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The Man Who Saved Sea TurtlesArchie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology$

Frederick R. Davis

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195310771

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195310771.001.0001

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In Africa on Ulendo

In Africa on Ulendo

(p.146) CHAPTER 7 In Africa on Ulendo
The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles

Frederick Rowe Davis

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Carr spent several months in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in Africa conducting medical entomology surveys with his colleague Lewis Berner. Unfortunately, one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world was also one of the most threatened. Carr believed that significant parts of Florida and Central America were beyond salvation: the landscape had undergone such a profound alteration as to make recovery impossible, but in Africa Carr saw extensive areas that inspired optimism, and in his writings on Africa both the wonder of the continent and the hope for its conservation shine through. He wrote about hunting, the diversity of cichlids in Lake Nyasa, and the spectacular flights of kungu. Between Carr's first trip to Africa and the publication of Ulendo and The Land and Wildlife of Africa (Time-Life) in 1964, his research on sea turtles began to yield important results that would ultimately strengthen the case for conservation.

Keywords:   Africa, Nyasaland, Lake Nyasa, cichlids, kungu, Ulendo, conservation

Most scientists, such as physicists, chemists, molecular biologists, and geneticists, care little for where they conduct their research: a lab in New York differs little from one in Paris or Tokyo. But for a naturalist like Carr, place mattered. In his early years, his studies were local: the backyard and the southern pine and mixed hardwood forests he came to know on hunting trips with his father. College and graduate school (and an automobile) meant greater independent mobility, and he took extended trips throughout Florida. When he completed his education and settled into a full time appointment, Carr enjoyed still greater mobility: summers in Cambridge with his mentor Thomas Barbour and ultimately travels to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Honduras, where Carr would spend nearly five years with his young family exploring the tropical highlands and lowlands. Further wanderings gave Carr critical data on the status of sea turtles in the Caribbean and Costa Rica. Such travels convinced Carr that the breeding grounds of sea turtles had been severely reduced and that Tortuguero in Costa Rica was the largest colony of green turtles in the Caribbean.

During his early career, Carr's research was largely confined to Florida and the Caribbean, but two factors motivated his desire to extend his explorations to other places. First, it had become clear to Carr that sea turtles could be found in most of the oceans of the world and that a biologist could only understand these species by following them. Carr's second reason had less to do with his particular expertise than with the passions of any naturalist. To explore life, to compare life forms, to understand the relationship between biology and geography–(which is to say, life and place), naturalists travel.

(p.147) Genesis of a Journey

Carr's first journey (Ulendo in Chinyanja) to Africa evolved out of a long-term friendship and professional relationship with his colleague Lewis Berner, who was a graduate student in biology at the University of Florida roughly contemporaneously with Carr. Like Carr, Berner devoted himself to life histories.Berner's master's thesis and doctoral dissertation were on the mayflies of Florida.1 Like Carr, Berner remained at the University of Florida and continued to study entomology generally and mayflies specifically. He published his dissertation as The Mayflies of Florida in 1950.2 Berner's entomological expertise interested a British engineering firm, Sir William Halcrow and Partners, which was conducting feasibility studies for various major engineering projects in the British colonies around the world. Entomological surveys represented a key component of such studies. In the late 1940s, Berner contracted with Halcrow to conduct entomological surveys for feasibility studies of the River Volta project.3 Berner's mission was to assess the risks of insects to workers and settlers. Malaria (carried by the Anopheles mosquito) and schistosomiasis (hosted by aquatic snails) were two of the greatest health threats to people living in eastern and southern Africa.4 Other problematic insect-borne diseases included filiariasis and blindness caused by a tiny black fly. For his second contract with Halcrow, Berner invited Carr to join him in Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Mozambique. Carr leapt at the opportunity to study African wildlife first hand: “My own secret aim, not revealed in correspondence with Sir William Halcrow and Partners, was to see my dream of Africa unfold.”5

Carr arrived in Africa in late June 1952, after several days in London for meetings with representatives of Sir William Halcrow and Partners. Carr's letters to Marjorie balance his exhilaration in studying African wildlife and culture with his considerable regret that his partner and fellow naturalist could not accompany him. Each of Carr's many letters to Margie began: “Dearest” and closed with “I love you.” In between there are many details of life and nature in Africa and an equal number of references to shared experience and testimonials of devotion. Marjorie reflected on her disappointment in not being able to accompany Archie to Africa years later:

In the summer of 1952 when Archie went on his wonderful ulendo there was only one fly in the ointment—I couldn't go with him. There was no possible way I could go. We had five young children ranging in age from nine years to six months. We lived in a barely completed house on ten acres of land on the shore of Wewa Pond. Our piece of woods was ten miles from Gainesville and two miles from the little old town of Micanopy.

We had two cows that Mimi and Chuck milked twice a day, a horse, Cricket, that had a colt named Kate, two dachshunds, and a German shepherd….

Of course it was a lonely summer, but the young were a good pack. We went swimming each day; for a while we had a baby raccoon and the (p.148) garden produced the biggest Beefsteak tomatoes I have ever see, before or since, in Florida. Archie's letters, written on little thin airmail stationery, were anxiously watched for and read and reread. And time did pass and he came home.6

Even though Africa represented a completely new environment for Carr, he found many similarities to Central America and Florida. The British colonial residents of Nyasaland reminded Carr of the atmosphere at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana in Honduras. Some of the tribes used big-headed ants to suture wounds (like Indians in Nicaragua and Ecuador), Carr reported to Marjorie.

