Sarah Lavanburg Straus: African Expedition
Sarah Lavanburg Straus (1861-1945), widow of Oscar S. Straus, went to Africa in 1929 at the age of 68 on a group bird collection expedition for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Some of the territory traveled through was so remote that they had to build their own roads and trestle bridges along the way. Sarah, and her grandson Edward Schafer, accompanied ornithologist Rudyerd Boulton and his ethnomusicologist wife Laura on a four month, 15,000 mile, adventure through Uganda, Kenya and Nyasaland (now Malawi). They collected 900 bird specimens, some of them never before documented. Then, in 1935, at the age of 74, Sarah returned to Africa on a second expedition, this time for the Field Museum of Chicago.
After her second African adventure, Sarah reported with a chuckle, “We got lost in the Sahara on our way back to Dakar after the expedition and it was days before we could find our bearings again. We had planned our return trip so that we’d be back before the stormy weather but our calculations went wrong and we ran into a series of sandstorms that buried our station wagon. There was nothing we could do but sleep on the hard sand in blankets and dig our way out in the morning. None of us were strong enough to dig out the car, and, besides, we didn’t have any shovels. Luckily, another party of hunters came along and got us out of our predicament after the storm had passed.”
The 1935 expedition collected 700 small mammals, 300 phonograph recordings of native African music, 1000 still pictures, 15,000 feet of motion pictures and 700 varieties of birds. These specimens are used for study and remain accessible, even today, to scientists from all over the world.
Boulton named a small African warbler with a chestnut throat for Sarah Straus: apalis chapini strausae. This warbler species lives at 5,600 to 8,000 feet above sea level. It is a small insect eating bird with blackish feathers and a chestnut colored throat.
“The Straus African Expedition of 1929” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 5 No. 2 (New York: February 2004); pp. 8-9.http://www.straushistoricalsociety.org/uploads/1/1/8/1/11810298/_______nwsltr204.pdf