World wildlife down 50%, but what about Ebola?

World wildlife population halved since mid 1970s-

We are used to writing about, agonizing about, plants and animals that have become so rare that they are endangered with extinction. It is a common theme in the news reported at TWN.

There might be the sense, however, that in total numbers of animals wildlife is nearly holding its own in many places. The deer population in the United States might even be greater now than when Europeans began settlement and expansion in North America.

Sorry conclusions from the new Living Planet Index
It turns out though that the global populations of wildlife have been halved in the last 40 years, according to the London Zoological Society (ZSL) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWP) in releasing the new “Living Planet Index.” Amphibians, birds, fish, and reptiles have declined by an average of just over 50%.

In many developed nations wildlife has indeed grown at bit, but developing countries are another story. Latin America is the worst.

The reasons are numerous but most can be filed under the category of habitat destruction. For a number of large animals, however, direct killing, as with poaching, can be blamed. For fish, commercial overfishing is an even larger factor. These two factors, habitat destruction and direct mortality, can both be subsumed under the single category, “human caused.”

Overpopulation of humans?
The beginning of the environmental movement in the late 1960s found the ultimate cause of danger to be the unrelenting growth of human population that began with the improvement of public health and the invention of antibiotics in the early to the mid-twentieth century. The death rate dropped, but the birth rate did not. Human destruction due to shear numbers seemed mathematically certain if the two did not quickly come into balance.

In the decades since the  alarming book, The Population Bomb was written by Paul R. Ehrlich in 1969, population has continued to grow worldwide, but at a declining rate. Many European countries now even have birth rates below replacement levels. Some Middle Eastern states and African countries, especially, continue with very high birth rates. Africa has the world’s poorest and fastest growing countries. Projections are that by 2050 the continent’s population will grow from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion.

The desperation, violence and population growth in Africa will likely mean the end of all the large wildlife for which the continent is famous.

Overpopulation coupled with globalization
In centuries past, here and there overpopulation led to a population drop from disease and famine. Today, however, what would have been overly large populations can be supported by drawing in resources from the rest of the world. The ability to do this has been both the result and the cause of vast improvements in transportation and communication. With the globalization of the Internet and cell phones, some observers even venture that “the world is now flat” (metaphorically speaking). Thomas L. Friedman recently wrote a book, The World Is Flat. Friedman celebrates globalization of trade. However, this means it is much easier to suck up any unexploited natural resources, especially with the emergence of an ideology among elites that rejects as too onerous any restraints or efforts to get the producers of negative externalities (such as destruction of wildlife, pollution, destabilization of the Earth’s climates) to “internalize their externalities.” Sadly both countries and giant corporations even see the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a great benefit to more international trade and petroleum and mineral production from the “new lands” (undersea) made accessible by open water.

As a result environmental collapse is now likely to be global rather than limited to places that cannot control their populations or their appetites.

Plague, as in Ebola
Although wildlife is reeling, humanity appears to be doing well indeed in its number. However, rapid population growth coupled with exhaustion of resources is not stable. The inevitable crash can also be very deep, and especially so because environmental destruction and international travel has meant new opportunities for the smallest forms of life, such as viruses and bacteria.

Recently here in TWN we discussed the causes of the growing Ebola epidemic. They are really easy to see. At first came the initial infection(s), probably from killing or eating “bush meat.” This happened numerous times in the past, but the infection died out due human populations isolated by geography and technology. Next came the failure of initial control and the infection began to spread entirely person to person. Human control failed due to poverty, breakdown or lack of public health, and cultural practices that are based on superstition. Now we are at the breakout from local geographic confinement stage due to motorized travel by the infected. We are at the cusp of a great pandemic.

Will Ebola stay in West Africa?
Officially this is the hope. Timely intervention will reduce the infection rate to less than one new infection for every person already infected. This rate is called R. Right now, R is obviously well above the number one. There is an almost complete breakdown in any obstacles to the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, and Guinea. It has spread to cities that have air connections to the rest of the world.

