs by the late explorer Wilfred Thesiger. He wanted me to see this photo of a peregrine in the Emirates before World War II. The whole gallery is worth exploring, offering glimpses into not just one byt many lost worlds — for instance, that of the Marsh Arabs , destroyed by Saddam in an act of ecological and cultural genocide.

But even better, the entrance to Thesiger’s exhibit led through the virtual portals of one of my favorite museums on earth, the Pitt Rivers at Oxford in England.

General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) was an English soldier from an old family who became interested in what we now now as archaeology and anthropology just as they were becoming (relatively) scientific disciplines. He was also interested in the evolution of tools. To quote John Greenway: “Living in the first excitement of evolution, Pitt-Rivers noted that the inorganic rifle was evolving as inexorably as Darwin’s finches or Mendel’s garden peas. With this astonishing discovery he turned his interest to weapons of primitive cultures and saw the same invisible process at work.”

He left his extensive collections as the nucleus for the Pitt Rivers Museum.It is the repository of artifacts from every culture imaginable sent in from the entire British Empire and everywhere else Britain’s soldiers and diplomats might reach. If you can think of it, they have it, from fish spears to musical instruments to pigeon flutes. As they say in an online “brochure”: “The Pitt Rivers still retains its Victorian atmosphere. The cluttered cases, the original small handwritten labels and the absence of intrusive text-panels all contribute to the special experience it offers.

We visited the Pitt Rivers on a rainy day in 1994, when we were in Oxford visiting artist-zoologist Jonathan Kingdon (no links, but I’m working on it.) We could have spent six months and never been bored. The collections are in wood-and-glass, cabinets, some vertical, some horizontal, grouped by function rather than geography, around a central atrium. We were looking down from the third floor when I said to Libby: “I wonder if they have Chinese pigeon flutes ?”

A professorial, white-bearded gent examining a nearby case cleared his throat. “Sir…if you’d look down one floor below to your left, you’ll see a tall vertical case…yes, that one. I believe you’ll find a satisfactory collection there.”

We did.