I love the Harper’s Index. What is it? First published in March, 1984 in Harper’s Magazine, it is, in the words of editor, Roger Hoge, a monthly “statistical poem”. A single page of meticulously researched statistics and figures, oftentimes linked by a single theme.
For example, what is the theme of the following three percentages?
Percentage by which opioid prescriptions outnumber residents in Trinity County, CA: 44
Percentage increase since 2015 in the amount West Virginia spends on substance-abuse prevention and treatment: 3
On hiring contractors to transport corpses: 102
Theme? You’re right. Americans don’t like pain.
What is the theme of the two amounts below?
Amount that North Korea owes New York City in parking tickets:$152,505
That Egypt owes: $1,989,554
Theme? Right again. Not only do people no longer carry around change in their pockets, some people don’t have pockets.
Some statements are evident by themselves.
Percentage change since October 2014 in the number of complaints about rats in Washington, D.C.: +64
Theme? You’re absolutely right.
Some facts and figures, though, require a bit of research. What is the theme of the following?
Year in which wild bison were last observed in Germany before a sighting in September, 2017: 1755
Estimated hours after the sighting that the bison was killed by a local hunter: 5
This is an easy one. First of all, note that this did not take place in Australia. In Australia, a bison is what an Australian uses to wash his/her face. This is a different kind of bison. This bison is akin to a buffalo, the largest land mammal in Europe. No Australian bison were harmed by the two above facts.
Why a bison hadn’t been seen in Germany since 1755 isn’t clear. I suspect that a herd wandered into “Octoberfest 1755”, drank all the beer, ate all the sauerkraut, and would have dispensed with the strudel had there been any left. This party crashing incensed event planners, who then lobbied King Frederick II to banish all bison from the country. Whether it was called Prussia or Germany at the time also isn’t clear.
What King Frederick II did do – this in the spirit of Hannibal who drafted elephants into service – was draft all German bison into his army where he intended to use them to stampede through enemy encampments. This was an effective ploy if timed when the enemy’s clothes were drying on clotheslines. But these were non-violent bison, and rather than get the reputation as humpbacked hooligans, they deserted to Poland.
And Poland today is where many of the remaining creatures live, according to the European Bison Conservation Center. There are only a few thousand left. I suppose that hunters such as Buffalo Will Helm hunted them almost to extinction.
But back to the Harper’s Index. In September of 2017, a resident of the east German town of Lebus spotted the bison wandering alone in a nearby forest. What the resident was doing in a nearby forest is unknown. But this resident notified a local official. Worried that the animal could be dangerous –it wasn’t wearing lederhosen – the official panicked, this according to Christine Hauser, reporter for the New York Times. Unable to track down a veterinarian to tranquilize the animal, and since time was of the essence – the bison could nab the town’s sauerkraut and beer at any moment – officials resorted to employing the services of local hunters.
“The people from the local city administration basically freaked out and said, ‘There is a free-roaming bison, it is probably dangerous and I guess we need to shoot it,’” Moritz Klose, a policy director for the German branch of the World Wildlife Fund, told Hauser. Moritz also may have said that these city officials should be deported and added to the rat population in Washington, D.C.
The European bison is not known to be aggressive toward humans, reports Tom McKay for Gizmodo. It’s not clear what drove the animal to wander over the border in the first place, but male bison like the one recently killed tend to explore widely in search of new territory. The corpse is being studied now, reports Hauser, and will likely be eventually housed in a museum in the city of Potsdam, which has not been able to shoot a bison since 1755.
The WWF has filed a lawsuit against German authorities, arguing that they violated conservation laws by ordering the execution of the animal, which is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. “The shooting of a strictly protected animal without a potential hazard is a criminal offense,” WWF director Christoph Heinrich said.
Obviously there are two WWFs. The one in Germany is international, the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF in America has long been known as the World Wrestling Federation. Had the bison roamed across U.S. borders, maybe he could have changed his name to Hump Hogan, enjoyed a prosperous wrestling career, paid taxes, and signed autographs at the zoo in his old age. But we’ll never know.
Theme? Right. Someone perceives an approaching stranger. This someone assumes the stranger intends harm. This someone shoots the stranger, who turns out not to be armed. End of story.