Fantastically ironic deaths, annotated for your reading pleasure

Richard Conniff is the author of seven books, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a National Magazine Award winner. But Conniff’s also been doing good stuff online: Take his recent blog entry, “The Wall of the Dead,” which doubles as an online memorial to naturalists who died in remarkable—and, quite often, remarkably violent—ways.

You’ll read about David Douglas (1799–1834), “Scottish botanist and explorer, said to be the greatest plant collector ever, [who] died age 35, on falling into a pit trap already occupied by a bull, in Hawaii”; Heinrich Macklot (1799–1832), who “was so enraged when insurgents burned down his house, with all of his collections, that he organized a revenge attack and was speared to death, age 33, in Java“; Noel Kempff Mercado (1924–1986), a Bolivian biologist who “was scouting out a new national park in Santa Cruz department when his group landed at what they thought was an abandoned airstrip [but] turned out to be a cocaine factory”; and William Heinrich Nevermann (1881–1938), “entomologist, killed, age 57, while hunting ants by lantern with a colleague at night in Costa Rica. He was shot by a neighbor who thought the lights of the two lanterns were the eyes of a puma.” Far too many of these men and women died of malaria—although, of course, too many die of malaria today. But, according to this morbidly fascinating list, poachers, plane crashes, and brown bears have also claimed their fair share of lives.

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Fantastically ironic deaths, annotated for your reading pleasure