Carr's daily activity in Nyasaland involved taking mosquito censuses with Berner. The two scientists would go to a village and find the chief and walk with him to several selected huts where they hoped to sample mosquitoes. Then the chief would explain to the residents what Carr and Berner planned to do and the woman of the house would move out and cover anything that insecticide might hurt (everything from containers of food to dried fish to chickens on eggs to puppies). After covering the floor with sheets, the scientists filled the hut with aerosol spray and waited for the mosquitoes to die.7 Villagers, who gathered to witness the spectacle of the mosquito survey, were fascinated by the exodus of insects from the building. Many farm animals (chickens, ducks, and guinea hens)

 						            In Africa on Ulendo

Figure 21. Archie Carr and George Hopper taking mosquito survey in Nyasaland. Photograph by Lewis Berner, courtesy of the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

 						            In Africa on Ulendo

Figure 22. Archie Carr collecting snails in Nyasaland. Photograph by Lewis Berner, courtesy of the Department of Special and area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

joined the fray. But the climax of the event arrived when Carr and Berner opened the door to the house and revealed scores of dead insects, including many mosquitoes. Carr fondly recalled hearing the villager's response: “They stretched their necks to see all the dead little creatures lying so still on the cloth, and the grand word udzudzu, which to any ear could only mean mosquito, was buzzed about by every adult and child.”8 It is clear, however, that while mosquito, fly, and snail surveys had gotten Carr to Africa, his real interest lay with the diverse wildlife and ecosystems of the continent.

The Desire to Hunt

In Africa, Carr felt his desire to hunt ebb. As a child in Georgia and Florida, he had hunted regularly with his father and continued through his early career, but in Africa, he began to question his motivation and the necessity of hunting (p.150) generally. In one way, Carr mused, killing things was childish, but it represented a mature and necessary craft: “And when all the need to kill for survival was gone, the old blood stirring urges stayed with us, as intact as our useless wisdom teeth. Like wisdom teeth they have been far slower to yield to changing times than the need to use them was.”9 Carr's ambivalence regarding hunting became most pronounced during an elephant hunt in Mozambique. During the course of an entire day of tracking elephants on the move, Carr noted numerous details of the behavior and significance of elephants and the impact of a herd on the environment around them. By the time ten hours had passed searching for elephants in vain, he began to lose heart for the hunt, and his thoughts turned to past and future generations: “We are Cro-Magnon no longer; we are no longer Minute Men or Forty-niners. Whatever needs, joys, and rights our grandchildren might have, these will not include felling trees or felling bodies.”10 Carr recalled this hunt fondly when he wrote to Marjorie: “I had a wonderful time this weekend—the kind you and I seem better able to enjoy than most people, and perhaps the pleasantest unsuccessful elephant hunt anybody ever went on.”11 Here Carr suggests that satisfaction from hunting had less to do with success or failure than with the experience of tracking and studying wildlife.

Like most visitors to Africa, Carr expressed his amazement at the impressive diversity of Africa's megafauna: predators such as lions and prey species including wildebeests, gazelles, kogonis, and zebras. But herpetology was still Carr's foremost passion. Everywhere he went Carr found snakes, turtles, and crocodilians that never failed to impress him. Nevertheless, Florida and its varied herpetological fauna was never far from his mind. For example, while exploring Lake Nyasa (now Lake Malawi), Carr discovered numerous large Nile monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus). The monitors were particularly abundant on Boadzulu Island at the south end of the lake, and this reminded Carr of the abundant cottonmouth snakes he had found on Snake Key.12 In one of his earliest published papers, Carr noted that the cottonmouths fed on fish and nestling birds dropped from cormorant nests. It seemed that the monitors, like the cottonmouths, fed on fish and nestlings from the cormorant nests as well. Despite considerable swimming ability, Nile monitors hunted only on land, and there was no other source of food for a large carnivore on Boadzulu Island.

Given the small size of the island and the tidy relationship between cormorants and monitors, Carr recommended that Boadzulu be designated as a preserve or monument for some form of protection. A little research revealed that there had once been a python preserve on Chidiamperi Island in Lake Shirwa. If people had once thought to preserve a space for pythons, perhaps they could be persuaded to save Boadzulu. Carr noted that wilderness preservation emphasized “spectacular spreads of earth, the big wild lands in which the public can play.”13 Boadzulu Island called for a different kind of preservation. In addition to the places that facilitated recreational pursuits such as fishing or hiking, there were from Carr's perspective “the Boadzulus to think of saving…. They are delicate bits of balanced landscape that can be kept only if nobody ever sets foot upon them.”14 Here Carr added his voice to ongoing wilderness debates.15

(p.151) In comparing the story of monitor lizards and cormorants on Boadzulu to cottonmouths and cormorants on Snake Key, Carr's narrative progressed from species to interactions to place and then to conservation. Here is a critical component to his philosophy of biology.The relationship among species, places, and conservation is a fundamental aspect of conservation biology. In moving from organism to ecology and from habitat to ecosystem, Carr bolstered the case for conservation. Boadzulu was a small island in Nyasaland that harbored a species at little risk of extinction. Nevertheless, in Carr's view Boadzulu was unique. Following a nearly identical logical progression, Carr had made the case for the preservation of Tortuguero, a twenty-mile stretch of black sand beach in Costa Rica, but the physical description fails to capture the ecological and biological significance of Tortuguero: it was the largest sea turtle nesting colony in the western Caribbean. To make this argument, Carr proceeded from a species (the green turtle) to the interaction (nesting) to the place (Tortuguero) to conservation (the largest remaining colony). In this respect, Florida, the Caribbean, and Africa were essentially identical. Each supported threatened species in endangered spaces in need of protection from a burgeoning population of human beings.

Whither Kungu?

Carr had gone to Africa to survey mosquitoes, snails, and other disease-bearing insects, but turtles, snakes, and lizards occasionally distracted him from his surveys (or perhaps his insect surveys distracted him from his study of things herpetological). Nevertheless, invertebrate life in Africa was no less compelling than vertebrate life, and Carr held credentials in invertebrate zoology. His master's degree at the University of Florida was in limnology (the study of lakes), and his professors J. Speed Rogers, Theodore H. Hubbell, and Charles Francis Byers were all entomologists. Rogers in particular tried to inspire a fascination with insects in Carr. Carr recalled this while witnessing the great swarms over Lake Nyasa called kungu. To convey the spectacular nature of kungu, Carr quoted from David Livingstone's Zambezi: “But next morning we sailed through one of the clouds on our side, and discovered that it was neither smoke nor haze, but countless millions of minute midges called ‘kungo’ (a cloud or fog).”16 To say that Carr was impressed when he witnessed the clouds of midges risks understatement: “You can name me the wonders of Africa, and tell of Ruwenzori or Serengeti, of the great falls of the Zambezi, or of Cape Town Harbor—or of any of the other great things there are to see there. But I know of nothing in Africa that more wholly astounds the mind than the kungu clouds of the Great Lakes. There is nothing anywhere that so overpoweringly seems to show the mindless drive of life as these vast up-pourings of protoplasm show it.”17

Seeing kungu reminded Carr of his days as a graduate student in zoology at the University of Florida when Rogers showed him the larval form of a midge of the genus Corethra, the same genus as the kungu flies (Carr noted that the name of the genus had been changed to Chaoborus). Rogers' demonstration (p.152) intrigued Carr, but not enough to draw his interest from turtles and other reptiles. Although no one had studied the biology of the kungu flies in depth, Carr discovered detailed notes on Corethra in the writings of the Wisconsin limnologist Chancey Juday (1871–1944), who found 33,800 Corethra larvae per square meter in Lake Mendota, Wisconsin. When Juday multiplied the number of larvae by their average body weight, he calculated 1,070 pounds per acre. Carr noted that that amount was more meat than beef could produce on an acre of cultivated pasture!18

Carr wondered what caused the swarms and what ends they served. What did kungu flies stand to gain by forming such massive aggregations? When he posed this question to Berner, his colleague gave a concise response based on extensive knowledge of Ephemeroptera (the mayfly order), which form breeding aggregations: “to mate.” But the swarms of kungu gnats soared thousands of feet into the air over Lake Nyasa. What was the point of the swarms if not to mate? Carr received further clarification from the director of the Entomological Research center of the Florida State Board of Health: “We believe that insect migration and swarming are consummatory rather than appetitive behaviour, to use the current ethological idiom. As such they serve no special survival purpose.”19 That comment continued to bother Carr until he realized that evolutionary biology was only part of the reason for kungu swarms: “whatever the initial reasons for the Nyasa kungu swarms, they soon stop being a biological phenomenon and become a part of the weather. Like some buzzards … the flies have entered and have become a part of twisting columns of rising air. The trade wind comes in over the hot Mozambique country and the air warms, lightens, and rises; and here and there goes up in spiraling eddies.”20 Perhaps the spectacular kungu assemblages reflected and made apparent the unique weather patterns over Lake Nyasa. According to Carr, Edward Young, the captain of the Ilala, the first steamboat on the lake, described immense storms and waterspouts.21

Neither biological nor meteorological explanations completely satisfied Carr's curiosity, so he turned to folklore. The cook on board the Ilala (the vessel on which Carr traveled named in honor of the original Ilala), told Carr that the people living on the western shore of Nyasa, where, because the water was deep and the fishing difficult, protein was always in short supply, believed that the kungu was sent in with the clouds for benefit of their diet. The day after this conversation, Carr was able to sample kungu for himself when the cook presented him with a kungu omelette. Despite their best intentions, Carr and Berner failed to finish their “fly omelettes.” Nor did anyone else aboard the Ilala that day. And yet, Carr recognized that the prejudice against terrestrial invertebrates in the diet was an issue of familiarity. Citing an article by Marston Bates in which he examined what he believed to be an irrational taboo against insects in the diet, Carr noted that for many Americans the taboo extended from terrestrial invertebrates to “animals with too many legs,” such as insects, and “animals with too few legs,” such as snakes. To test the taboo, Carr served kungu on crackers when he returned to Florida after his trip to Africa. He commented that there were few compliments but no complaints: “Later, when I divulged what the spread was, no one struck me, but they quite clearly thought they had been imposed upon. After all, the (p.153) consensus was, the rules for hors d'oeuvres are pretty slack, but gnats…. And these were people, mind you, who were stuffing themselves with smoked oysters and anchovy paste. And anyway, they said as a last thrust, the gnats taste like they're spoiled.”22 Here was a case where a practical joke (for which Carr was renowned) underscored a cultural prejudice that Carr parodied.

In describing the natural wonder of kungu clouds over Lake Nyasa, Carr deftly wove several narrative strains into a seamless story that incorporated biology of animals in Africa (and Florida and Wisconsin), autobiography, evolutionary biology, meteorology, historical accounts and folklore, and African and western dietary imperatives. The result is a tour de force of science writing. The reader obtains a deeper appreciation of African wildlife and culture that resonates with an appreciation of American wildlife (particularly in Florida) and American culture.

The Diversity of Cichlids

Carr's evolutionary theory served him well when he shifted his gaze from the skies to the water of Lake Nyasa. Kungu flies were impressive for their phenomenal abundance; the fish of Nyasa were fascinating for their incredible diversity: no fewer than 180 species out of more than 200 belonged to a single family, Cichlidae. As in much of Carr's musings on natural history, his first encounter with the cichlids of Nyasa linked nature and culture. Carr spent an afternoon watching a group of villagers maneuvering a large net (a half mile long by Carr's estimate). Eventually, he noticed the largest crocodile he had ever seen watching the fishermen. What made the crocodile's presence a cultural event, however, was the way the the villagers responded to it. According to Carr, the villagers accepted the crocodile as a necessary part of their fishing. Unlike Europeans, the African villagers did not have large enough guns to destroy the crocodile, so they settled into an uneasy truce.

As the villagers drew the net to the shore, Carr saw that the fish haul was relatively small (only 50 pounds or so) given the size of the net and the effort of numerous villagers. In a moment of great ambition, Carr tried to write down the names of all the different fishes as the villagers transferred them from the net to baskets. Some species were familiar and deceptively easy to identify: lake mullet, lake salmon, several catfish species, and the elephantfish, but Carr had difficulty identifying the vast majority of the catch “because the main body of the catch was a tumbling galaxy of shining cichlids. Among these the diversity that I was able to make out seemed to be nowhere near as great as that of the [vernacular] names I was taking down…. After a while I gave up the census in disgust and tore the pages of names from my notebook as worse than useless.”23 Only later when he corresponded with an ichthyologist at the British Museum did Carr discover the root of his difficulties with cichlids: “The trouble is real. The fishes of the lake are an incredibly finely subdivided spectrum of kinds of life. The plethora of vernacular names corresponds to a real and far greater plethora of species, to an extravagant redundance of fishes that has no counterpart anywhere in the world.”24

(p.154) Incredible biological diversity drove a corresponding diversity of culture. In Ulendo, Carr described several kinds of nets used by the villagers, but in his book The Land and Wildlife of Africa, the editors included diagrammatic drawings of four different nets in the margins.25 The largest of these was called the khoka; this was the net used by the villagers in Carr's first encounter with cichlid fishes. Carr considered the khoka to be a testimony to African ingenuity and resourcefulness. Whereas the nets had once been woven from plant fiber, when Carr saw the nets, they were tiny threads of rubber carded from old truck tire treads and laboriously knotted together: “There is no way of escaping the surety that on Lake Nyasa mile-long nets are made of threads salvaged from tire cord.”26 Other nets were smaller but no less ingenious. Nonetheless, cultural creativity could not compare with the diversity of the cichlid fishes.

The great riddle of the Lake Nyasa cichlids, as Carr put it, was “to know what sort of isolation, what kinds of barriers, built and maintain this unequaled exorbitance of species.”27 Carr imagined that the Nyasa fishes would in time join the mammals of Australia and the birds and reptiles of the Galapagos Islands as a classic example of the process of evolution at work. The Nyasa cichlids seemed to have broken Jordan's law, which Carr described as follows:

What Jordan's Law said was that the nearest relative of a kind of animal should not be looked for in the animal's own environment, or in some far-off place, but in an adjacent place, living separated from the first animal by some kind of barrier. Obviously your feeling about the words “place,” “environment,” and “barrier” will determine the amount of good you see in Jordan's Law. But all the law really says is what Darwin himself said, and what every biologist believes today—that to have speciation there has got to be isolation.28

Given that these cichlids occupied a single freshwater lake in East Africa, it was not clear to Carr (or anyone else) what constituted the barriers that drove speciation in this case. Evolutionary biologists were stymied when it came to Nyasa fishes. Carr noted that different species of cichlids spent much of their time doing essentially the same things, occupying almost the same roles. Such overlapping behavior perplexed ecologists.

One way to explain both challenges would be to demonstrate that Lake Nyasa contained a rich complex of environments, but Carr noted that in fact Nyasa was anything but varied. The lack of dissolved oxygen below 250 meters meant that nearly half of Lake Nyasa was uninhabitable by animals in need of both oxygen and contact with the bottom of the lake (like the cichlids). The consistency of environments left Carr wondering about the diet of the fishes. No fewer than three different genera of cichlids survived on a diet of the scales of other fish. Carr thought that this extraordinary state of affairs reflected a form of mimicry. After describing several kinds of mimicry in nature and classic cases of mimicry, Carr suggested that the scale-eaters of Nyasa evolved to share a resemblance with other species so that they could blend into the school of a host species and parasitize it at will. Carr acknowledged that this was not a perfect example of mimicry. (p.155) Nor did it meet the strict definition of parasitism or other forms of symbiosis, which Carr dismissed in turn.

The biological phenomenon most clearly exhibited by the scale eaters was that of social parasitism (exhibited by cuckoos in the Old World and cowbirds in the Americas). Carr knew of only two examples of social parasitism in freshwater fish species, both of which had been documented by Marjorie while she was working on her master's degree in biology. While studying bass embryos, Marjorie noticed that eggs from a single nest sometimes hatched into larvae that grew into two different kinds of fishes (large-mouth bass, Micropterus salmoides floridanus, and chub suckers, Erimyzon sucetta). She later noted the same phenomena in eastern stumpknockers (Lepomis punctatus punctatus) and golden shiners (Notemigonus chrysoleucas).29 Like cuckoos and cowbirds, parent chub suckers and golden shiners took advantage of the nests of other species and had their offspring raised by those species with minimal investment.

There were, of course, other possible explanations for the miraculous diversity of Nyasa cichlids. In addition to the diet explanation, Carr explored the age of the lake and the effect of periodic increases and decreases in the water level that connected (and separated) Lake Nyasa from other bodies of water and created opportunities for speciation. Also, the shoreline of Lake Nyasa was not as homogeneous as it first appeared, and given the considerable size and length of the lake, a series of microhabitats existed within it. Predators may also have played a role in the spectacular evolution of cichlids for at least three reasons, according to Carr. First, numerous predators would keep populations (and thus competition) low. Second, predators would cull weak or ill-adapted individuals. Finally, it seemed to Carr that predation along the shoreline might favor the evolutionary phenomena known as genetic drift.30

A unique and highly evolved reproductive strategy was yet another possible element in the evolution of cichlids. Most of the cichlids cared for their young by mouth brooding, the advantages of which Carr compared to internal fertilization in mammals. Unlike bass, which broadcast thousands of tiny eggs into an often hostile environment, female cichlids lay a few large eggs which develop more quickly into mature fry and thus stand a greater chance of continued survival. Carr cited the research of Geoffrey Fryer, who argued that mouth brooding led to schooling by slowing the development of the fry. Because young fish would return to the mother's mouth for safety, the tendency to school would become a fundamental part of survival.31

Like the explanation for kungu, the explanation for cichlid diversity had to be multifactorial and required the integration of several theories.32 As with kungu, Carr's discussion of cichlid diversity deftly combined natural and cultural history, evolution and ecology, theory and practice, personal research and that of others (including Marjorie Carr's). Carr explicitly expressed his confidence in the continued survival of the cichlids by comparing the prospects of the fish and kungu with the prospects for more visible elements of Africa's cultural and natural history:

