Chicagoans silently streamed tears and New Yorkers thronged the streets as Barack Obama delivered his presidential acceptance speech last night but the fervor was also felt in Kogelo, a village in western Kenya and the ancestral homeland of President-elect Obama. I spent a summer near here, surveying avian diversity in maize fields and forest patches and gathering bird mythologies from elders. The Luo people—the tribe of Obama’s father and much of western Kenya—have mixed regard for birds, which can destroy crops, eliminate pests, bring magic or imply death. Here are some of the stories I collected:
Just in time for Halloween, scientists may be one step closer to solving the mystery of a fatal illness afflicting one of the icons of the underworld—bats. In the last two years more than 100,000 bats in the northeastern United States have died from a disease known as white-nose syndrome. Identified by the namesake white, powdery substance on the bats’ muzzles, ears, and wings, this puzzling affliction emaciates and dehydrates the nocturnal animals during their hibernation period. Now scientists have isolated a fungus that could be the culprit attacking bats with vampire-like swiftness.
Texas is infested with wild hogs, as are Louisiana and Florida, and now an ever-expanding population is sweeping south to north, wreaking havoc in states like Oregon, Wisconsin and Missouri. Wild hogs are smart, athletic and elusive, which makes them an exciting prey for hunters, who truck hogs in from out of state for the chance to go at them on their own turf. But once introduced, hog numbers explode; for conservationists, farmers and pork producers the animals are a nightmare.
Of the 289 whooping cranes brought to central Florida since 1993 under the guidance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only 31 have survived and just nine chicks have hatched in the wild. After meetings last month in which models were presented that pegged the birds’ chances of surviving at less than 50/50, the recovery team made the decision to halt the reintroduction.