‘Sherlock Holmes’ of Nepal’s Himalayas dies at 94

In this photograph taken on May 9, 2014, Elizabeth Hawley holds files as she speaks during an interview in Kathmandu. Hawley founded the Himalayan Database, a meticulous archive of all mountaineering expeditions in Nepal that she managed until five years ago. (AFP)
Updated 26 January 2018

‘Sherlock Holmes’ of Nepal’s Himalayas dies at 94

KATMANDU: American journalist Elizabeth Hawley, whose 50 years chronicling summits and tragedies in the Himalayas earned her the moniker “the Sherlock Holmes of the mountaineering world,” died Friday, aged 94.
Hawley built a reputation as one of the most authoritative voices on Himalayan mountaineering after moving to Nepal in 1959 as a journalist, where she continued to live up to her death.
“She had a very peaceful death,” doctor Prativa Pandey, who looked after Hawley at the end of her life, said.
She passed away at a hospital in Nepal’s capital Katmandu in the early hours of Friday, a week after falling ill with a lung infection. She later likely suffered a stroke, Pandey said.
Hawley founded the Himalayan Database, a meticulous archive of all mountaineering expeditions in Nepal that she managed until five years ago.
Known for ferreting out the truth from climbers claiming to set new records, her word on summits in the fabled mountains was considered final, though she never climbed any peaks herself.
Every climbing season Hawley — behind the wheel of her 1965 sky-blue VW Beetle — would drive to mountaineers’ hotels in Katmandu to grill them before and after their expeditions.
“I guess I am quite forceful, I come to the point and if someone thinks they can evade my questions, they can think again,” she said in a 2014 interview.
Billi Bierling, a journalist and climber who took over managing the Himalayan Database in recent years, remembered Hawley as a stickler for accuracy who would keep calling a source until she was satisfied she had the answer.
“The mountaineering world today has lost of its most important pillars. Even though Liz Hawley was never a climber, she never wore crampons, she was interested in the people,” Bierling said.
Tributes for Hawley poured in from mountaineers around the world.
“Katmandu will be a lesser place without her and her original VW beetle,” wrote 12-time Everest summiteer Kenton Cool on Twitter, describing her as the “Oracle of Himalayan climbing.”
Elizabeth Ann Hawley was born on November 9, 1923 to a Chicago-based chartered accountant and a suffragist.
She attended university in Michigan and promptly moved to Manhattan after graduation in 1946, landing a job as a researcher with Fortune magazine.
The job bored her and she took off to see the world in 1957, finally ending up in Nepal in February 1959, then a Hindu kingdom which had only recently opened its gates to foreign visitors.
Hawley eventually became a correspondent for the Reuters news agency in Nepal and landed her first major scoop during the 1963 US expedition to Everest.
The American military attaché offered her access to secret radio communication between Everest base camp and the embassy, enabling her to be the first to file when they reached the summit.
In 2014, Nepal named a 6,182-meter mountain in her honor: Peak Hawley in the country’s northwest.
“I retire when I die. It might be the same thing,” Hawley said in her book “The Nepal Scene,” a collection of monthly dispatches she wrote until 2007.


What makes dogs so special? Science says love

Updated 20 February 2020

What makes dogs so special? Science says love

  • Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts
  • Although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect

WASHINGTON: The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.
But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.
Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in “Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”
The animal psychologist, 59, began studying dogs in the early 2000s, and, like his peers, believed that to ascribe complex emotions to them was to commit the sin of anthropomorphism — until he was swayed by a body evidence that was growing too big to ignore.
“I think there comes a point when it’s worth being skeptical of your skepticism,” the Englishman said.
Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts.
Titles like “The Genius of Dogs” by Brian Hare have advanced the idea that dogs have an innate and exceptional intelligence.
Wynne, however plays spoilsport, arguing that Fido is just not that brilliant.
Pigeons can identify different kinds of objects in 2D images; dolphins have shown they understand grammar; honeybees signal the location of food sources to each other through dance; all feats that no dogs have ever been known to accomplish.
Even wolves, dogs’ ancestor species known for their ferocity and lack of interest in people, have shown the ability to follow human cues — including, in a recent Swedish study, by playing fetch.
Wynne proposes a paradigm shift, synthesizing cross-disciplinary research to posit that it is dogs’ “hypersociability” or “extreme gregariousness” that sets them apart.
One of the most striking advances comes from studies regarding oxytocin, a brain chemical that cements emotional bonds between people, but which is, according to new evidence, also responsible for interspecies relationships between dogs and humans.
Recent research led by Takefumi Kikusui at Japan’s Azabu University has shown that levels of the chemical spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each other’s eyes, mirroring an effect observed between mothers and babies.
In genetics, UCLA geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt made a surprising discovery in 2009: Dogs have a mutation in the gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans — a condition characterized by intellectual limitations and exceptional gregariousness.
“The essential thing about dogs, as for people with Williams syndrome, is a desire to form close connections, to have warm personal relationships — to love and be loved,” writes Wynne.
Numerous insights have also been gleaned through new behavior tests — many devised by Wynne himself and easy to replicate at home with the help of treats and cups.
One involved researchers using a rope to pull open the front door of a dog’s home and placing a bowl of food at an equal distance to its owner, finding that the animals overwhelmingly went to their human first.
Magnetic resonance imaging has drilled down on the neuroscience, showing that dogs’ brains respond to praise as much or even more than food.
But although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect.
Nor is the love affair exclusive to humans: A farmer who raised pups among a penguin colony on a tiny Australian island was able to save the birds from marauding foxes, in an experiment that was the basis for a 2015 film.
For Wynne, the next frontiers of dog science may come through genetics, which will help unravel the mysterious process by which domestication took place at least 14,000 years ago.
Wynne is an advocate for the trash heap theory, which holds that the precursors to ancient dogs congregated around human dumping grounds, slowly ingratiating themselves with people before the enduring partnership we know today was established through joint hunting expeditions.
It’s far less romantic than the popular notion of hunters who captured wolf pups and then trained them, which Wynne derides as a “completely unsupportable point of view” given the ferocity of adult wolves who would turn on their human counterparts.
New advances in the sequencing of ancient DNA will allow scientists to discover when the crucial mutation to the gene that controls Williams syndrome occurred.
Wynne guesses this happened 8,000 — 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, when humans began regularly hunting with dogs.
What makes these findings important, beyond advancing science, is their implications for dogs’ welfare, he argues.
That means rejecting brutal, pain-based training methods like choke collars based on debunked understandings of “dominance” popularized by celebrity trainers who demand dog owners become “pack leaders.”
“All your dog wants is for you to show them the way,” says Wynne, through compassionate leadership and positive reinforcement.
It also means carving out time to meet their social needs instead of leaving them isolated for most of the day.
“Our dogs give us so much, and in return they don’t ask for much,” he says.
“You don’t need to be buying all these fancy expensive toys and treats and goodness knows what that are available.
“They just need our company; they need to be with people.”