The Lake Nyasa fishes, like the kungu there, are out of the main rush of ruin that is changing the African earth. The time is not far off when the (p.156) last lion landscape will be fenced about or scraped away. The last Masai will put on shoes one of these coming decades, and the last crocodile will bake in his drained bog or go off to the zoo. But long into those times, two of the old wonders of Africa will last on in spite of us. The kungu will teem up out of the cold mud and climb to the clouds. And the cichlid fishes will go on living the fine-spun secrets of their lives.33

In light of the rapid decline of cichlid diversity in Lake Victoria following the introduction of Nile perch (Lates niloticus), Carr's prediction now seems somewhat optimistic.34

Africa and Florida

When Carr returned to Florida, Africa had become a part of his vision. As a naturalist and a biologist, Carr felt the influence of Africa. More than any place else, Paynes Prairie evoked Africa. The Carr family lived in a house (christened Wewa when Carr returned from Africa) to the south of Paynes Prairie, and Carr worked at the University of Florida to the north. This meant that Carr crossed Paynes Prairie thousands of times and became acquainted with its natural and cultural history.

Carr described Paynes Prairie as 50 square miles of level plain in north-central Florida, let down by collapse of the limestone bedrock. But lest anyone be left cold by that technical description, Carr clarified the significance of the place: “The Prairie is about the best thing to see on U.S. Route 441 from the Smoky Mountains to the Keys…. But everybody with any sense is crazy about the Prairie.”35 Carr attempted to capture the essence of Paynes Prairie: “The Prairie is a solid thing to hold to in a world all broken out with man. There is peace out there, and quiet to hear rails call, and the cranes bugling in the sky. It looks like Africa, out on the Prairie, looking off through the tawny plain to far bands of cattle like wildebeests in Kenya.”36

By chance one afternoon during his daily passage from one side of the prairie to the other, Carr glimpsed an event that forever linked Florida and Africa in his mind. Carr had noticed snowy egrets (Egretta thula) and buff-backed or cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) out on the prairie with a small herd of cows, when one of the snowy egrets began to hunt in the wake of a large, diesel dredge. In a moment of gestalt, Carr imagined that rather than a large dredge, the egret was following a large animal like those he had seen on African savanna. And this connection raised a question in his mind: why did the snowy egret, a marsh bird, leave the wetlands to follow the cowherds? After considerable rumination on the subject, it struck Carr that perhaps the snowy egret had at one time survived by following large herds of animals such as the cattle egrets of the African savanna. Carr started on this line of thinking while traveling by boat down the Lower Shire in Africa:

There where David Livingstone saw elephants, lions and buffaloes, there were only cattle for egrets to stand with. I watched them, and an idea (p.157) dropped into my shifting daydream that I have not been able since to reason away. The idea was this: the snowy heron is, as the buff-back is becoming, an old game heron with the game all gone. Both of these small, white herons are today walking with cattle as a compromise with the grand living of the past, as the best they can do in a world all changed around them. The buff-back is becoming a cattle heron because the savanna fauna of Africa is being wiped out—the snowy because the Pleistocene herds are gone.37

Carr ran through the list of large mammals that the cattle egret followed in Africa: elephants, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, wild asses, and many antelope. Such opportunities had not existed for snowy egrets in Florida for millennia, but Carr's vision stretched to the prehistoric past:

Through millions of years Florida was spread with veld or tree savanna much like the Zambezi delta land today. Right there in the middle of Paynes Prairie itself, there used to be creatures that would stand your hair on end. Pachyderms vaster than any now alive grazed the tall brakes or pruned the thin-spread trees. There were llamas and camels of half a dozen kinds, and bison and sloths and glyptodonts, bands of ancestral horses, and grazing tortoises as big as the bulls. And all these were scaring up grasshoppers in numbers bound to make any heron drool.38

Carr wrote that cattle egrets had arrived in Florida only in 1941 but had undergone a rapid expansion in range and number, and in 1956 there were more than 1,000 cattle egret nests at Okeechobee alone. Wherever cattle were abundant, cattle egrets fared well. But while the survival of both the cattle and snowy egrets revealed their remarkable ability to respond to environmental changes, Carr worried what the necessity of such changes meant for wilderness in Florida and Africa:

There is a growing emptiness around us, and we fill it with noise, and never know anything is gone. But the buff-back remembers other times, with great game thundering through all the High Masai. And back at home you come upon a raging dragline with a wisp of a snowy heron there, dodging the cast and drop of the bucket as if only mammoth tusks were swinging—and what can it be but a sign of lost days and lost hosts that the genes of the bird remember?39

It was also in Florida that Carr began to worry about the future of Africa's wildlife and culture. The inspiration for Carr's concern was innocent enough. He was enjoying a lazy afternoon tubing down the Ichetucknee River. Tubing is a popular pastime in the spring-fed, freshwater rivers of northern Florida, and the Ichetucknee is one of the most popular sites. The springs keep the water at a constant 72° Fahrenheit, which sounds warm enough until you consider that 72° is generally about 20° cooler than the air temperature during the summer when most people go tubing. Floridians find the springs either refreshingly cool or too (p.158) cold. Carr was fortunate to find teeth from two different mammoth species at the bottom of the river as he floated along, and his discoveries started him thinking: “There was a time when the spring-run fauna of Florida was live elephants of four kinds, sloths bigger than steers, sabertooths and jaguars, and a dire wolf the size of two German Shepherd dogs together. There were camels in it, and horses in herds and glyptodonts like armor-plated Volkswagens; and to show the endless bounty of the grass, there were even tortoises in slow shoals there—herds of giant tortoises that grazed among herds of mammals.”40 In short, Pleistocene Florida was an ecological dead ringer for the African savanna, or as Carr eloquently concluded: “So the spread of beasts that today we call the African veld fauna is not from a long view indigenous to Africa at all. As an ecological organization it is really a version of the grand plains community of the Ice Age.”41

