Standing Tall | Science | Smithsonian

Standing Tall

Niger's giraffes and our 16th president

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Jennifer Margulis has been interested in Niger's free-roaming giraffes for some 15 years, ever since she lived in that parched country working for a nonprofit development agency in 1992 and 1993. "It's hard to put into words how incredible it is to see these animals in nature," she says. "They are so tenaciously holding onto life—it's incredible there's even one left. But they are so well adapted to such a harsh climate." They share that trait, she adds, with Niger's citizens, with whom the animals must compete for scarce resources. "The history of the giraffe is very much tied in with the political situation in Niger. It's a country that's surprising because it's so hot and so poor, and yet life is flourishing there."

Reporting our cover story ("Looking Up,"), Margulis, who lives in southern Oregon and also writes about parenting, spent several days with French scientists observing the giraffes. "They are so affectionate," she says. When they're not nibbling on acacia trees, "they're weaving their necks in and out and rubbing up against each other—just constantly physical and touching each other. It's almost like they're doing some kind of intricate ballet. To see the affection they have for each other—it's just so beautiful."

Harold Holzer has written or co-written some 30 books on Abraham Lincoln and is co-chairman of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which will celebrate our 16th president's 200th birthday February 12, 2009. Holzer's piece in this issue ("Election Day 1860,") is adapted from his latest book, Lincoln: President-Elect. "I didn't know that there was such uncertainty" about the contest, acknowledges Holzer, who works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and lives in Rye, New York. "People think that Lincoln's election was a foregone conclusion. Not the way he was behaving that day. He was nervous. He was very, very nervous about what was happening. I think he was worried about New York, and he was worried about Pennsylvania, and if they had gone a different way, it might have been a different result. So you never know until the votes are counted, even if you've got the odds on your side."

Does Holzer have a favorite moment from that day?

"It's when Lincoln—even though he knows he's won—still wants to know how his hometown voted. And when he gets the news that he carried it, he makes a noise like a rooster crowing. He gets criticized for it, but he's so excited, because he really cares about winning the town of Springfield, which was very, very close."

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus