The Witch of Białowieża Forest

Hans Hoffmann (c.1530, Nuremberg – 1591/92, Prague)

 

By Janusz R. Kowalczyk

Simona Kossak: they called her a witch, because she chatted with animals and owned a crow who stole gold.

She spent more than 30 years in a wooden hut in the Białowieża Forest, without electricity or access to running water.
A lynx slept in her bed, and a tamed boar lived under the same roof.
She was a scientist, an ecologist and the author of award-winning films and radio broadcasts.
She was also an activist who fought for the protection of Europe’s oldest forest.

Simona believed that one ought to live simply, and close to nature. Among animals she found what she could never find with humans.

“Simona first saw Dziedzinka in moonlight,” a relative remembers. “We decided we would go there at night time. The four of us went down the road with torches: my husband, a hired carter, myself, and Simona.
Suddenly, an aurochs stepped out onto the Browska Road. The horse jibbed, we got scared, but we got there.
Simona was enchanted with Dziedzinka straight away.” Years later, she described the expedition and the encounter with the king of the forest:

“It was the first aurochs that I ever saw in my life, I am not counting the ones in the zoo.  And this greeting right at the entry into the forest – this monumental aurochs, the whiteness, the snow, the full moon, white everywhere, pretty, and the little hut hidden in the little clearing all covered with snow, an abandoned house that no one had lived in for two years. In the middle room, there were no floors, it was generally a ruin. And I looked at this house, all silvered by the moon as it was, romantic, and I said ‘it’s finished, it’s here or nowhere else!’”

Before Simona went to live in Dziedzinka, the house had to be renovated. The employees of the Białowieża National Park repaired the roof, changed the joists, got rid of the fungus, and said that that ought to suffice for five years (and indeed it did).
After the renovations, Simona did her part. She papered the walls, washed the windows, added a bench, and upholstered the armchairs that were brought from her family home.
She brought clocks, as well as a Turkish dagger, lace tablecloth and window curtains, books, oil lamps, an antique iron, a collection of weapons, ebony jewellery chests, as well as glassware, porcelain, cupboards and an oak bed.
She hung a shotgun from the Kossaks’ collection right by the door.  A large tile stove in the old style stood in the corner of the room, and a large table in the middle – her workshop and study, where she worked by an oil lamp.

Simona rode a motorbike, sometimes a tractor, and she also swept through the landscape on cross-country skis.
A hunter recalled, “Once I saw this phenomenon advancing on a komar – wind in the hair, a pilot-cap, rabbit pants, and eye goggles. It passed me by and I had to turn around, because I didn’t know what it was”.

Professor Kajetan Perzowski, a colleague of Simona’s from her university years in Kraków says, “We were once going across the Białowieża Forest with a friend in a small truck. We suddenly see someone pushing through the snowdrifts carrying a motorbike on the back. It was Simona. We packed her together with this motorbike onto our truck. She made us a big pot of stew at Dziedzinka.”

The forester of Białowieża National Park, Lech Wilczek, was her housemate, and one day brought home a newborn wild boar piglet. The humans grew close to each other, and the female boar, eventually immense, lived with them for 17 years.
“She stood vigilantly at the door like a dog, she went out on walks, and more and more often she cuddled up to her people and demanded to be caressed.”

The crow. He stole cigarette cases, hair brushes, scissors, and the lumberjacks’ sausages. He tore up bicycle seats and made holes in grocery bags.
Said a forest worker, “He would even steal the workers’ pay. But once I was walking around the reserve without a permit, and the guard saw me and started to fill in a penalty slip. While he was handing it to me, the crow appeared. He took the paper in his beak, flew to the roof of Dziedzinka, and tore it up with his leg. The guard didn’t know what to do, and finally just shrugged his shoulders at the whole thing.”
“He loved to attack people who rode bicycles, especially girls. It was very impressive, he would attack the rider’s head with his beak, the person would fall off, and he then would on the seat triumphantly, looking the at the spinning wheel.”
People thought that Korasek – because that’s what he was called – was some kind of a punishment for their sins.

Simona’s friend: “Once he stole my car keys. And Lech said “Don’t worry, he’ll bring them back.” He  told the bird that if he returned the keys he would get an egg, and if he didin’t he would be punished. And the crow perhaps understood this, because after a moment, he flew up to me, furious, with the keys in his beak and threw them onto a table!”

With time, more animals appeared: a doe who approached the window and ate sugar, a black stork for whom Simona created a nest in a drawer, a dachshund and a female lynx who slept in Simona’s bed, and peacocks. She loved, healed, and observed them all, while Wilczek photographed them. Here, as a mother she raised moose twins, Pepsi and Cola, washed the neck of the black stork, kept the female rat Kanalia in her sleeve (as the animal panicked in open spaces). She would let the befriended doe give birth on the patio, took in lambs with their mother, and sheltered the rats Alfa and Omega. She checked on weather by observing bats in the basement.
The menagerie grew with each year.

Simona raised several deer by bottle-feeding orphaned fawns, and followed them around the woods for many years.
“One day, my pack of deer showed signs of fright, and did not want to go out onto the forest field to graze. And I started to approach the young forest, because this was the direction in which the deer startled, their ears raised, and the hair standing up on their rumps: apparently something very threatening was in the woods.
I crossed about half of this open space, but I stopped, because I heard a choir of terrified barking behind me. When I turned around, what I saw was five of my deer standing stiffly on tense legs, looking at me, and calling with this bark: don’t go there, don’t go there, there’s death over there!
I must admit, I was dumbstruck, and then finally I did go. And what did I find? It turned out that there were fresh traces of a lynx that had crossed the young forest. I went in deeper, and I found lynx droppings, still warm.
What did that mean? It meant that a carnivore had approached the farm, the deer noticed, were frightened and ran, and then what did they see?
They saw their mother going toward death, completely unaware, and knew she had to be warned. And for me, I will honestly admit, this day was a breakthrough. I crossed the border that divides the human world from that of the animals. If there was an impermeable barrier, they would not have taken action–they would probably not have noticed what I was preparing to do. That they noticed, anticipated what might happen to me, and responded, meant one thing and one thing only: you are a member of our pack, we don’t want you to get hurt.
I admit that I relived this event in my mind for many days, and in fact today, when I think about it, my heart warms.”

In the winter of 1993, Simona commenced her war to save the lynxes and wolves of Białowieża.
A group of scientists planned to collar the animals for data-collection, but Simona came across traps in the form of metal jaws, so she took them with her and refused to give them back.
There was a hearing during which she pointed out that there were 12  lowland lynxes left, in danger of being poached—and now in danger of being mortally wounded by the traps.
“It is a disgrace for the world of science to have contributed to this.”

[Now the entire Białowieża Forest, which includes some of Europe’s last primeval woodland, is under threat.

Białowieża was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979, but Poland’s environment minister, who has allowed large-scale logging for years, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status.

The forest is–for now–home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and hundreds of European bison, plus firs towering 50 metres (160ft) high and old oaks and ashes.]

http://culture.pl/en/article/the-extraordinary-life-of-simona-kossak
[wonderful photographs of  Simona Kossak and her menagerie at Dziedzinka in the Białowieża Forest,]

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/poland-starts-logging-primeval-bialowieza-forest-despite-protests

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/22/primeval-forest-bialowieza-must-lose-unesco-protection-says-poland

http://www.poranny.pl/magazyn/art/5423022,simona-kossak-puszcza-bialowieska-i-lech-wilczek-dziedzinka-stala-sie-ich-domem,id,t.html

 

 

A Marmoset Taking Sweets on a Painted Commode

marmoset-teacupLouis Tessier (c.1719 – 1781)

 

“Virtually every ‘uniquely human’ characteristic has turned out not to be so”, Matthew Cobb, The Guardian


by

It used to happen every day at the London Zoo: Out came the dainty table and chairs, the china cups and saucers — ­afternoon tea, set out for the inhabitants of the ape enclosure to throw and smash. It was supposed to be amusing — a ­comic, reckless collision of beasts and high ­culture. But, as Frans de Waal explains in “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”,  apes are actually innovative, agile tool-users.
Not surprisingly — to de Waal, at least — the apes in London quickly mastered the teacups and teapot too. They sat there civilly, having tea.
“When the public tea parties began to threaten the human ego, something had to be done,” de Waal writes. “The apes were retrained to spill the tea, throw food around, drink from the teapot’s spout,” and so on.
The animals had to be taught to be as stupid as we assumed they were. But, of course, the fact that they could be taught to be stupid is only more perverse evidence of their intelligence.

For centuries, our understanding of animal intelligence has been obscured in just this kind of cloud of false assumptions and human egotism.
De Waal painstakingly untangles the confusion, then walks us through research revealing what a wide range of animal species are actually capable of.
Tool use, cooperation, awareness of individual identity, theory of mind, planning, metacognition and perceptions of time — we now know that all these archetypically human, cognitive feats are performed by some animals as well.
And not just primates: By the middle of ­Chapter 6, we’re reading about cooperation among leopard coral trout.

There are many different forms of intelligence; each should be valuated only relative to its environment. And yet, there’s apparently a long history of scientists ignoring this truth.
They’ve investigated chimpanzees’ ability to recognize faces by testing whether the chimps can recognize human faces, instead of faces of other chimps. (They do the former poorly and the latter quite well.)
They’ve performed the ­famous mirror test — to gauge whether an animal recognizes the figure in a mirror as itself — on elephants using a too-small, human-size mirror.
Such blind spots are, ultimately, a failure of empathy — a failure to imagine the experiment, or the form of intelligence it’s testing for, through the animal’s eyes. De Waal compares it to “throwing both fish and cats into a swimming pool” and seeing who can swim.

We sometimes fall into what de Waal calls “neo-creationist” thinking: We accept evolution but assume “evolution stopped at the human head” — believing our bodies may have evolved from monkeys, but that our brains are their own miraculous and discrete inventions.
But cognition must be understood as an evolutionary product, like any other biological phenomenon; it exists on a spectrum, de Waal argues, with familiar forms shading into absolutely alien-looking ones. He introduces what he calls the rule of “cognitive ripples”:
We tend to notice intelligence in primates because it’s most conspicuous, it looks the most like our intelligence.
“After the apes break down the dam between the humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, the floodgates often open to include species after species.”

 

 

It Could Take a Century to Recover

elephant5Portrait of an Elephant, Indian, c.1620-30

Study finds extremely slow reproduction rate unable to keep pace with deaths

African forest elephants have experienced serious poaching, driving an estimated population decline of 65% between 2002 and 2013.
Their low birth rates mean that it will take forest elephants at least 90 years to recover from these losses, according to researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Elephant Listening Project, Colorado State University, and Save the Elephants.

These findings are from the first-ever study of forest elephant demography just published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

“Female forest elephants in the Dzanga population typically breed for the first time after 23 years of age, a markedly late age of maturity relative to other mammals. In contrast, savannah elephants typically begin breeding at age 12.
In addition, breeding female forest elephants only produced a calf once every five to six years, relative to the three to four-year interval found for savannah elephants.”
Andrea Turkalo, a Wildlife Conservation Society scientist, collected the detailed data on the elephants over several decades, in spite of tough logistical challenges and political instability.
“This work provides another critical piece of understanding regarding the dire conservation status of forest elephants.”

George Wittemyer, a professor in Wildlife Conservation at Colorado State University said, “Legislation regarding ivory trade must consider the collateral effects on forest elephants and the difficulties of protecting them. Trade in ivory in one nation can influence the pressures on elephants in other nations.”
And the forest elephant is particularly susceptible to poaching.

Forest elephants also have critical ecological roles in Central African forests, and many tree species rely on the elephants to disperse their seeds.
Those forests are vitally important for absorbing climate change gases.


http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=b35ddb671faf4a16c0ce32406&id=8dfd2ac2f4&e=d327cdd2ca

Ours Blanc

polar ours bJacques de Sève (fl. 1742 – 1788)
from quadruped illustrations for Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière avec la description du Cabinet du Roi
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707 – 1788) French naturalistmathematiciancosmologist, and encyclopédiste

 

Lady with Unicorn

lady unicorn paleGiorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco (1477/8–1510)

 