Conservation in Africa

During the first two of his four visits to Africa, Carr was “astonished and depressed” to see relatively few large animals throughout much of the rural areas of the continent. Just as surprising to Carr was his general lack of knowledge regarding the plight of African wildlife and the even more profound lack of connection to the problem among Americans. Even enlightened Americans tended to be more concerned with the loss of wild lands in the United States: “In Florida these days, you can still hear, under the mindless, glad din over industry coming in, the voices of the old ones—or of the young ones who have listened to the old ones—grieving over the passing of the wilderness. They are no longer watching landscapes wasting away. That happened long ago. What is going on now is just a lot of little cleanup operations.”42 Carr went on to review some of the most egregious examples of the loss of wilderness and wildlife in the United States that kept most Americans worrying about American wild places rather than the plight of Africa. But Carr underscored his point that the problem of Africa's wilderness was not Africa's alone; the global community needed to join the fight to save Africa: “The world has never come to grips with a preservation problem of the stature of this one. Nobody ever set out on a conservation project that could be compared with the job of keeping intact a delicate, rowdy, perishable relic like the plains-game landscape. It is a problem that puts both the humanity of man and the skill of the ecologist to test.”43

Overpopulation and politics contributed to the urgency to save Africa's wildlife: “So now, when population explosion and nationalism are bringing the crisis of Africa to a climax, the laborious studies on which to ground control techniques needed to save the most complex mammal community in the world are only barely getting underway.”44 But even though Carr knew that a series of questions had to be answered to discover how to best preserve Africa's wild lands, he argued that Africa's challenge involved more than science: “it is no use making plans that exclude people. Like other saved-up bits of wilderness everywhere, any African preserve that lets visitors in will, from the start and increasingly as time passes, have people to contend with.”45 The national parks in the United States (p.159) were literally being loved to death, he noted in passing, but Carr believed the problem of too many park visitors to be soluble as an economic problem that demonstrated the value of wild places. In theory, docile park visitors could be herded like sheep and fleeced of their tourist dollars to the benefit of parks.

Poachers, however, were another matter. Carr had read that one band of poachers had killed 3,000 elephants in Tsavo National Park. That seemed like a large number, so he queried officials at the local game department, who confirmed that it was a careful estimate and excluded many more calves that had died after losing their mothers. Organized poaching was a significant problem, but it seemed to Carr that legal hunting, whether with bow and arrow or snare, could also be threatening. Carr's worst scare in Africa (and he survived close encounters with crocodiles and pythons) occurred when he was in pursuit of a hyrax (a small rodentlike mammal closely related to elephants). Having heard what he believed to be a hyrax, he crawled into the bush only to find that he had put his head into a snare. Having set snares as a child, Carr determined that there was no trigger on the snare (the struggles of the quarry would likely entrap them). Vast quantities of wildlife in Africa did not share Carr's instincts for snares.46

As in Florida and the Caribbean, Carr narrowed the problem of conservation in Africa down to people. Were Africans concerned with preserving the wildlife and wild places? Carr was skeptical:

It is not usually sensible to generalize about the races of men—especially the African race. But it has to be said that the usual African citizen, the dark-to-light man of varied phenotype, with round-to-long head, short-to-tall stature, straight-to-peppercorn hair—this hamitic, nilotic, negritic, australoid or forest-type fellow, of blood group O, A, B, or AB, who beats hell out of drums and out of white men in a lot of their own athletic games, will distinguish himself in various ways in the world to come, but not for a while for any passion for preservation of the wilderness.47

As a biologist, Carr knew that generalizations about “the African race” revealed more about racist preconceptions than about the people themselves. And Carr recognized the plurality of types that constituted Africans. Nevertheless, speaking as someone who had spent enough time among Africans to know, Carr found little interest in wilderness preservation among the remarkably heterogeneous group of people known collectively as “Africans.”

By the time Carr wrote Ulendo, other biologists were concerned about conservation in Africa. Several reports appeared in both the popular and professional literature in the years around 1960. Two of the most influential of these were written by Frank Fraser Darling. As vice president of the Conservation Society, Darling participated in three expeditions to Africa. Like Carr and Berner, Darling's trips were conducted to survey insects that carry disease (specifically tsetse flies), and the government of northern Rhodesia supported the trips. Darling also recognized the tension between a growing human population and the survival of wildlife in Africa: “Conservation of wild life in Africa is essentially, and in many ways unfortunately, a human ecological problem.”48 A full appreciation of the (p.160) ecology of wildlife in Africa required an understanding of cultural activities of humans: “Lastly, and of extreme importance, the habits, customs, and practices of man, and their changing character, must be studied in order to reach significant orientation in a terrain of so many variables.”49 In another account, Darling questioned the role of colonial rule in conservation in Africa: “This, ultimately, is one of the major problems of colonial rule; are we by firm administration to help the peoples to conserve their habitat for their own posterity, or are we by addlepated diffidence and laissez-faire to leave these peoples with ruined lands?”50

A year after Darling's reports, the prominent British biologist Julian Huxley published a report on a trip to Africa he and his wife took between July and September 1960 for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Their travels were somewhat more extensive than Carr's. Huxley's sole focus was the wildlife and natural resources of Africa. For Carr and Darling, their chief objective was the study of insect-borne disease, which limited their mobility somewhat. Huxley limited his travels to national parks, botanical gardens, and wildlife preserves. Despite the differences in coverage, Huxley reached similar conclusions regarding the role of people in African conservation: “The ecological problem is fundamentally one of balancing resources against human needs, both in the short and in the long term. It must thus be related to a proper evaluation of human needs, and it must be based on resource conservation and resource use, including optimum land use and conservation of the habitat.”51

Like Carr and Darling, Huxley commented on the conflict between humans and wildlife. He noted that most tribal Africans regarded wild animals either as pests to be destroyed or meat to be killed and eaten. According to Huxley, the close association between wildlife and meat was substantiated linguistically: “This latter point of view is semantically fostered by the fact that in Swahili, as in several other African languages, the same word (nyama in Swahili) does duty both for wild animals and meat; and it is physiologically encouraged by the shortage of animal protein in the area and the prevalent meat-hunger of its African inhabitants.”52

Clearly there was a growing consensus regarding conservation in Africa. The ever-growing population and limited food resources conspired with a utilitarian view of nature to create a crisis of conservation in Africa. In comparing conservation concerns in America to similar worries in Africa, Carr's thoughts turned once again to the prehistoric record of extinction: “With that sort of clutching at straws going on at home, I suppose it is no wonder the plight of the Pleistocene seems far away in Africa, where an unreal aura hangs anyway, part gin, part cordite smoke, part sex on a canvas cot.”53

Above all, Africa reminded Carr of the tenuous relationship between nature and culture. In Africa, as in Florida and Central America, Carr recognized that an expanding population of humans threatened wildlife both directly and indirectly. But if culture represented a significant part of the problem, it was also a critical aspect of the solution:

It would be cause for world fury if the Egyptians should quarry the pyramids, or the French should loose urchins to throw stones in the (p.161) Louvre. It would be the same if the Americans dammed the Valley of the Colorado. A reverence for original landscape is one of the humanities. It was the first humanity. Reckoned in terms of human nerves and juices, there is no difference in the value of a work of art and a work of nature. There is this difference, though, in the kinds of things they are. Any art might somehow, some day, be replaced—the full symphony of the savanna landscape never.54

Carr, the lifelong scientist, exhorted his readers to preserve the African wilderness as a critical part of the humanities. Above and beyond the ecological and scientific value of African wild lands, they provided a real value to humanity. Throughout his ulendo in Africa, Carr enjoyed engaging local culture. Most places where he found wildlife, he also found people, who he recognized as the decisive factor in the conservation of African wildlife and wild lands. By comparing the savanna to the Egyptian pyramids and the Louvre, Carr suggested that the African grasslands were more than national or even continental treasures. Rather, the savanna was a significant element of international heritage, and its loss would be a loss to the world. Thus, if culture threatened the future of nature in Africa, perhaps culture and its preservation could be a part of the argument for conservation in Africa.

Carr refined his argument somewhat in his second book on Africa, The Land and Wildlife of Africa:

But for me it is sad that the intangible aspects of wilderness are being so dangerously ignored—or not just ignored, actually deprecated. One hears on every hand, “We can't ask Africans to save game for any starry-eyed esthetic motives. One has got to be realistic, you know.”

And to be sure, one has to be. But one has to be foresighted, too, and foresee times when tourism will be disrupted, when new techniques of land use make game husbandry as obsolete as blacksmithing is. One must think a long way beyond the life and any material value for wilderness. Thinking that far ahead, the only worth of wild land is the wonder in it, the splendor of old Africa, the look and feel of an unspoiled bit of the original earth.55

This call for vision and appreciation stood on its own terms, but Carr emphasized it with a series of photographic images: A baboon sitting on the hood of a jeep looking directly into the camera through the windshield. A pride of lions languidly walking on a road with cars stopped behind them. Game wardens removing a decapitated hippopotamus. A mortally wounded elephant struck by a locomotive lying beside railroad tracks. Poachers in handcuffs, their spears and camp in the process of being burned. Carr and the editors of Time-Life Books clearly selected images for the greatest impact on Americans and others learning about Africa and its plight. The image that best captures Carr's point, however, is an artist's rendition of the African savanna (“as it was a hundred years ago” and “as it is becoming today”). The first image (a fold out covering three full pages) (p.162) depicts an impressive herd of a variety of large animals: zebras, gnus, impalas, antelope, giraffes, elephants, ostriches as well as lions, rhinos, and cattle egrets. The second reveals only goats, cows, guinea fowl, and humans (Masai herders). Clouds of dust rise above the virtually grassless plain from across the remains of the savanna. It is possible to see a small village of huts in the great distance. The symphony of the savannah has been extinguished in this image.


When compared to a lifetime in Florida and the many years in Central America, Carr's African sojourn was relatively brief (less than six months). And yet Africa became a part of Carr's perspective as a naturalist: one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world was also one of the most threatened. Carr believed that significant parts of Florida and Central America were beyond salvation: the landscape had undergone such a profound alteration as to make recovery impossible, but in Africa Carr saw extensive areas for which there was considerable cause for optimism, and in his writings on Africa, both the wonder of the continent and the hope for its conservation shine through. In a review of Ulendo for the New York Times Book Review, Marston Bates wrote of Carr's musings on the Pleistocene: “Above all, however, he has written a plea for everyone to take an interest in saving this remnant of the Pleistocene that has survived in Africa—crocodiles and pythons as well as elephants and gorillas—so that our children as well as African children can know something of the wonders of the wilderness.”56 Carr's first trip to Africa was the only one that pulled him away from sea turtle research; he devoted the other three trips to aspects of the study of sea turtles. Between Carr's first trip to Africa and the publication of Ulendo in 1964, his research on sea turtles began to yield important results that would ultimately strengthen the case for conservation.


(1.) Lewis Berner, “A Contribution toward a Knowledge of the Mayflies of Florida” (M.S. thesis, University of Florida, 1939); Berner, “The Mayflies of Florida (Ephemeroptera)” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Florida, 1941).

(2.) Lewis Berner, The Mayflies of Florida, vol. 4, University of Florida Studies. Biological Science Series (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1950).

(3.) Lewis Berner, Entomological Report on Development of the River Volta Basin (London: Wightman Mountain, 1950).

(4.) Malaria and schistosomiasis pose significant threats to millions of Africans and Asians even now. Of the 300 million or so cases of malaria that affect people, between 1 and 3 million cases are fatal, and approximately 90 percent of malarial deaths occur in Africa. As of May 1996, the World Health Organization estimated that 200 million people were infected with schisosomiasis or bilharziasis,and 10 percent, or 20 million, of these constituted severe cases; 120 million people were symptomatic, and as many as 500–600 million people were at risk of contracting the disease.

(5.) Archie Fairly Carr, Ulendo: Travels of a Naturalist in and out of Africa (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993), xviii.

(6.) Marjorie Harris Carr, “1993 Preface to the 1952 Letters,” in Ulendo: Travels of a Naturalist in and out of Africa (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993), 259.

(7.) Carr, Ulendo, 18–19. “Aerosol” is a rather vague term for an insecticide that was almost undoubtedly DDT, but Carr was probably putting the final touches on Ulendo in 1962 when Silent Spring alerted Americans to the problem of indiscriminate use of chemical insecticides. Though Carr and Berner conducted their surveys in 1952, Carr may have wished to distance himself from the controversy surrounding the use of DDT, which was full blown by the time Ulendo was published in 1964.

(8.) Ibid., 19.

(9.) Ibid., 40.

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) Ibid., 277.

(12.) See Archie Fairly Carr, “The Gulf‍Island Cottonmouths,” Proceedings of the Florida Academy of Sciences 1 (1935): 88.

(13.) Carr, Ulendo, 77.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) For analysis of debates regarding wilderness, see William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, ed. William Cronon (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995), 69–90 and Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 4th ed. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001).

(16.) Carr, Ulendo, 79. See also David Livingstone and Charles Livingstone, Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries; and of the Discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858–1864 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1866).

(17.) Carr, Ulendo, 82.

(18.) Ibid., 87.

(19.) Ibid., 93.

(20.) Ibid., 94.

(21.) Ibid., 95. See also Edward Daniel Young and Horace Waller, Nyassa: A Journal of Adventures Whilst Exploring Lake Nyassa, Central Africa, and Establishing the Settlement of “Livingstonia,” 2nd ed. (London: J. Murray, 1877).

(22.) Carr, Ulendo, 101–2.

(23.) Ibid., 118.

(24.) Ibid. For recent analyses of cichlid diversity see, Herbert R. Axelrod, African Cichlids of Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika (Neptune, N. J.: T. F. H. Publications, 1973); George W. Barlow, The Cichlid Fishes: Nature's Grand Experiment in Evolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus, 2000); Geoffrey Fryer and T. D. Iles, The Cichlid Fishes of the Great Lakes of Africa: Their Biology and Evolution (Edinburgh: Oliver and (p.287) Boyd, 1972); Les Kaufman and Peter Ochumba, “Evolutionary and Conservation Biology of Cichlid Fishes as Revealed by Faunal Remnants in Northern Lake Victoria,” Conservation Biology 7, no. 3 (1993): 719–30; and Tijs Goldschmidt, Darwin's Dreampond: Drama in Lake Victoria (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996).

(25.) Carr, Ulendo, 118–20; Carr, The Land and Wildlife of Africa (New York: Time‍Life Books, 1964).

(26.) Carr, Ulendo, 119.

(27.) Ibid., 121.

(28.) Ibid., 122. See also Ernst Mayr, Animal Species and Evolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1963). Mayr notes that the term “Jordan's law” was proposed by J.A. Allen in a review of David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), who was an American ichthyologist and became the president of Stanford University. Jordan declined the honor of the appellation on the grounds that claims were based on the work of Moritz Wagner's 1868 work Migrationsgesetz der Organismen (rev. 1889). See Moritz Wagner, Die Darwinische Theorie Und Das Migrationsgesetz Der Organismen (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1868), translated as Moritz Wagner and James L. Laird, The Darwinian Theory and the Law of the Migration of Organisms (London: E. Stanford, 1873).

(29.) Carr, Ulendo, 130–32. See also Carr, “The Breeding Habits, Embryology, and Larval Development of the Large‍Mouthed Black Bass in Florida,” 43–77; Marjorie H. Carr, “Notes on the Breeding Habitats of the Eastern Stumpknocker Lepomis punctatus punctatus (Cuvier),” Proceedings of the Florida Academy of Science (1942): 101–6.

(30.) Carr, Ulendo, 134–35.

(31.) Ibid., 136–37. See also Geoffrey Fryer, “Some Aspects of Evolution in Lake Nyasa,” Evolution 13, no. 4 (1959): 440–51; Geoffrey Fryer, “Evolution of Fishes in Lake Nyasa,” Evolution 14, no. 3 (1960): 396–400.

(32.) In fact, cichlid diversity is even more complex than Carr suggested, with no fewer than 500 species in Lake Malawi (formerly Nyasa) alone and another 1500 or so species in the Great Lakes of East Africa. For further analysis and development, see Barlow, The Cichlid Fishes. Since Carr observed the Nyasa cichlids, scientists have recognized the significant role of sexual selection in speciation, which sometimes proceeds orthogonally to natural selection with dramatic effects.

(33.) Carr, Ulendo, 138–39.

(34.) See Goldschmidt, Darwin's Dreampond.

(35.) Carr, Ulendo, 160.

(36.) Ibid., 162.

(37.) Ibid., 205.

(38.) Ibid., 205–6.

(39.) Ibid., 225.

(40.) Ibid., 231–32.

(41.) Ibid.

(42.) Ibid., 235.

(43.) Ibid., 238.

(44.) Ibid., 240.

(45.) Ibid., 245.

(46.) Ibid., 249–52. For further descriptions and diagrammatic pictures of snares in Africa, see Carr, Wildlife of Africa, 172–73.

(47.) Carr, Ulendo, 254–55.

(48.) F. Fraser Darling, Wildlife in an African Territory: A Study Made for the Game and Tsetse Control Department of Northern Rhodesia (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), 4. For interdisciplinary analysis of conservation in Africa, see David Anderson and Richard Grove, Conservation in Africa: People, Policies, and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

(49.) Darling, Wildlife in an African Territory, 5.

(50.) F. Fraser Darling, “An Ecological Reconnaisance of the Mara Plains in Kenya Colony,” Wildlife Monographs 5 (1960): 41.

(51.) Julian Huxley and UNESCO, The Conservation of Wild Life and Natural Habitats in Central and East Africa: Report on a Mission Accomplished for UNESCO, July–September 1960 (Paris: UNESCO, 1961), 13.

(52.) Ibid., 92.

(53.) Carr, Ulendo, 236.

(54.) Ibid., 258.

(55.) Carr, Wildlife of Africa, 178.

(56.) Marston Bates, “A Glimpse into the Pleistocene (Book Review of Ulendo),” New York Times Book Review (April 19, 1964), 6.