Tag: wildlife

Lunch with Richard Leakey

The first issue of the Financial Time’s FTWeekend in December 2015 featured its regular “Lunch with the FT.” Richard Leakey was Clive Cookson’s luncheon guest, and Cookson’s account was appropriately titled “From Fossils to Film Stars.” Yes, Leakey, an accomplished paleontologist and son of Louis and Mary Leakey, has, like his parents, made many headline-grabbing fossil finds. He has also rubbed elbows with plenty of film stars. Just last month, Angelina Jolie and Leakey were in London, where they discussed plans for a movie in which Brad Pitt will portray Leakey.

At 70 years of age, Leakey is still going strong. Among other things, he is busy building the Turkana Basin Institute, which he founded, into a world-class research center on the site in northern Kenya where the Leakeys made many notable discoveries, including an almost complete 1.6 million-year-old skeleton known as Turkana Boy. But that’s not all Leakey is up to. Recently, he was appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to chair the Kenya Wildlife Service, which Leakey founded and served as director-general from 1989-1994.

In addition to paleontology, Leakey has a passion for wildlife conservation. I learned of this during my first lunch with him in the spring of 1972. It was then that the anthropologist Neville Dyson-Hudson, an expert on East African pastoral peoples, and I broke bread with Leakey at the Johns Hopkins Faculty Club in Baltimore. I anticipated plenty of paleontology and anthropology, but those weren’t on the menu. The conversation quickly turned to the topic that most interested Leakey, and as it turns out, the reason why my former colleague Dyson-Hudson had invited me to lunch in the first place: the economics of natural resources.

Leakey had a vision of land use and wildlife resources in East Africa. His observation was that the East African savannahs were, in large part, common property resources. In addition, Leakey noted that the wildlife that roamed over these vast savannahs were fugitive common property resources. He concluded that, unless property rights could be established, both the savannahs and wildlife would eventually be destroyed. For him, this would be a great tragedy not only for the wildlife, but also the indigenous peoples living off the lands in East Africa.

Saving a Baby Woodpecker: The Legal Consequences

Federal law makes it illegal to “take,” “possess,” or “transport” a migratory bird except under permit. If you worry that this sweeping language might give the federal government too much enforcement power, perhaps you are one of those horrid House Republicans who, according to Bryan Walsh in Time magazine, are in the grip of “antigreen ideology” and want to “essentially prevent” agencies like the Department of the Interior “from doing their jobs.” Who else would object to laws meant to protect Nature?

It’s a pretty safe bet that Walsh hasn’t met the Capo family of Fredericksburg, Virginia. According to a report on broadcast station WUSA, and now being picked up far and wide by other news outlets, 11-year-old Skylar Capo saved a baby woodpecker in her back yard from the family cat and decided to keep it for a day or two to make sure it wasn’t injured before letting it go. The family’s problems began when Skylar took the bird into a Lowe’s to keep it out of the hot sun and was spotted by a woman in the store who confronted her and said she was a Virginia state game officer. Two weeks later, says Skylar’s mother Alison, the woman showed up at their front door accompanied by a state trooper with the news that the family owed a fine of $535; the federal law also carries possible jail time. (The bird itself was long gone by this point, having been released the same day of the store visit, the family says.)

With publicity about the case hitting the wires, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now announced that it has rescinded the fine—the ticket had been mistakenly issued, it insists, in spite of a decision not to pursue charges. That also presumably takes care of the worry about jail time. But really, if you’re the parent of a youngster fascinated by backyard wildlife, why take chances? Order them back indoors to play video games and watch TV. It’s much legally safer that way.

For more from Cato on overcriminalization, see posts like this, this, and this.