#95: February 15, 2016 : Smithsonian Magazine has published my piece on the destruction by the logging and palm-oil industries of Borneo’s rain forest and the ancient way of life of the Penan Hunter gatherers, who still hunt with blowguns. Last fall peat fires which should never have been set killed thousands of orangutans in Kalimantan, from starvation and smoke inhalation. this should not be happening. please get involved with organizations like Birute Galdikas’s Orangutan Foundation International and the Bruno Manser Fonds. Here’s the piece, with powerful photos by my pal Varial

#94: September 15, 2016 : A Letter From Rwanda. Part One : Reunion with the Gorillas.
Whom I hadn’t seen since l986, when I was writing about the murder of Dian Fossey. The experience today, by up to 80 ecotourists a day visiting ten different families, is really well done, you get up close and personal and en famille with our close primate cousins and see that the differences between them and us are mainly only a matter of degree and adaptation.

here’s the link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/w8iso2mkq8gv9li/reunionwithgorillas.pdf?dl=0

#93: September 3, 2015, Smithsonian Magazine has published my piece on the white spirit bear of British Columbia, with magnificent photographs by Melissa Groo:

#92 : July 4, 2015 : Ethiopia’s Black Stalin. While we’re on the subject of this amazing ancient country, here’s a piece I did on the fall of Ethiopia’s dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in l991. It has a lot of interesting political and cultural and ethnohistorical information. The late eminent historian of the African Horn,  Harold Marcus,  accompanied me to Zimbabwe and Addis and his help was incalculably valuable, as was that of Robert Houdek, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia who saved Addis from being laid waste to by the incoming revels of the Tigray Liberation Front.
here’s the link on dropbox, until we can iron out this problem we’re having with our server:

#91 : July 4, 2015 : “The Great Ethiopian Cataract Intervention.” In May, thanks to a grant from the Woodward Foundation, I joined Dr. Geoffrey Tabin of the Himalayan Cataract Project and his team of Ethiopian eye surgeons and nurses who performed 2300 cataract surgeries in 12 days in the ethnic regions of Tigray and Amhara. Most of the patients were subsistence farmers living on a dollar a day and their operations were life-changing. The same procedure HCP does for $20 costs $3000 in the U.S.. Here’s the link to the 58-page Dispatch :



#90 : March 25, 2014 : Vanity Fair has published “The Devil and the Art Dealer,” my piece on the old recluse in Munich who was found with a billion dollars worth of looted Nazi art in his apartment : http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014/04/degenerate-art-cornelius-gurlitt-munich-apartment

#89 : February 21, 2014 : Smithsonian Magazine has published in its March issue an article by me with stunning images by Melissa Groo about the 600,000 sandhill cranes that gather on the Platte River in Nebraska to dance and fatten up for the trip to their arctic and subarctic breeding grounds. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/500000-cranes-are-headed-nebraska-one-earths-greatest-migrations-180949816/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=02212014&utm_content=sciencecranes

#86 : The Last of Eden, about the critically endangered  Awa tribe of the eastern Amazon, by Alex with photos by Sebastiao Salgado, was published in the December 2013 Vanity Fair.  http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/12/awa-indians-endangered-amazon-tribe

two months later comes the great news that the eviction of the illegal settlers, loggers, and ranches who have been eating away at the Awas’ indigenous reserve is finally being carried out over the next 40 days. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/07/brazil-indigenous-rights-activists-hail-illegal-settlers-eviction

#85 : The Sanctity of Whales

an essay by Cyril Cristo, whose constant pestering of my editor’s assistant was responsible for Vanity Fair assigning “Agony and Ivory.” Cyril lives in Santa Fe and cares deeply about the life on earth. He has produced a number of beautiful coffee table books of his photos of wild animals, notably Walking Thunder about the elephants.

#84 : The Waterfalls of Ithaca, New York, by Louise Silberling

Silberling waterfalls essay with photos in text

#82 : The Great Estates of Northern Westchester and Their Contribution to Conservation

Addendum : a big thanks, too,  to Paul Gallagher for letting me mine his excellent, entertaining write-up of the Leon Levy Preserve


#81 : Alberta’s Nefarious Tar Sands. click on :       oilsands4

#80: from Louise Silberling in Ithaca, New York

October 28, 2012

I had a delightful interaction with a very old African-American man in the grocery parking lot tonight. Very slowly he pushed his cart, bent and leaning onto it, and mumbling discontentedly. I heard him say as I passed him

“I must be losing my mind completely.”

I slowed and said “yeah, me too.”

He stopped, surprised that someone had paid attention. Very good-naturedly he squinted at me and said “I can’t seem to remember the name of that artist who cut off his ear.

And I’m from New York!” “Van Gogh,” I said.

“Ooooh, YES! Of course! But how am I going to keep that in my head? I just can’t!” he replied, genuinely distressed.

I suggested that he perhaps think of a mini-van starting up and going.

“You know, like ‘van’ and ‘go.'” He turned his face skyward, grinning, and started to laugh deeply and loudly.

