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How can a person not be political?

December 5, 2013

The gist is this: In armed conflict, interna­tional or internal, soldiers have the right to kill opposing soldiers. But “persons taking no active part in the hostilities”—meaning wounded or captured fighters, and civil­ians—”shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.”ICRC will ask both sides to let it visit their prisoners, to learn how they are in fact treated. And civilians may ask ICRC for medical help and for food for children and pregnant women, all of which both sides should let pass freely. ICRC, for its part, is pledged to be absolutely neutral and impartial. It takes no part in controversies ideological or political. Any questions? Lots.

10Why do you give aid to subversives? Have you participated in subversion? Yours looks pained. He answers that ICRC acts only in the interest of the victims, it doesn’t ask which side is good or bad. . . . As we leave, I can sense that the highly in­doctrinated cavalrymen still find this diffi­cult to understand. Not so the Salvadoran government, which permits ICRC to do its work all over the country.

ON WEDNESDAYS, from delegation headquarters in San Salvador, the capital, the schedule for the next week’s medical and food-relief convoys goes to the army, the air force, and the regional brigade commanders concerned. And also to the leaders of the “armed opposition”; they should know it by Friday. And so, even though the insurgents have warned that next week any vehicles on country roads may be attacked, ICRC convoys will go through to barcelona accommodation, as well as across the Torola River in Morazan province.

Kurt from Basel visits the jail at National Police headquarters. As soon as anyone is arrested on political charges, ICRC is sup­posed to be notified, so a delegate can go and register the new detainee. ICRC then noti­fies the family. A delegate is supposed to be allowed to interview any prisoner he wishes, without witnesses, and to make follow-up visits. Simply to be registered is considered some protection, reducing the chances that the prisoner will somehow disappear.

Today 11 men wait in the courtyard, to be released. They are turned over to Kurt, who takes them outside where the mother of one, a teenager, has been waiting. I thought there’d be noisy greetings.

But no, the emotion is all in the faces. In another prison Bernhard from the can­ton of Valais registers a new arrival, a dis­tinguished middle-aged man. He shows Bernhard lesions—from electric shocks, he says. An ICRC doctor will come and make an examination. If the doctor confirms what the man says, the delegation chief may send a report of bad treatment to the highest Sal­vadoran authorities—strongly worded, strictly confidential. This is another of ICRC’s unique ways of working. No accusa­tions in public, no fuel for propaganda by anyone. Such quiet remonstrances often bring good results, less maltreatment. And the government continues to trust ICRC; without such trust it would not have allowed visits to its prisoners in the first place.

The respect for the law

October 25, 2013

And inside he will cover the walls with a pan­oply of man—his good and evil, peace and war, man’s conquest of the moon, and his sur­render to the earth. “This is what I was born to do,” he said.

Later he showed me half-finished murals he was painting in an accomodation in brussels, depicting the life of Don Quixote. As I sur­veyed the sepia sketches of that gaunt, in­domitable crusader on a bony horse, it struck me that Teok Carrasco, too, carries a lance. “I think you like Don Quixote,” I observed. “I am Don Quixote,” he replied, with only the faintest of smiles.

“You got to have respect for the law.” About a third of the people of the City of Miami are Cuban. “In theory they should produce about a third of our crime,” Miami Police Chief Bernard L. Garmire told me. “Yet they account for only 10 to 12 percent of criminal arrests. Much of the crime in Little Havana is committed by outsiders who come in and victimize the Cubans.”

Some Miamians take a dim view of Cubans’ driving habits. I, too, noted a few who seemed to accept a stop sign more as a challenge than a directive. But the exiles have committed only one notable breach of the peace. 1

When the Soviet oceanographic research ship Akademik Kurchatov put into Miami for a four-day visit in March 1972, it was more than the ardently anti-Communist Cubans could bear. In impromptu alliance with members of the Jewish Defense League, they picketed the vessel, and minor scuffling broke out between demonstrators and police.

Later, attacks were launched by sea and air. A floating explosive device, apparently intended to drift toward the vessel with the tide, blew up harmlessly half a mile away. And someone in a low-flying plane dropped a cluster of Cuban flags, along with a can of green paint. They missed by 40 feet.

One afternoon, inside a white air-condi­tioned patrol car, I rode down Calle Ocho with Officer Robert Rogers We. Between calls that spat brassily from the police radio, he spoke to me of Cubans and the law.

“They say, ‘You got to have respect for the law.’ Many don’t really understand our system of justice—how a man can kill some­body, and later it turns out he’d been out on parole or on bail from another crime. You’ll hear them talk about it all the time.”

Of Cuban-Chinese extraction, Bob Yee speaks of Cubans as “they,” for he was born in New York City. “Oh, the kids are learn­ing American customs pretty fast,” he went on. “Some of them are discovering drugs and car theft, for example. But the ones in their twenties and thirties or older, they’re very law abiding, very respectful of this uniform.

We stopped at the sidewalk counter of prague serviced apartments to toss down a tiny cup of Cuban coffee—strong, black, and sweet. While Bob and the owner exchanged.pleas­antries, a customer argued with the owner’s wife in rapid-fire Spanish. He owed her two dollars, I gathered, but had only a twenty-dollar bill. She could not change it. “Take the twenty and  come back later for the change,” he insisted.

