Changing Planet

Sleeping with your cat.


Photo  Stuart Pimm

Or — what’s a girl to do, when it’s a male lion and it’s becoming too friendly?

Yes, I know who you are, out there reading this blog.  Cat lovers.  You think heaven is when your cats — and you probably have more than one of them — are curled up on your bed on a cold night.  But it’s a hot night, in a remote part of Tanzania.  Home is a small pup tent on the bare ground.

It gets dark.  And, no, of course, the lions are not sleeping tonight. They prowl around, you hear the male breathing just outside your tent.  You smell its foetid breath.  And then it does go to sleep on your tent. It feels the lump under the canvas that’s your arm.

Never fear, Dr. Amy Dickman, National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative grantee, is armed and dangerous with all the weaponry she can muster from her makeup bag.  This is a video you have to watch. Prepare to almost die laughing.  Amy defines what we Brits mean by a stiff upper lip and, yes, lived to tell her story.

While you’re at it, read the new, excellent interview by Jeremy Hance of Mongabay.



Photo:  Amy Dickman.

For after the lion came the encounters with the elegant Barabaig — one of the most shy African tribes, Now, while the story of Amy’s first night is almost to die for, the story that Jeremy tells is far more significant.  All conservation is local.  Preventing retaliatory killing of lions is essential if we are to stop their decline.  That means engaging local communities to find ways to solve the problem.  How can you do that when you never see them?  How can you engage when they flee into the bushes when you arrive?  What Amy has achieved with her support from National Geographic is an amazing personal story, but also an amazing and effective one of how one woman succeeded against the odds.

Oh, I did I mention her cell phone?  Just waking up while still dark one morning, she hears voices outside her now much larger tent.  What could they want?  Only when it gets light does she dare look outside.  There, plugged into the power strip connected to her solar panel are cell phones charging.  The voices return as she’s falling asleep that night.  How else could the Barabaig charge their phones?  And, in time, Amy meets them and is inducted into their tribe.  They are mostly carnivorous.  Amy is a vegetarian.

And, yes, when I visited Amy in her camp, I slept on the ground in a small tent.  But that’s for another blog.


Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers and four books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and currently works with their Big Cats Initiative. In addition to his studies in Africa, Pimm has worked in the wet forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil for decades and is a long-term collaborator of the forest fragmentation project north of Manaus, Brazil. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).

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