#79: Nuclear Frisson in Iran by Paul E. Dixon

July 2012

I received the following email from one Paul E. Dixon, a lighthouse keeper in New Zealand who, it turns out, manages to get away from the lighthouse with his wife Sue often enough to do some very interesting traveling, and he is a fantastic writer, as I’m sure you’ll agree. I would describe his idiosyncratic genre of travelogue as pointilliste, like our contributor Elaine Rosenberg Miller’s pointilliste fiction. Paul says he is a throwback to Peter Fleming, the brother of Ian who wrote the wonderful My Brazilian Adventure  in the l930s. Here’s his Iranian adventure.

#78: Positively 44th Street

June 19, 2012

Vanity Fair has published in its June issue my portrait and memoir of 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue, where I used to hang out thirty years ago when I had an office at the New Yorker’s old digs at 25 West 43rd. It’s an interesting piece of writing. A lot of people connected with it, especially ones of my aging boomer vintage. One reader said it was an “out of body experience,” another said it was “randomly wonderful.”

#77: A Moving Family Saga of Three Generations of Tibetan Women


APRIL 4, 2012

Yangzom Brauen is an actor and a prominent activist for the Tibetan cause. We got talking about Tibet. The recent news is horrible. A young woman immolated herself in Eastern Tibet, the Chinese are forcing all Tibetans to be educated in Chinese. The magical spiritual culture of Tibet is in its endgame. Every traditional society off the modern grid is in its endgame. They will all be assimilated or wiped out in a decade or two, I observed to Yangzom, and she nodded grimly…


#76: The Magnificent Mesnak

APRIL 4, 2012

This is a review of the first full-length feature film about the depressed aboriginal communities of northern Canada made entirely by native people themselves, and of the clueless reviews this masterpiece has gotten in the Montreal and Quebec City press.


Dispatch #75: Melissa Groo’s Amazing Bird Photography


December 21, 2011

Melissa Groo runs the Elephant News Listserv, which sends out to its subscribers a daily roundup of scientific studies and news items about African and Asian wild elephants–most of it sadly dire these days. The site was the brainchild of Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants who hired Melissa in 2000 to start and oversee this news service. It has grown to over 1000 worldwide subscribers, including all the top people in elephant research and conservation

#74: Why Do the Chinese Eat Everything ?

NOVEMBER 7, 2011

The consumption of ivory by China’s bao fa hu or “suddenly wealthy,” which is driving the slaughter of about 100 elephants a day in Africa, isn’t the only problem

#73: The Silent Lion

NOVEMBER 7, 2011

Another gem of short “pointilliste” fiction by Elaine Rosenberg Miller, who is single-handedly holding up the torch of fiction for DVW, which we believe in publishing because we “non-fiction” writers who take our craft of literary journalism so seriously need to reminded that such a thing doesn’t exist.

#72: A Heroic Mother-Daughter Team Fighting to Save the Green Turtles in Tobago

NOVEMBER 7, 2011

This just in from Heather Pepe, a woman who grew up in our town in the Adirondacks, one of Keene’s great families, the Pepes,  and moved down to Tobago in the early nineties and has lived through the transition of the sunny, easy-going, sustainable island way of life to the violent lootin’ and shootin’ anything to make a buck culture that I saw Jamaica undergo in the seventies and is now pervasive in the Carribean, to the detriment of what’s left of its once abundant marine life.

#71: Mandarin translation of “Agony and Ivory,” (Dispatch #69)

NOVEMBER 7, 2011

The Chinese nouveaux riches, or bao fa hu, whose hankering for ivory objets and jewelry is driving the current wave of slaughter of elephants in Africa– about a hundred a day– are the most important audience for my Dispatch on elephants and the ivory trade,which appeared in the August issue of Vanity Fair and has been optioned by GQ China.

#70: The tenth anniversary of 9/11 and of the creation of this site

SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

It has been ten years not only since 9/11 but since the launch of DispatchesFromTheVanishingWorld.com, which burst on to the Web a few weeks before the catastrophe. I happened by a complete fluke to be paying one of my all too rare visits to the Apple and was on hand for the whole thing.

#69: Agony and Ivory

JULY 1, 2011

The Chinese nouveaux riches, or bao fa hu, whose hankering for ivory objets and jewelry is driving the current wave of slaughter of elephants in Africa– about a hundred a day– are the most important audience for my Dispatch on elephants and the ivory trade.

#68: The Pandemic That Never Happened

JUNE 16, 2011

This is a diary of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic through September of that year, by which time Mexico and Argentina had been devastated by the virus. But the rest of the world, it turned out would be spared– this time.  It turned out to be a very expensive exercise in pandemic preparedness, and a thoroughly worthwhile one, as we are only going to see more of these lethal outbreaks.

#67: Cartagena Redux.

JUNE 16, 2011

This is the first piece I did for Travel & Leisure, in early 1999, I believe. It was never published, because the magazine feared its readers who decided to go to Cartagena could be kidnapped. This was the beginning of my association with Sheila Glaser, one of the best editors I have ever had, who is now at the New York Times Sunday Magazine. From a literary point of view, the writing in this piece has a degree of sophistication that doesn’t exist in travel writing any more.