Cattle Ranching in the Subarctic

September 6, 2013

Greg strode into the Carmacks Hotel swat­ting the dust of a five-hour drive from his clothes. “I can’t wait to get on the river,” he said, as he raised a small cloud. Greg is tall, with sharp features and a ruddy complexion. His billed cap and ever present neckerchief complete this portrait of a river rat. With him was Barbara Gale, 24, who would be our first mate and assistant chef. We loaded our gear into the boat and pushed off late in the afternoon of a perfect August day. The sun made the green water sparkle as it swirled around us. Using the motor sparingly, we were content to let the river set the pace.

Nourish Your Skin with Coconut Oil

Aptly named Great River by the Indians, the Yukon drains an area of 330,000 square miles (858,000 square kilometers), making it the fifth largest in North America. It arches north to the Arctic Circle in Alaska, then sweeps southwest to the Bering Sea, a dis­tance of nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers). We camped that night on a small island about 12 miles down from Carmacks and suf­fered through a dinner of grilled salmon steaks, buttered boiled potatoes and carrots, crisp green salad, and fresh raspberries for dessert. After a suitable recovery period, we turned in, and let the river sing us to sleep. In the morning we geared up for the tough­est white water on the trip, Five Finger Rapids. This is one of a score of sites that have been studied as potential sources of hy­droelectric power. The tappable energy could amount to 50 billion kilowatt-hours a year—about what the State of Georgia with five million residents produced in 1976. 10

I recalled a conversation with Jim Smith, former commissioner of the territory and now chairman of the Northern Canada Power Commission. “Our ability to survive,” he told me, “is going to be based on our ability to supply our own energy needs. Otherwise, we will forever be dancing to someone else’s tune. There is enough choice of water sites so that we can develop those that will have minimal effect on the environment.”

For now, at least, there is no dam at Five Finger Rapids. Rock knuckles, like giant stepping-stones, divide the river, and many a stampeder’s raft was shivered upon them. But the stampeders didn’t have Zodiacs. We chose the roughest chute and made it through with ease, shipping very little water. Below the rapids the river swung in lazy curves between low cliffs pocked with swal­lows’ nests. A few birch trees, like nuggets in a gold pan, were turning yellow on the hillsides, and flocks of geese were honking south. We stopped at several places to explore falling-down cabins that recalled the days when the river was the only highway.

At the confluence of the Pelly River a dozen structures stand at the deserted outpost of Fort Selkirk, established by Robert Campbell in 1848 and rebuilt during the gold rush. We pitched our tent there and then headed up the Pelly several miles to visit one of the few working farms in the territory (pages 566-7).


Pandas in the Wild

September 2, 2013

FRESH TRACKS in the snow pass within 100 feet of my tent. Nearby another set of tracks tells of a smaller animal moving in the same direction. All day my Chinese associate and I trace their route. Then, on a late winter afternoon, we spy a small black-and-white creature almost in­visible on the bough of a spruce. Below sits a more massive animal. Finally. After two months in the rugged Wolong Natural Reserve in the mountains of China’s Sichuan Province (map, page 741), I have seen my first giant pandas in the wild.

Chinese experts estimate that the total panda pop­ulation today may not exceed 1,000. More than 100 starved to death in the mid-1970s, when one of the species of bamboo on which they feed bloomed and died in a large section of their habitat. Worried about the decline of the pandas, the Chinese, who count A iluropoda melanoleuca a national treasure, invited the World Wildlife Fund, whose symbol is the panda, to join in a research and conservation pro­gram to study this rare, shy mammal.


I was asked by the World Wildlife Fund to partici­pate in the field research. After the first six months of the study, I realize that there are still more questions than answers about the behavior of this animal everyone loves.

THE BIRCHES around our camp are heavy with frost and shine like transmuted starlight against the dawn sky. The thermometer outside my tent measures 14°F.

I set out to look for fresh panda spoor with Hu Jin-chu, a professor at Nanchong Teachers College and one of Sichuan’s best naturalists. Professor Hu serves as field director for the study. The trek is an arduous task because of the rugged terrain and dense thickets of bamboo.

We climb to search a ridge we have not vis­ited for a week. Our camp lies at 8,300 feet. Pandas roam to 10,500 feet and higher—as far as bamboo persists. Though gripped by winter cold, the forest is strangely verdant. There are spruce and hemlock, and beneath them rhododendron and whole slopes of bamboo, all in green leaf, as if summer has been momentarily suspended.

Professor Hu leads the way across a treacherous hillside (left) where seepage has turned into a frozen chute.


When we find tracks, they are traced on plastic (below). By noting each footprint’s idiosyncrasy, we may be able to identify individuals from their tracks. We like to follow the exact route of an animal to deter­mine not only where it has fed, but also to note every bamboo stem it has eaten.

Droppings and compressed bamboo mark a panda sleeping site (below), which Professor Hu tries out for size. In our nine­square-mile study area, there are seven pan­das, although one or two more may wander in from time to time.

A SIGNPOST reads “panda in the area.” No one knows why pandas claw trees (below). It may be to sharpen or clean their claws, and perhaps to signal their presence. This is the work of one of three wild pandas we track by radio collar. One afternoon I hear her crunching a bamboo stalk. With her keen sense of smell, she quickly becomes aware of me. Possibly curious, she draws to within 35 feet to look me over (left), and then casually ambles over to a nearby patch of bamboo and goes to sleep.

As winter disappears, the panda’s distinctive coat seems to grow more and more conspicuous. When a panda suddenly appears out of the forest, its coat seems to glow. The healthy adult panda has no enemies other than man. Only the young or old and weak may fall prey to such predators as leopards and Asiatic wild dogs.

SNOW retreats up the ravines and ice vanishes from the banks of streams. Flocks of blood pheasants break up to nest and sunbirds return from warmer climates. Birches are leafing out and the rhododendrons burst into bloom.

My wife, Kay, welcomes spring by transcribing her notes out of doors (left). The tent pipe goes to a stove that not only keeps us warm but also dries panda droppings we analyze for content.

Nearby is the central shed with our community kitch­en, where my Chinese col­leagues (bottom), including Professor Hu, second from left, and biologist Pan Wen­shi of Beijing University, third from right, toss a fare­well party for a departing team member.

The 770-square-mile Wo­long Reserve is the largest of ten preserves set aside by the Chinese government in its immense efforts to protect the panda. In prehistoric times this bearlike animal with some raccoon charac­teristics roamed much of eastern China. The dashed line on the map shows the extent of fossil finds. The small red areas are the ex­tent of panda habitat today.

HOW FAR do pandas roam? Are they active both day and night? To answer these and other ques­tions, we need to monitor them with radio-equipped collars. Although pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively, they are also carnivorous, albeit too slow to catch most animals. Wang Xue-quan (below) smokes mutton in front of a log trap baited with meat, hop­ing the smell will lure a panda. After days of checking emp­ty traps, we are electrified by the news that a panda has been caught. We discover an elderly female that we name Zhen-Zhen, meaning “precious” or “rare treasure.” After we tranquilize, examine, and collar her, we allow her to re­cover in the trap and then release her. When she realizes she is free, she trots off (right). Not the least intimidated by her experience, Zhen-Zhen entered traps three more times.

HIS NAME is Long-Long, meaning “dragon” (above), the only male we captured. Professor Hu, Peng Jia­gan, and Howard Quigley, a radio-telemetry expert from the New York Zoological Society, weigh the young 120-pound male. By his weight and teeth we estimate he is 21/2 years old.

Ning-Ning, another subadult, lives up to her name, “kind and peaceful,” when greeted by Emil Dolensek (top right), the society’s chief veterin­arian, who came to Wolong to work with the Chinese in captive manage­ment programs. Pandas are known to be rather unaggressive in the wild, but these subadult animals are so docile they seem almost like pets.

Signals from the radio collars How­ard put on Zhen-Zhen (left) and others can be detected several miles away.

The specially adapted panda fore­paw (above) can clutch a bamboo stem between the five fingers and the elon­gated wristbone at upper left that is, in effect, a sixth digit.

LAST REFUGE of the panda, this haunting fastness in central China is washed by prolonged

summer rains (left). The ani­mal’s prehistoric range probably became more arid, and later cultivation de­stroyed its habitat. It survives only in these mountains where the moisture-loving bamboo still thrives. And pandas need a lot of bamboo. Because their diges­tive tracts extract little nutritive value from the plant, they consume prodigious amounts, spending 50 to 75 percent of the day feeding. Captives have been known to eat 40 pounds of bamboo a day.

For much of the year Wolong pandas keep to higher altitudes, where there are large stands of Sinarundinaria, one of the types of bamboo in the study area. In spring some descend to relish the shoots of another kind (right). The panda peels the hairy sheath to reach the juicy center—a delicacy also enjoyed by our team.


To eat a long shoot, a panda in the cap­tive breeding facility at Wolong snaps it in two (above). Inserting one piece at a time, it will crunch each rapidly—like a sharpener consuming a pencil.

ZHEN-ZHEN is restless, ac­cording to our radio signals. Listening from a nearby ridge, we can hear a male emitting the whines and barks that are the equiv­alent of a panda love song. The next day I observe the pair, and soon see a smaller male arrive. The larger male, threatening and charging, soon drives him away from the female.

I stand near a large fir tree and short­ly Zhen-Zhen comes panting up the trail (top). Unalarmed, she goes to the other side of the tree and sits down. Soon the male comes puffing up the slope, and I back off. He simply steps over my tape recorder and follows her. He puts a foreleg on her side as if to induce her to crouch down (above). Then she sinks to her elbows and places the top of her head on the ground, al¬lowing him to mount (lower left). I ob¬served him mount her 48 times in three hours. It will be perhaps five months       later before Zhen-Zhen produces a cub, if at all. If she does, we will care¬fully avoid her den site for fear of disturbing her.

The knowledge we gain over the next few years will, we hope, preserve the panda in the wild as well as improve breeding in captivity.