Horn of Darkness: Rhinos on the Edge / Edition 1

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The black rhino is nature's tank, feared by all animals, even lions. And yet the black rhino is on the edge of extinction, its numbers dwindling from 100,000 at the turn of the century, to less than 2,500 today. The reason is that in places like Yemen, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, the rhino's horn is more treasured than gold, so valuable that people will risk their lives to harvest it. To deter rhino poachers, African governments have spent millions - on helicopters, paramilitary operations, fences, and guard dogs, even relocation to protected areas. Finally, three African countries tried a radical strategy - cutting the horns. The rationale is simple. If a rhino has no horns, the incentive to kill it should disappear. What has since unfolded is a biological and political drama. In Horn of Darkness, Carol Cunningham and Joel Berger describe their passionate quest to help conserve Africa's black rhinos. Arriving in fiercely independent Namibia, the authors begin to study how horns are involved in the lives of rhinos. Writing alternate chapters, Carol and Joel tell the story of three years in the remote Namib Desert and capture what it is like to experience life in the remaining wilds of Africa. Horn of Darkness blends natural history and biology, adventure and adrenaline, Africans and local attitudes. It also reveals a clear sense of the careful, patient work involved in studying animals, the frustration of long days searching for them, and the realities of coping with extreme temperatures and a nomadic lifestyle.

This vividly written account by a husband-and-wife scientific team explores living out in the wilds of Africa studying the black rhino. Part travelogue, part adventure story, Horn Of Darkness reveals that Namibia's highly touted de-horning program might not be working because de-horned mothers are not able to protect their young from predators. 59 halftones. 256 pp. 6,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An object lesson in field research hazards—both the physical and the political.

Consider the black rhinoceros, fearless, scattering lions and elephants as it motors along at 30 mph. Now consider that in less than 100 years its numbers have shriveled from 100,000 to 3,000, cut down by machine-gun-toting poachers desirous of their horns, made of a keratin-like substance similar to fingernails that brings huge sums in Hong Kong; it is valued for its medicinal qualities in China, Korea, and Taiwan and as dagger shafts in Yemen. Cunningham and Berger, of the University of Nevada, Reno, spent four years in the Namibian Desert, studying in particular the effects on the rhinos of dehorning, which had come into vogue as a means of harvesting the horns' wealth while saving the animals themselves from poachers. In alternating chapters, the two authors plait their days afield into a delightful memoir: how they learned to track, to dodge rhino charges, to set up house in a Land Rover with their toddler daughter, to overcome all the logisitical problems of cameras and auto mechanics and night-vision equipment and life without a tossed salad. Berger gets in a few volleys condemning the treatment of the local population by European imperialists, and he appreciates the simple fact that starving people will understandably kill endangered species to survive. But rhinos were his preoccupation. Perhaps too much so; when he wrote a paper with his wife questioning the value of dehorning (he raised the issue of calf mortality as a possible consequence of dehorned mothers left unable to defend for them), he ran hard against national pride and the fact that legally cut horns could be sold by the state for hard currency. Namibia gave Cunningham and Berger the bum's rush and told them not to return.

Consider the black rhinoceros, and pity him too; without Cunningham and Berger in his corner, his future gets that much dimmer.

From the Publisher
"More than a nature study or adventure story, Horn of Darkness is a melange of politics, economics, hope, despair, and intestinal fortitude. It's a great read, because it's real."—Dr. Andy Phillips, Deputy Director, Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species, Zoological Society of San Diego

"Few would have had the courage to take their families into the harsh and lonely landscape of the Namib; even fewer would have returned with so much for science, humanity and the wildlife they studied.... This book is a must read for anyone seeking insight into the lives of those who struggle to conserve endangered species and those who want to know more about the desperate plight of the black rhinoceros."—Mark Dykes, Administrative Director, Owens Foundation for Wildlife Conservation

"In alternating chapters, the two authors plait their days afield into a delightful memoir: how they learned to track, to dodge rhino charges, to overcome all the logistical problems of cameras and auto mechanics and night-vision and life without a tossed salad."—Kirkus Reviews

"Horn of Darkness, a fast-moving adventure about field studies in the Namib desert, is also an object lesson about the politics of conservation. When the Namibian government began to de-horn black rhinos in the early 1990s as a deterrent to poachers, Berger and Cunningham were welcomed as guest scientists to examine the biological consequences. Their gypsy-like quest for data contains humor, understanding, and the insight that the human dimension, rather than biology, poses the greatest challenges to wildlife conservation." —Chris Wemmer, Smithsonian Institution

"These remarkable authors, Carol Cunningham and Joel Berger, show that the process of Science is subject to the distortions of political agendas, of whimsical authority. Yet their trials are described with sensitivity, emotion, humor and a deeply felt commitment to the future of humankind and their fellow species and environments." —A.R.E. Sinclair, Professor of Ecology and Director, Centre for Biodiversity Research

"A compelling tale of how scientists work under physically and politically challenging conditions in an attempt to determine if radical management can help conserve one of the world's most critically endangered mammals in one of the world's wildest places. The reader is treated to a blend of science with a unique personal perspective into the family life of field biologists."—Steven R. Beissinger, Division of Ecosystem Sciences, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley

"The two authors...and their young daughter still in nappies, spent 3 seasons in Namibia dehorning rhino and researching the wildlife biology of this species. The book is a narrative of their time in Namibia. It reads like a novel, starting with their first tentative steps in the country and following their scientific and social interaction with the people of the country. Through their writing you can feel the heat and sweat, the exhilaration of the work and their reaction to feeling like unwanted invaders of privacy when meeting with remote tribes people. When their fourth session of work is stopped before it really starts because of politics, the reader gets an object lesson about the politics of conservation. This book is every bit as good as 'Out of Africa' but with a lot more good ecology in it." — Bulletin of the British Ecological Society

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195138801
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/16/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 4.50 (w) x 3.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Cunningham and Joel Berger have worked as a team for fifteen years studying conservation and wildlife issues from Africa and Alaska to the Great Basin Desert. They both work at the University of Nevada, in Reno, and live up in the Sierras.

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Table of Contents

A Black Rhino Time Line
1. In the Rhino's Path
2. Bumbling around in the Bush
3. Trial by Fire
4. Etosha
5. Dark Nights and Moonlight
6. Mom
7. The Unforgiving Desert
8. A Tracker Appears
9. It Depends on Your Perspective
10. Through the Eyes of a Poacher
11. "The Missus"
12. A Caprivi Crossing
13. Rhino Illusions
14. Namib Edge
15. Buried in Sand
16. Lions and Hyenas
17. The Dead and the Brave
18. Concrete Corridors
19. Of Science and Ecology
20. The Europa Hof
21. Trails of Dust
22. Of Moths and Maggots
23. The Zimbabwe Massacre
24. Missing Calves
25. The Witch Doctor's Revenge
26. The Pelvis and the Lion
27. Horn Traders
28. Rhino Rhetoric
29. Xenophobia
Selected Bibliography

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