#66: The Emperor Who Ate His People.

JUNE 16, 2011

This piece was published in the July, l987, Vanity Fair. It is one of the ousted dictator stories that Tina Brown had me doing. The others were Alfredo Stroessner, Mengistu Haile Meriam, and Mobutu Sese Seko. I’d love to do one on Gadaffi. I was just in the Central African Republic for the first time in 25 years, when I covered Bokassa’s trial, and little has changed.

#65: Saving The Land That Gives Life

JUNE 9, 2011

It’s about the battle to keep Manitoba Hydro from running a huge transmission line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg, which would ruin the World Heritage site that that five Ojibwe nations are trying to get for their spectacular still virgin ancestral wilderness. This dispatch is causing quite a furor in Manitoba, which is just what we want. Manitobans need to inform themselves about this issue and to do the right thing, or future generations will never forgive them.

#64: Westchester, Bedford, and the Education of a Conservationist

MARCH 9, 2011

The text of a speech called “Westchester, Bedford, and the Education of a Conservationist,” that Alex gave in his hometown on March 6.

# 63: God Save the Ridley


OCTOBER 3, 2010

Will the most critically endangered of the world’s seven sea turtle species survive the Gulf oil spill?  (Note: a link to edition that appeared in Vanity Fair is posted, as well as the original version that is slightly longer).

#62: Bohemian Legacy


Boston-born William Lobkowicz, from an old Bohemian princely family, went back to Prague after the Velvet Revolution and got back everything that had been nationalized by the Soviet occupiers : the ten palaces, the land, the fabulous art and book collections, and is trying to make it work– not an easy proposition.

#61: Presenting General Aidid

JUNE 20, 2010

Suitcase sneaks behind enemy lines in Mogadishu in l994 and interviews the “warlord” Mohammed Farah Aidid, whom the U.S. blew off in much the way it did Pancho Villa, and with remarkably similar consequences.

#60: Notes on the Dialect and Culture of the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York PDF

MARCH 2010

#59: Sometimes You Gotta Buck The Tide

MARCH 2010

A Call to Action To All Who Care About the World. After 9/ll Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair and my boss,  famously declared that the age of irony was over. Well now I think its back. What else is going on ?

#58: In Search of the Source of AIDS in Africa PDF

JULY 2009

With swine flu spreading around the world, and mankind bracing for the second wave in the fall, here is a 1988 Vanity Fair piece about another virus and its devastating effects and the race to understand and contain it.

#57: Bohemian Tragedy.


Shoumatoff/Suitcase gets arrested in the Bohemian Grove while trying to help an old college buddy save its magnificant redwoods.

#56: Dining on Russian Polaroids.

APRIL 2009

It was 1981. I was a scientist working for a large natural resource company, and was, along with my boss, visiting a factory in rural Tennessee.  By Montreal photographer John Lucas.

#55: An Epidemic of Teenage Suicides in Wales.

MARCH 2009

Over the past two years, dozens of teens and young adults in the Welsh county borough of Bridgend have killed themselves, almost all by hanging, in an epidemic that became global news. Was it caused by an Internet cult? The malaise of life in a backwater?

#54: New Sorrows for the Rio Dolores


My son Andre and I take a rafting trip with some experts on the toxicity of uranium mining on the Dolores river, which runs through Southwestern Colorado. A new uranium boom is starting to materialize here.

#53: Rhopalocera (butterfly and moth) paintings

MARCH 2009

Zoe Viles is an artist who lives in France, formerly Santa Fe New Mexico.  She has graciously sent us 9 paintings of butterflies and moths to post  on our site.

#52: A Primer on Cambodia

JULY 2008

Hajnal Kiss is a 32-year-old woman from Budapest, Hungary, who was an exchange student for the winter term at the McGill School of Business. She heard the talk I gave to Karl Moore’s class see the link above “how can I become involved.” Her primer on Cambodia, written with a warmth and compassion that reminds me of the late Ryszard Kapuscinski,

#51: The Scramble for the Arctic

MAY 2008

There have been many expeditions to the North Pole, but it was Russia’s, last summer, that touched off a furor over who owns the Arctic—and the oil that is becoming more and more accessible as the ice disappears. From the halls of Moscow’s scientific institutes…

#50: The Thistle and the Bee


Donald Trump wants to put a luxury golf resort on a gloriously unspoiled swath of Scottish seacoast. His plan has come under fire by environmental activists and led to a battle that has reached the highest levels of government. Plus, he’s up against another character: local fisherman Michael Forbes.

#49: Tracing the interconnected origins of world


Alex Shoumatoff travels to India in search of the Gypsy music of Rajasthan.

#48: Music from Flamenco to the Blues.

APRIL, 2008

Click here to listen to recordings of the artists.

#47: Traveling Light


Coming from a long line of Russian naturalists and explorers, it’s not surprising that I should  have ended up making my livelihood by traveling to the world’s kamchatki, as Russians call faraway places– remote, inaccessible corners of the planet like the Amazon, Madagascar, and Tibet

#46: The Rats Are Back.


Every 48 eight years a certain species of bamboo flowers in a remote tribal state in India, triggering an explosion in the rat population. What happens to the rats could be a ghastly parable for us.

#45:  (Product) RED provides life saving drugs to Africans with AIDS. Could the future of philanthropy be consumer driven?

NOVEMBER 9, 2007

Originally published in Vanity Fair’s July, 2007 Africa issue as “The Lazarus Effect.”

#44: The Rediscovery of Shoumatoff’s Hairstreak

NOVEMBER 9, 2007

Dear Mr Shoumatoff,

I thought you might be interested to see an image of your ‘family’ hairstreak. It was taken on Sunday last at Bluefield’s in Western Jamaica and is the third I have seen in the area since March 2007. This is a new location for it…

#43:  Dead Villages: Russia’s Rural Exodus, Demographic and Health Crises.

NOVEMBER 1, 2007

Originally published in the June issue of Walrus Magazine as “A Russian Tragedy.” In fact, I was just in Russia for three weeks in September, 2007, and despite the very real and unresolved issues in this Dispatch, the people are happier and nicer than I’ve ever seen them in the 25 years I’ve been visiting my erstwhile motherland.

#42: Brazil’s Mata Atlantica: The Critically Endangered Coastal Rainforest of Brazil

AUGUST 9, 2007

Brazil’s Mata Atlantica:The Critically Endangered Coastal Rainforest of Brazil, With a Postscripton the Musicality of Birdsong.

#41: The Dehydration of the Amazon Rainforest Part1 and Part 2

AUGUST 9, 2007

“The Dehydration of the Amazon Rainforest,”originally published in Vanity Fair’s May, 2007 green issue as “The GaspingForest.”

#40: A Day in the Life in an Ordinary Consumer


Brushing your teeth, checking your email, ordering lunch, hitting the gym—almost every move you make affects the health of the planet. From the cell phone-gorilla connection to the growing e-waste factor, the author explores the global impact of the average American routine.

PLUS: Essential information and practical tips for smart consumption, everyday conservation, and the good green life.

#39: A Writer Looks At His Career.

JULY 5, 2007

Writers tend to have an inflated sense of their own importance and lasting worth. Mine was deflated in 1999, by a visit to the basement of Alfred Knopf, the eminent publishing house. I was doing a magazine piece on the remarkable, feisty couple, Alfred and Blanche Knopf, who founded it.

#38: A Miraculous Meeting With My 22nd Cousin

APRIL 23, 2007

#37: Reinhold Messner’s Longest Ordeal

APRIL 20, 2007

A decades-old mountaineering scandal has bubbled back up to the surface: did climbing legend Reinhold Messner—who made his name by being the first to climb all 14 of the world’s highest mountains—leave his brother Günther to die on Nanga Parbat, in Pakistan, in May 1970.

#36: Gypsy Music From Rajasthan

APRIL 20, 200

In March, 2006, I recorded the music of Munganyar and Kalbelia “gypsies” in and around the ancient desert citadel of Jaissalmer in Rajasthan. I was looking for evidence to support my theory, and I believe I found it, that many of the basic melodic sequences in Russian, Celtic, Turkish, North African, Malian blues, American blues, flamenco Cuban son, and Brazilian samba originate in Rajasthan

#35: The Improbable Jew

DEC 29, 2006

Clara Castelar and I have known each other since 1980, when she wrote me a letter about my New Yorker profile of Brasilia.  She is an erudite Brazilian who lives in a town in West Virginia that with her rich imagination and sense of the absurd and her great sense of humor she has made into her Macondo. See her quirky blog, Old Unterrified. As you will see, she possesses an exceptional appreciaiton and command of the English language that you only find in exiles like Nabokov and Conrad, who learned it as a second language.

 #34: The Amazon Research and Conservation Center on the Rio de Las Piedras, in the Peruvian Amazon.

NOV 6, 2006

From the plane we catch glimpses of the Urubamba River, below Machu Picchu, plunging thousands of feet, then snaking through an ocean of trees that spreads east until it is lost in haze—the Amazon, the world’s largest and most diverse rainforest. We land in the humid furnace of Puerto Maldonado…

#33: The Tribulations of St. Paul’s School

VANITY FAIR (JAN 2006), JUNE 16, 2006

For the past 150 years St. Paul’s School, the “exclusive” (as it is invariably called) boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire, has been the Eton of America’s upper crust. Or perhaps it is its Hogwarts; as Harry Potter’s fictional academy is called, providing the country with many of its most accomplished wizards…

#32: The Desertification of Mali

JUNE 16, 2006

Five of the ten days I was in Mali last March, I never saw the sun.  It was blotted out by an epic dust cloud that spread hundreds of miles in every direction, borne by the harmattan, the southwesterly gale that blows down from the Sahara during the dry season.

#31: A Profile of the Lepidopterist Camille Parmesan

JUNE 16, 2006

In the  l970s I was the resident naturalist at a nature sanctuary in Mount Kisco, New York, an hour north of the city. On our Sunday morning bird walks we noticed  species that were unusual in this far north, : mockingbirds, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, turkey vultures.