Butterfly

blue butterflyThomas Say (1787-1834)
American entomology, or Descriptions of the insects of North America:
illustrated by coloured figures from original drawings executed from nature

As a boy, Thomas Say, born into a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia, often visited the family garden, Bartram’s Garden, where he could take butterfly and beetle specimens to his great-uncle William.
A self-taught naturalist, he became an apothecary, and helped found the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812.
He served as librarian for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, curator at the American Philosophical Society, and professor of natural history at the University of Pennsylvania
In 1816, he met Charles Alexandre Lesueur, a French naturalist, malacologist, and ichthyologist who soon became a member of the Academy and served as its curator until 1824.

To collect insects, Say made expeditions to the frontier, in spite of the risk of attacks by American Indians and the hazards of traveling in wild countryside.
In 1818, Say accompanied his friend William Maclure, then the ANSP president and father of American geology; Gerhard Troost, a geologist; and other members of the Academy on a geological expedition to the off-shore islands of Georgia and Florida, then a Spanish colony.

In 1819–20, Major Stephen Harriman Long led an exploration to the Rocky Mountains and the tributaries of the Missouri River, with Say as zoologist.
Their official account of this expedition included the first descriptions of the coyote, swift fox, western kingbird, band-tailed pigeon, rock wren, Say’s phoebe, lesser goldfinch, lark sparrow, lazuli bunting, and orange-crowned warbler.

In 1823, Say served as chief zoologist in Long’s expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
He traveled on the “Boatload of Knowledge” to the New Harmony Settlement in Indiana (1826–34), a utopian society experiment founded by Robert Owen.
He was accompanied by Maclure, Lesueur, Troost, and Francis Neef, an innovative education reformer.
There he later met Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, another naturalist.

Say married Lucy Way Sistare, whom he had met as one of the passengers to New Harmony, near the settlement.
She was an artist and illustrator of specimens, as in the book American Conchology, and was elected as the first woman member of the Academy of Natural Sciences

Say was a modest and unassuming man, who lived frugally, like a hermit, in New Harmony. He abandoned commercial activities and devoted himself to his studies.
He died, apparently from typhoid fever, when he was 47 years old.

The quality of the plates, in his book on American insects, and the clarity of Say’s description won him immediate fame abroad, and he was made a foreign member of the Linnean Society of London.
Say named some 1,500 new species – many of his discoveries (such as the American dog tick) were crucial for the future study and control of disease in humans, livestock and crops


W
http://www.abaa.org/book/844565199

 

The Last Word

What good is wallabyLagostrophus fasciatus (Banded Hare Wallaby), 
Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1 January 1778 – 12 December 1846), naturalist, artist, and 
explorer;
writer on zoological, geological, historical, and archeological research

 

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’

Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948)
Scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist

 

Peafowl 1559

peacock n juvenel
Nicolaus Juvenel (before 1540 – 1597)
Opaque colours and red chalk

 

Published in: on November 21, 2015 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Ostrich

ostrichThe Ostrich
Presented by his Majesty to the late Merchioness of Londondery and now in the gardens of the Zoological Society

Copper etching by J. Engleheart. Printer: R. Clay. London, 1829


 

Beasts

The Sloth-Bear

A natural history drawing of a Sloth Bear produced  by a local artist under the supervision of Francis Buchanan (later Buchanan-Hamilton, 1762-1829) while he was Superintendent of the Institution for Promoting the Natural History of India at Barrackpore

 

— Should this be true, that Beasts were Automata or Machines, they could have no Sense or Perception of Pleasure or Pain, and consequently no Cruelty could be exercis’d towards them; which is contrary to the doleful Significations they make when beaten or tormented,
and is contrary to the common Sense of Mankind, all Men naturally pitying them, as apprehending them to have such Sense and Feeling of Pain and Misery as themselves have . . .
Besides, having the same members and Organs of Sense as we have, it is very probable they have the same Sensations and Perceptions with us . . .
and at last seemingly contrary to the Scripture too: Proverbs 12:10 . . .  A good Man is merciful to his Beast; which is the true Exposition of it  . . . .

John Ray (1627 – 1705), who laid the foundations of botany and zoology in Britain