International response
So far the official and actual dispersal of aid has come from the United States and Cuba.

Cuba is sending many doctors. President Obama is sending troops, doctors and supplies. The President has called for more international help. The unfolding plan to build a fine field hospital for 1700 cases is dust in the wind. Officially this is still humanitarian aid. This definition makes the libertarian individualists turn up their nose – it’s not my problem. It is their problem. The virus does not respect ideology.

The first U.S. case 
Ebola will not gain a foothold in the U.S. or other developed countries because of the fine health care and detection system. This also is the official line. Already we have the first test of this.

A Liberian national sauntered off of an unknown (unreleased name) airplane on September 20 in Dallas, Texas. He was already infected, but very likely not infectious. He soon became sick and infectious. On September 26 he went (was taken?) to a hospital. Despite the classic Ebola symptoms he was sent “home” with antibiotics. Two days later he was back and admitted, soon to be discovered to have Ebola hemorrhagic fever. That is a lot of time to spread the virus, and surely he exposed others. What were his living conditions? What about those who cared for him the first time including those patients sitting in the emergency room.  Ebola does not spread through air. It spreads a bit like a cold through touching the person or objects he has contaminated with his fluids.

We now read that a second person who was in contact with him is being monitored to see if they develop Ebola. It is likely that official assurances that “we will catch this thing” will prove true, but what about the future?

The future
There are now officially, but undercounted, about 6500 world wide cases, although over 3000 are already dead.

A few weeks ago a final total of 20,000 cases was an official prediction. Now it is said there will be from 500,000 to 1.4 million cases by the end of January. It won’t end in January. If R = 2 per month, multiply 500,000 by two for 12 months and you will see the cases are in the billions. Of course, spread of the plague will not go that smoothly.

If one infected person can wander off an airplane in the United States and expose people when there are just 6300 cases in the entire world, what are the chances of catching each new U.S. infection when the case load rises to a million suffering in Africa? That figure will likely come in the middle of the winter influenza season (similar initial symptoms to Ebola), and, oh yes, Republicans are talking about another government shutdown for January.

Hardly anyone has discussed what happens when an infected person gets off an airplane in Cairo, Egypt or Calcutta, or any giant, developing world city? Will that person be detected, isolated and his exposure trail tracked down successfully?

Much of the destruction from a plague does not come from direct infection, but from the economic collapse that comes as the result. In other words, in West Africa plague survivors may starve to death. It won’t take much for the system of international trade to break down, spreading chaos across the world.

Environmentalists have been criticized for making the possibility and the reality of an outbreak into a morality tale – don’t mess with Mother Nature. What will it be when wild eyed religionists blame it on gay marriage and women who don’t know their place?

Some wildlife can also by sickened and die from Ebola. Great apes are one example. Other wild animals are resistant.  It is not clear which are.  Nonetheless, the future of wildlife might brighten from a worst case outcome for humanity.







  1. Kathleen Avatar

    RE: The Living Planet Index:

    “According to the report, Kuwait has the largest ecological footprint in the world, at 10.36 global hectares per person. Timor Leste has the smallest, at 0.44 global hectares per person.

    “The US has the eighth largest footprint, while the UK comes in at number 28. China is ranked at number 75.”

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      “Latin America is the worst.”

      Dr. Maughan,

      So, just for argument’s sake, could we say that (ecologically speaking) every person that is removed from central America is actually helping the environment the most, statistically? That is, removing a central American (to anywhere else) does more good than removing from any other place? Not socially, but ecologically.

      1. Julie Gallegos Avatar
        Julie Gallegos

        In the face of globalization, I don’t think it’s as simple as “remove one Latin American” and decrease footprint by one. Multinational corporations are still fouling the rivers and felling the forests.

      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Mark L,

        I wouldn’t say that. The environment and the economy too are too complex to engage in that kind of speculation.