#30: The Grand Cascapedia and Its Endangered Atlantic Salmon

JUNE 16, 2006

Hoagy Carmichael Jr. was up to his waist  in the Grand Cascapedia, the Pebble Beach of salmon rivers, on Quebec’s Gaspé coast. With the effortless grace and  unerring precision of a Zen archer,   he cast  a loop of line  a hundred feet out over the amber green water.

#29: The Fall of General Stroessner

JUNE 9, 2005

As dictators go, General Alfredo Stroessner was about a seven. He couldn’t compare with Pinochet or Galtieri; he didn’t eat his enemies, as Bokassa and Idi Amin did. I saw him only once, in 1979, at the inauguration of Joao Baptista Figueiredo, the penul¬timate president of Brazil. He was in classic dictator garb…

Dispatch #28: Manitoba’s Many-Headed Hydro

June 9, 2005

Manitoba Hydro wants to build transmission lines (that no one needs) through a proposed World Heritage site. First Nations and conservationists have a better idea. Originally published as “Who Owns This River?” in the Spring 2005 issue of NRDC’s On Earth Magazine

#27: A Profile of Monaco

MAY 16, 2005

“Monaco c’est le top,” gushed the gorgeous, young masseuse in fetching Franglais. She worked at The Thermes Marins de Monte Carlo, a futuristic spa adjacent to the Hotel de Paris. Her job was to administer “thalassotherapy,” slathering warm, brown, ground seaweed all over her wealthy clients’ bodies and wrapping them in plastic sheets…”

#26: Bamako: A Blues Lover’s Pilgrimage to the Motherland

APRIL 12, 2005

A Blues Lover’s Pilgrimage to the Motherland with a postscript on the universal language and the cognition of music, and the westward migration of the pentatonic from Rajasthan.

#25:  A slideshow from the Congo by CraigLapp

JANUARY 10, 2005

Craig Lapp is a Montreal-based soundman who went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) four times over 2003-2003 to do a documentary on the U.N. peacekeeping mission in DR Congo for the National Film Board, when he took these pictures.

#24: Cultivating Culture: Emergence or Emergency

SEPTEMBER 15, 2004

Jody Golick is a saxophonist in Montreal with an interest in neurocognition and is one of the most interesting and brilliant people I have met in a long time. He turned me on to the music of the Malian master of the kora, or twenty-one stringed harp, Toumani Diabete, whom I visited in Bamako, the capital, in March.

#23: Matchwork by Sasha Chavchavadze

JUNE 27, 2004

Statement by Sasha Chavchavadze.  Excerpt: “The medium of matches combined with paper is a perfect metaphor for the uncertain and volatile culture in which we live. Though the work has an anarchic aspect – the potential for destruction by fire, the need for an explosion of meaning in a culture that has lost its bearings…

#22: Introduction to  Keeper’s Memory: The Kim Esteve Art Collection and a Narrative History of Chacara Flora

JUNE 27, 2004

by Edward Leffingwell. I had heard about this great scene in Sao Paulo revolving around a man called Kim Esteve. In February of l999 the opportunity came to check it out. Kim is a bosom buddy of the New York-based photographer Jonathan Becker…

#21: The Rape of the Cumberland Plateau

JUNE 24, 2004

If there were an international tribunal that prosecuted crimes against the planet, like the one in The Hague that deals with crimes against humanity, what is happening on the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Tennessee would undoubtedly be indictable.

#20: On the Question of Animal Awareness

MAY 20, 2004

This is a blurb I wrote for Temple Grandin’s extraordinary book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.  Ms. Grandin was made famous by Oliver Sack’s profile in the New Yorker, An Anthropologist on Mars,..

#19: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the Rwandan? Genocide.

APRIL 07, 2004

Ten years after arguably the most savage genocide in human history, the comprehension of how such an unspeakably horrible thing could have happened is still anything but clear. The chain of causes is long and complex…

#18: A Long Weekend in Armenia

FEB 22, 2004

A few weeks ago, I was invited on a  junket to Armenia by a  New York carpet manufacturer of Armenian descent named James Tufenkian.  Tufenkian employs 1500 Tibetans in Nepal and a thousand Armenians in Armenia to make carpets for him and has done so well that he has opened an upscale boutique hotel in Yerevan…

#17: The Garter Snake Dens of Manitoba

DEC 3, 2003

Each spring, on the plains of Manitoba, tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes come boiling out of the depths of the earth. Before dispersing, they come together to mate in what is truly one of nature’s most riveting spectacles.

#16: The Decimation of the Amazon Indians

OCT 25, 2003

The decimation of the Amazon’s native people over the past four centuries illustrates two patterns outlined in Benjamin Whitaker’s l985 report on genocide for the United Nations, which is posted on www.preventgenocide.org: Paragraph 33 : genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide can, and often do,  occur  in concert, as when “the destruction of the rainforest…. threaten[s] the existence of entire populations.”

#15: A Speech Given for Adirondack Voices For Peace at the John Brown Homestead, North Elba, New York

SEPT 2, 2003

“Today our society is plagued with other evils. One is our own unbridled capacity for violence. We need to evolve beyond the point that we think we can bomb innocent civilians in other countries in order to get rid of regimes we installed in the first place that are no longer to our liking. We’ve got to get over this penchant for “bombs bursting in air” that’s right there in the national anthem. As Bob Dylan puts it in Blowin’ in the Wind,

How many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned ?…
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry ?
How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died ?


#14: Prairie Dogs and Conservation Easements on the Chihuahua-Arizona Border

JUNE 25TH, 2003

On March 16, the family and I set out from Montreal for Chihuahua to see the world’s largest extant prairie-dog town. Its 150,000 residents live on roughly 90,000  acres of  shortgrass prairie there. Technically, this is a complex, made up of many interconnected towns,

#13: Annals of Investigative Golf: The Gavea Golf Club in Rio de Janeiro

JUNE 25TH, 2003

Ten years ago, I was  obsessed with golf, and because my magazine assignments and book research  took me all over the world, I always tried to avail myself of the local facilities and  get in a round wherever I happened to be. I played in  Katmandu, New Delhi,  Bujumbura,   Harare,  Kinshasa, Kampala…

#12: The Alcoholic Monkeys of St. Kitts

JUNE 25TH, 2003

“During a battle with the British for control of the island, some of the monkeys managed to escape into the island’s thickly forested interior.  Now there were forty thousand monkeys on the island, about the same number as the human inhabitants– and they were such a serious agricultural pest that the government paid hunters to shoot them.”

#11: A Report for the J.M. Kaplan Fund on the Transborder Effort to Create Marine Protected Areas in the Gulf of Maine

JUNE 25TH, 2003

The Atlantic codfish, whose schools once numbered in the millions, is commercially extinct, fished out, and headed for biological extinction…

#10: The World’s Largest Swamp: Brazil’s Pantanal do Mato Grosso

JUNE 25TH, 2003

The Pantanal do Mato Grosso, in west-central Brazil, south of the Amazon, is the largest swamp on earth. In the summer rainy season, from  October to March, it floods an area   almost twice the size of England, spilling over into adjacent Paraguay and Bolivia  (where it is known as the Chaco) and becoming a lake of oceanic proportions that flows imperceptibly southward…

#9: A Report on the Prairie Churches of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota.

JUNE 25TH, 2003

This is the full, the complete, unexpurgated “twenty-three-thousand-plus” Dispatch, more than seven times longer than the report the Kaplan Fund commissioned.  But there was so much of interest that I wanted to do it full justice, because few people are aware of the amazing churches in the northern plains of Canada, and they are going fast, and this may be the only detailed treatment they get…

#8: A Report on the Philanthropic Possibilities of Cuba. 

JUNE 25TH, 2003

Commissioned by the JM Kaplan Fund, a foundation devoted to transborder collaborations in architectural preservation and biodiversity conservation.  Cuba is rife with philanthropic possibility

#7: Journal of the Flamingo

JUNE 25TH, 2003

Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy in the Galapagos. Charles Darwin wrote that to justify the hardship of journeying to   remote corners of the planet “one must have an aim, and this aim should be a study to reveal, a truth to unveil.”


#6: What Have We Done To The Weather?


Four years after this conference, it is 50 degrees in Montreal in December, which just experienced the warmest October and November on record, like much of eastern North America. Al Gore, the great white hope for the environment, is history at the moment, but he may rise again from the ashes.

#5: Postcards from Elizabeth Fisk

NOVEMBER 30 2001

Liz  is a young woman from Massachusetts who is a good friend of my sons, Nick and Andre (the latter, now in Utah, telemarking in nine feet of powder, is the designer of this site) and is spending her junior year at Skidmore abroad, in Africa and India. As she demonstrates in this short mass e-mail to her friends, which she has been kind enough to let us post, she is a writer. We hope to hear more from her when she gets to India.

#4: Europe’s African Art Treasures

OCTOBER 27, 2001

Twenty years ago, I spent two months traveling around Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Having spent some time in the Amazon, I wanted to see how the world’s second-largest rainforest compared. It was my first trip to Africa, and the  unfettered joie de vivre and creativity of the Zairois …

#3: A Report on the Wildlife of Eastern Congo

Part 1:  Rolling Stone magazine Part 2:  United Nations Foundation Report

OCTOBER 10, 2001

Kahuzi Biega was supposed to be the safest of the parks on my itinerary. The last one, Virungas, was totally overrun by “negative forces,” as the various bands of psychotic killers  who are roaming around eastern Congo are collectively called. I  needed a military escort of two teenagers with Kalashnikovs from the  rebel group that was in nominal contol just to get to  the park headquarters at Rumangabo.

#1: On Loss – Part 1: A Sylvia Plath Moment at the Charles Hotel Part 2: Hellsapoppin After 9/11.

SEPTEMBER 27, 2001

About loss of species and cultures in the context of loss in general.




(these are stories by Alex Shoumatoff from before the launch of DispatchesFromTheVanishingWorld.com in the summer of 2001)

#028: Lives of the Naturalists: A profile of Vadim Birstein

Summer 1997

I wrote this as a profile for the New Yorker over the summer of l999, but it never ran, for reasons that illustrate the problems I have even with as fine a publication as the New Yorker. Some of this had to do with Vadim himself, an unusually multi-dimensional individual and in this sense an “inconvenient person,”

#027 The Navajo Way

Men’s Journal, Novermber 1998

One of the most remarkable things about this republic is that there exists within its borders a parallel universe known as Dinetah, a nation of more than 155,000 souls who subscribe to a mind-set completely different from the modern American belief that everything in nature is there for the taking.

#026: The Real Adirondacks

This article originally appeared in the summer 1997 issue of the since-defunct Snow Country magazine.  It was recently published in an anthology of new Adirondack writing called Rooted in Rock (Syracuse University Press).

The black flies will eat you alive, the natives are hostile, the mountains are low and boring, the trails are muddy and slippery, and the fishing sucks thanks to acid rain.

#025: The Gods Break Through in Uganda, The Nende Files

Lapis Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 1997

I had been to Nsambya Hospital seven years earlier, to interview Sister Nelizinho Carvalho, a heroic nun who had started the first blood-screening program in AIDS-ravaged Kampala. This time I was looking for Father John Mary Waliggo, an expert on the traditional culture of the Baganda tribe. I found him having tea

#024: To the Mountains, mit Four Teenage Boys

Outside Magazine, August 1994

WE CHECKED OUT OF THE hut and were on the Kander firn Glacier by eight-myself and my rwo sons, Andre and Nick, and their school buddies Jerome and Alex. The snow was still frozen as we traversed beneath the long, jagged ridge of the Tschingelhorn,

#023: Murder, Drugs, and Money in the Sierra Madre

Outside Magazine, March 1995

IN THE PAST YEAR, EDWIN BUSTILLOS HAD SURVIVED three attempts on his life by the narcotraficantes, and there he was-or what was left of’ him-in the crowd that had come to Chihuahua Airport to meet my plane from Mexico City. His most conspicuous disfigurement, as he greeted me, was his white, sightless left eye.

#022: Annals of Civil War

NEW YORKER, JUNE 20, 1994 

FLIGHT FROM DEATH The violence in Rwanda was threatening to explode in Burundi, where the author’s Tutsi relatives live, and he knew he had to get them out.

#021: The Rain Forest: A Close Up Look 

Boston Museum of Science Magazine, October 1990

The science writer Timothy Ferris and I were bouncing ideas off one another over the phone the other day, as we do from time to time, when he spun out a new argument for saving the rainforest, based on information theory.   “Wouldn’t it be great if the Brazilians could somehow be persuaded to skip the industrial age, with all its population and toxic side effects,” Ferris mused, “and go right into the informatic age?

#020: The Little Drummer Bird

Adirondack Life, May/June 1990

After an absence of three weeks (I had been in Peru, which seemed on the verge of plunging into chaos and anar­chy), I reached my home -a small log cabin high in the Adirondacks -late in the night of last April 30. The deep, undisturbed sleep I immediately sank into, which I’d been looking forward to for days, was destined to last only a few hours.

#019: Turtle, Talk of the Town

DECEMBER 30, 1985

A FRIEND who lives in Westchester writes:  One evening a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from my cousin-in-law Andy, who lives across the Sound from us, in Locust Valley. He had just been taking his new sea kayak out for a spin. Sea kayaking, he tells me, is big in places like Seattle, and it is starting to catch on in the East. Andy told me

#018: Personal History: Russian Blood, Part 2 Mopsy, Nika, and Uncle


(her youngest daughter, reading about Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail in a little book by Beatrix Potter, decided she should be called Mopsy, and that became her family name; her real name was Eliza veta- Elizabeth -Shoumatoff) was going to a resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains

#017: Profiles: Westchester County


I THOUGHT I ought to take a look at it from the air, so I got hold of my friend Hadden, who has a plane-a little Aeronca Champ that he keeps, in partnership with six others, up in Dutchess County. You couldn’t have asked for a better day. There wasn’t a shred of cloud in the whole Northeast as far as I could see, just a little haze on the horizon. As we took off, a parachutist …

#016: The Reverend Gary Davis

Rolling Stone December 23, 1971

It was the Reverend’s 73rd birthday: he was in fine spirits. Someone in England had sent him a box of small cigars and he’d been smoking on them steadily in spite of a bad cold. When we reached the standstill in front of the Midtown Tunnel, he suddenly broke out coughing, choking, wheezing.”I swear, Brother Davis, you gonna cough yourself to death on them things,” said Reverend Davis’ wife, Annie. “You gonna cough yourself right into the cof­fin.”

#015: Our Far Flung Correspondents (Madagascar)


THE countryside through the train window could be almost anywhere. The villages dotting it, each clustered around a tall, thin steeple, look French, and the trucks and cars on a road running alongside the tracks are definitely FrenchPeugeots, Renaults, the redoubtable Citroen 2-CV. But they are battered models…

#014: My Father’s Butteryfly


The display case slid out easily from the tall metal cabinet in the American Museum’s Department of Entomology, and there they were-two small butterflies with shiny, azure wings. My father had caught them on the island of Jamaica in 1933. Ten years later, two of the department’s taxonornists…

#013: Museum of Money, Talk of the Town

NEW YORKER, FEB 10, 1986

A FRIEND in Rio de Janeiro Writes:  The evolution of the Brazilian cru­zeiro is a numismatic saga of incredible complexity. My personal familiarity with the saga covers only ten years, but in that time the changes that the cruzeiro has gone through have been wild, to say the least.

#012: Murder in Brazil, The Rain-Forest Martyr Chico Mendes

APRIL 1989

One afternoon a few weeks after Chico Mendes was murdered at his home in Xapuri, deep in the Brazilian Amazon, two thousand miles from the dolce vita of Rio de Janeiro, went into the rain forest with Raimundo Gadelha, Chico’s thirty-year-old brother-in-law. Xapuri is in the state of Acre, a wedge the size of Iowa that straddles the frontier with Bolivia and Peru and is one of the most remote parts of Amazonia.

#011: Letter From Lhasa

MAY 1991

The Tibetans have an unusual procedure for disposing of their dead: sky burial. The corpses are carried up to craggy hilltops, hacked into little pieces, and fed to lam­mergeiers, a huge, brown species of vulture.

#010: Fox Holes, Talk of the Town

MAY 1991

A FRIEND who lives way upstate writes:  This is kind of an embarrassing confession to make, but this fall I’ve been between projects and I’ve got deep into golf.  What interests me most about the game is its unconscious, Zen aspect. I’m practicing what I call “calm recognition”-taking in the flowing contours of the links…

#09: Flight of the Monarchs

November 1999

One afternoon at the end of last August a monarch butterfly, a robust, freshly hatched male who had been cruising around for a few days in a meadow in southern Manitoba, taking nectar from asters and goldenrods, abruptly decamped and started to make his way south in a frenzy of flapping. He was following a migratory urge and a specific flight plan that have been inscribed in the genes of monarchs since

#08: First Snow

November 1999

At first, the land seemed barren of color, sound, even life. The trows wheeling.in the slate gray sky contributed nothing, nor did the stark, silent trees, devoid of leaf except for the dry shreds rattling on the beeches.  Snapping on skis and gliding into an old cornfield, we entered the emptiness of the season’s first snow, and were almost immediately surprised by signs of life.

#07: Fatal Obsession, The Jungle Death of Diane Fossey


The rains in Rwanda had let up last December when Dian Fossey was murdered in her cabin in the mountains, but by the time I arrived, a few months later, they were coming down hard, twice a day. The airport at Kigali, the capital, was socked in. Through the ciouds I caught glimpses of long ridges and deep valleys terraced with rows of bananas, beans, sweet potato. Rwanda is one of the smallest, poorest, and most densely populated countries in Africa.

#06: The Skipper and the Dam


BECAUSE California is such a crazy mosaic of habitats and plant communities, many of the nation’s rarest butterflies are found there. Lange’s metalmark, for instance, a fiery-red variety of the normally orange-and-gray Mormon metalmark, lives on the Antioch Dunes, east of San Francisco, and has a total range of only fifty acres. The Palos Verdes blue was limited to half an acre on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, in Los Angeles.

#05: A Reporter At Large (The Ituri Forest)

New Yorker, February 6, 1984

ZAIRE is a big, young, troubled country that takes up almost a million square miles on the western side of sub-Saharan Africa, below the bulge. Formerly called the Belgian Congo, it is eighty times the size of Belgium, whose colony it was until 1960

#04: A Reporter at Large (The Amazons)

New Yorker, Mar 24, 1986

THE Nhamunda River rises in the mountainous terra incognita of northern Brazil below the Guyana border and, flowing southeast, enters the Amazon River about three quarters of the way down its four thousand-mile length.

#03: A Critic at Large, Henry Walter Bates

New Yorker, Aug 22, 1988

IF I were heading for the Amazon and had room in my tropical kit for just one book, my choice would unquestionably be Henry Walter Bates’s “The Naturalist on the River Amazons.”

#02: The Mountain of Names

New Yorker, Aug 22, 1988

In 1977, a book editor suggested that I write up the history of my family, and I accepted the proposition not only eagerly but with a sense of urgency. My two grandmothers were both nearly ninety. I had heard some of their stories, in bits and pieces -of how they had got out of Russia because of the Revolution and started life over again in the United States, and of what their life had been before-but I had never heard the whole story.

#01: Personal History: Russian Blood, Part 1 Shideyevo

New Yorker, April 26, 1982

In 1820, at the age of thirty-six, Andrei Fyodorovitch Lukianovitch left his regiment (the Hussars) to become the governor of Simbirsk, a sleepy province on the Volga. After six uneventful years there, he retired to his land on the Orel, in the Ukraine, where he built a large house on the site of some old earthworks that had been constructed in the seventeen-thirties to deter Tatar invaders from the south. He called the house Shideyevo. The name came from shado, the old Tatar word for ramparts.