        1. WM Avatar

          I have said this before, but former D Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado (3 terms and very well liked), petitioned the Board of the Sierra Club to oppose illegal immigration to the US from Mexico/Latin America because allowing continued illegal immigration would and still is dramatically increasing the US population while commensurately impacting wildlife because of greater US population and increased rate of birth from that in-migrating segment. So, we have added another 10 million illegals + their progeny with THE highest birth rate of any ethnic groups, often of the Catholic faith which still opposes effective birth control and supports larger families, thereby exacerbating OUR OWN wildlife/loss of habitat problems. And, I doubt there is a commensurate “improvement” in any country where these individuals are coming from, since their environmental regulations (if they exist at all), are lax, and it could probably argued it would get worse if they stayed. Mexico City, is still the largest in the world, with one of the most serious air quality problems, and they have sucked the former lakebed land on which the city sits dry of water to the point of substantial subsidence and little hope of fixing it.

        2. Mark L Avatar
          Mark L

          i was of course joking about the removal of people but the reality is that removal of the indigenous population is mostly what is being done now…the ones that historically have done less damage to the local central American ecosystem as a whole. Has this been repeated through history? Yes, it has. What I am really hinting at is a root cause analysis of what you are already bringing up, just using an extreme stretch on it.

  2. Yvette Avatar

    Well, yesterday evening an acquaintance of mine that happens to be a professor of genetics stated, “let’s see how long it takes before they use the case of ebola to scream about the ‘illegals’ and continue for calls to ‘seal the border’.

    I did not expect to see it on this blog.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      “In 1900 starting in New York City, smallpox reared its head once again and started a sociopolitical battle with lines drawn between the rich and poor, white and black. In populations of railroad and migrant workers who traveled from city to city the disease had reached an endemic low boil.

      This fact did not bother the government at the time, nor did it spur them to action. Despite the general acceptance of the germ theory of disease, pioneered by John Snow in 1849, smallpox was still thought to be mostly a malady that followed the less-distinct guidelines of a “filth” disease, and therefore would only affected the “lower classes”

    2. WM Avatar

      Not an “illegal” in this case, but certainly a migrant/visitor “Liberian national who lied” about having contact with an Ebola victim, which he travelled with by taxi to seek treatment, according to NBC.

      And then there is this:

      “The international air travel system has also proved to have porous screening procedures that rely heavily on the honesty of travelers and the diligence of airport workers. The chairman of the Liberian national airport authority, Binyah Kesselly, said Thursday that Mr. Duncan had been deceptive about his exposure to the virus when he flew out of Roberts International Airport in Monrovia on Sept. 19.”

      Liberia is the very definition of corrupt third-world country without a functioning government or healthcare system.

      Question: Why not seal the borders or implement more rigorous verifiable screening mechanisms for high risk areas?

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan


    Fox News and other right-wing outfits have already been doing this for a number of months — spreading false fear that those sick with the dread disease somehow made it from Africa to Mexico so they could steal across the border for some unfathomable reason.

    1. Yvette Avatar

      My comment wasn’t directed at the article. It was the mention of “illegals”. I knew that Fox had been spreading fear of disease when the Central American children were being detained and housed a few months back, but didn’t know about their fear mongering on the ebola. I’m not surprised. I suppose they never bothered to discuss the 2009 coup in Honduras and the ties to Dole, United Foods, our own CIA and the high level politicians that supported that coup. God forbid a Central American President raise the minimum wage so American corporations can’t have near slave labor. Things went downhill for the poor Hondurans after that coup. Corruption on all fronts.

      I’m hoping people don’t panic about the ebola case. It is a concern, but I think it won’t spread here in the U.S. I’m more concerned that 52% of the global vertebrates have declined in a 40 year span than I am of the ebola virus.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        “I’m not surprised. I suppose they never bothered to discuss the 2009 coup in Honduras and the ties to Dole, United Foods, our own CIA and the high level politicians that supported that coup”

        The domination (by the US) goes a hell of a lot further back in time than 2009, Yvette.

        1. Yvette Avatar

          I know, but that web is so tangled it would take a volumes to write about it, and much research to begin to untangle it. I am not knowledgeable about our foreign policy in Central America.

          When I started looking into potential reasons why there was such a high influx of Honduras children crossing the border it got deeper and darker. I had to ask myself what black hole I had been living in. At the time those children were making headlines I didn’t understand why people were so focused on them having diseases and that they were coming ‘for jobs’. I mean, if I could find information on that 2009 coup I thought journalists should be writing about it. Finally, they did begin reporting on it and on the Reagan years and his policy in CA.

          What a mess we’ve made with Indigenous people throughout the world. And why? To exploit them for their near slave labor, and their natural ‘resources’.

          I’m going to check out that documentary you posted. It seems like a good one.

          1. Nancy Avatar

            “What a mess we’ve made with Indigenous people throughout the world. And why? To exploit them for their near slave labor, and their natural ‘resources’

            Yep. But draw your own conclusions from the documentary. Worth the watch.

            1. Yvette Avatar

              Oh Nancy, that was the best documentary I’ve seen in a long time. Thank you so much for sharing it. I will have to watch this one again with my brother.

              Evo Morales has been an idol to me since he was the one and only that stood against the big powers at the COP 16 in Cancun.

              btw, did you notice the houses over the graves in Bolivia? That struck me, because that is very similar to what my tribe does. We build houses over our graves. Some use concrete or brick, but most are with wood. Many have now fallen away from that practice, but my family still does it. I thought that was interesting how the Bolivian Indigenous do something so similar.

      2. WM Avatar

        I don’t think it is just Fox “spreading fear of disease.” You might want to read this, and I believe the source is fairly objective in its presentation of the issue. Drug resistant tuberculosis is apparently fair game as in illegal immigrant related health risk:

  4. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    As a student of both history and biology, as deadly as wars have been/are, it has always been disease that has had great impact on populations. Even now, with our access to vaccines (save the anti vaxers) and anti-viral drugs, we have had fire lines against pandemics.

    Now, however, when one can easily board an airplane and be anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, the fire line can be jumped. Something like ebola, is dreaded, yet exotic bacterial and viral infections have been commonplace for years. Anyone who has ever taught in a school that was multi-ethnic is well aware of that, and it always was paramount to keep ones immune system strong.

    Will be interesting to see if a rush for a vaccine is made for ebola, who will be the first “test” subjects, and if proven safe and effective, who will refuse to have it administered to them.

    Rather sad that those who shun and rale against vaccines, may have never saw the ravages of small pox, and polio. Folks, we ain’t any different than the other creatures with whom we share this orb of blue.

      1. WM Avatar

        I listened to an NPR radio interview with a recently retired, very senior, World Health Organization official, at the start of the Ebola scare. He said in very certain terms that the WHO department responsible for “infectious diseases,” is very much unprepared for a large scale pandemic. There is a growing sense of complacency within the organization, and as time has gone on the backbone and institutional knowledge of the responsible group has deteriorated as experienced staff have retired or gone on to other functions, budgets have been cut to meet other immediate priorities, and the outreach/education function has been dialed back. A consequence is that, as we have seen in the early Ebola outbreak there were simply no treatment facilities, trained local staffs and mechanisms in place to effectively communicate to those immediately at risk the necessary protocols to avoid the spread of the disease (prolonged and unprotected contact with sick or dead Ebola victims). There are no fast-track blueprints and resources for emergency construction or modification of existing facility quarantine facilities, and importantly a cadre of properly trained local healthcare workers to assist for on-site treatment and implementation of effective prevention measures. This official’s observation was that it is a good that Ebola is not a highly contagious airborne virus. This was followed up with a cautionary note that the virus is constantly mutating and vector monitoring is extremely important.

        And, if one looks at which countries top the list of assessed dues in the WHO and private funding from foundations and businesses, just guess where the US/Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, drug companies and corporations like Coca-Cola fits in – at the very top.

        1. Nancy Avatar

          Missed this comment by you WM but I think you are spot on:

          “There are no fast-track blueprints and resources for emergency construction or modification of existing facility quarantine facilities, and importantly a cadre of properly trained local healthcare workers to assist for on-site treatment and implementation of effective prevention measures”

  5. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    It’s worth watching the 2011 movie ” Contagion” starring Lawrence Fishburne and Marion Cotillard but with many other A List actors whom I believe helped make this movie for ulterior motives. ” Contagion” really is a believable worst case scenario about a global pandemic. The virus is a flu-like thing that mutated between both an avian and mammalian version of the disease…bats and or pigs, and birds, if I recall.

    It really was graphic cinema verité. Or a training film…

    1. WM Avatar

      All things considered, some folks do believe the world is ready for a “reset” much as the 1918 flu epidemic dispensed with as many as 4-5% of world population at the time, something like 50-75 million died in a little over 2 years. Wonder what the math says for a 4-5% of current world population that might die of a pandemic (and it won’t be ebola, either for those who are fear mongers of that particular risk).

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      There are a large number of nonfiction books about pandemics, outbreaks, and the like.

      I like best David Quammen’s, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.

      1. Scott MacButch Avatar
        Scott MacButch

        I read Quammen’s book couple of years ago and it is a good read, but agree with WM, I don’t think ebola is going to be the “reset” along the lines of the 1918 flu epidemic. It is spread by contact with blood or other bodily fluids much like HIV or hepatitis, it is not airborne and thus not nearly contagious as say measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, etc.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          I hope you are right, but fear you are not.

          It is true that it is not as transmissible as the 1918 fle, but the mortality rate when it is transmitted is higher. We also have much larger aggregations of people in third world cities with living conditions just as bad or worse than in 1918.

          Just my opinion I guess, but I think the system of international trade has become absolutely indispensable, though I don’t like it. I think, however, that it is fragile and could easily get shut down by fear. The nation-states system of 1918 was more resilient.

        2. Nancy Avatar

          Something to keep in mind Scott:

          “The history of HIV/AIDS in the United States began in about 1969, when HIV likely entered the United States through a single infected immigrant”

          IMHO, we are going to see more and more cases of Ebola here simply because too many hospitals aren’t going to diagnosis the symptoms correctly (as in the case of Duncan)

          “And it’s also working with airport officials in those nations, and in Nigeria, so every person getting on a plane is screened for fever.

          “And if they have a fever, they are pulled out of the line, assessed for Ebola and don’t fly unless Ebola is ruled out,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said”

          Well, hello? Duncan traveled a great distance without a fever.

          1. Nancy Avatar

            Another good read on the subject:
            FLU/Gina Kolata/ 1999

            “When is a nonfiction science book a page-turning thriller?
            When it is New York Times writer Gina Kolata’s Flu….The book is an extraordinary account of one of the most significant public health tragedies of the century”
            -Elizabeth Whelan, The Washington Times

          2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
            Ralph Maughan

            Nancy and all,

            I notice that photos of the hospital Duncan (the infected man) went to, show an old, maybe small hospital. It certainly does not look like state of the art. If it is third rate, this might explain the “failure to communicate his nationality” upward from the entry desk upward.

            All those fine statements about our wonderful health care system ignore the fact that it isn’t so wonderful, or epidemic tight, when is comes to the poor, recent immigrant areas.

            1. Nancy Avatar

              “If it is third rate, this might explain the “failure to communicate his nationality” upward from the entry desk upward”

              An article I posted above mentioned 3 journalists coming into the country from Ebola affected areas and they got a cursory going over at the airport. When you realize Duncan was in the states a few days before he even showed signs, this could get out of hand quickly with even more potentially infected people “sliding” thru.

              Toss in flu season, its right around the corner, early symptoms are similar, the ability to spread the virus is certainly possible:


              Like AIDS, governments around the world, have hesitated to address this deadly virus:


  6. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    “Listen to the poke in your brain, your conscience, your stomach, or wherever it manifests. It is telling you something, passing along a primordial message.”

  7. Yvette Avatar

    I had a short conversation with a long time friend who is a nurse epidemiologist in Dallas. She is at a different hospital but it is the same hospital corporation. She said no one is talking about this case, and while she hopes no one else was infected she believes there is a good chance there will be more cases due to the exposure. (her opinion)

    Here is an interesting but scary article.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      “A survey by National Nurses United of some 400 nurses in more than 200 hospitals in 25 states found that more than half (60 percent) said their hospital is not prepared to handle patients with Ebola, and more than 80 percent said their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola”

      Scary, Yvette.

      1. WM Avatar

        Not to intrude on your conversation, but you make a number of very important points, Nancy. Even scarier is that Ebola is a bodily fluid contact disease, which means generally it is harder to contract than an airborne vector disease. If hospitals and our healthcare systems even in the parts of the world with resources may not be adequately prepared, that says even much more about the lack of readiness in those parts of the world without resources, communication networks, properly trained health workers, AND a public that is capable of understanding these concepts about avoiding transmission/enhancing protection etc., which may to some extent affect their cultural practices.

        Again, I am concerned about things other than Ebola which may be just around the corner, which are more difficult to detect early before someone becomes contagious, and easier to transmit through whatever means.

        What do you want to bet CDC, federal and state health care agencies get a little budget boost soon?

        1. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
          Mareks Vilkins

          do you want .. health care agencies get a little budget boost soon?

          for starters, maybe it’d be ok to get universal single-payer health care.

          An analysis of a single-payer bill by Physicians for a National Health Program estimated the immediate savings at $350 billion per year.

          Physicians for a National Health Program the American Medical Student Association and the California Nurses Association are among advocacy groups that have called for the introduction of a single payer health care program in the United States.

          A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 59% of physicians “supported legislation to establish national health insurance”

        2. Nancy Avatar

          A for instance WM?

          “Besides the logistical problems, there are issues with funding on the local level. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis requires 18 to 24 months of treatment and can cost more than $500,000. A local health department’s entire budget can be depleted with just one case.

          In an effort to ensure approval, tax commissioners reduced the levy, leaving just enough to keep the program going. Voters still rejected it, 3,363 to 3,195”

          1. WM Avatar

            Not to get too far off topic the wildlife/ebola topic, Nancy, but you mention drug resistant tuberculosis. At present guess who is bringing a constant stream of that disease into the US, and has since we have failed to effectively deal with our southern border? My source is a family physician/friend whose practice includes some of them in Eastern WA.
            Western WA also gets a lot from migrants from Africa/Asia, and in fact has one of the highest per capita rates in the entire US, according to a Seattle Times article a couple years back.


            Mareks, I am with you on your suggestion for a more comprehensive health care approach. I don’t know how all that would work with pandemic prevention, but it would certainly help. Got my flu shot yesterday, and advise everyone else to at least consider the same, and if you want to take your chances without one (and get the flu strain covered by such a preventive immunization), just remember you personally may be the vector for others to get it from YOU.

            1. WM Avatar

              sorry,…..Western WA also gets a lot of migrants from Africa/Asia and …has one of the…highest DRUG RESISTANT TUBERCULOSIS rates in the US.

  8. Yvette Avatar

    Oy, one more interesting article on Ebola. This one discusses the loss of forest habitat for bats, carriers of Ebola. The loss of their forest habitat drove them into villages, and thus, into closer contact with humans.

    At the rate we’re destroying natural ecosystems this is likely to repeat itself with other diseases.

  9. Unkar Avatar

    I have read comments implying that Ebola is difficult to catch from an infected person. However, from what I have read, Ebola is present in sweat, and can be transmitted simply by touching an infected person, provided there is a small break in the skin. Or, the virus can enter the body of an uninfected person by touching membranes such as found in the mouth, nose, and eyes. In other words, you touch an infected person and then place your fingers in any of the before mentioned places and infect yourself. This seems to be the way it often spreads in Africa. Sounds pretty easy to me.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      Not as easy as per aerosol with sneeze or cough, or insect bite vectored.

  10. Nancy Avatar

    “And businesses should also do more, he said: “Many big companies still refuse to take responsibility for the environmental impact of their supply chain.”


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan