For a long time now most ornithologists have frowned on the practice of collecting (=killing) species thought to be new to science. This is because generally these species are likely to be rare, because of the very fact they have only recently been discovered.
I was therefore appalled to read that American ornithologist Gary Stiles criticised ProAves (our Colombian Partner organisation) for describing a new species of Antpitta, based on feathers and photographs. Stiles apparently called the decision to do this 'scientifically irresponsible'. This is not the first time this has been done, and what he was really covering up is that other specimens (which he knew about) had apparently been collected (i.e. killed) illegally, and another description was about to be published based on these specimens. The journal about to publish, refused, thereby giving the feather and photo description priority.
"One bird - two names. Bitter feud in the Colombian Ornithology/bird conservation scene" gives the full story, and shows how irresponsible some scientists can be. This type of collecting cannot be condoned, but still persists particularly in the New World. In the 21st century, with DNA profiling and a whole host of other techniques any rare species should not be killed just to go in a museum draw.
John's previous blog on describing the Fenwick's Antpitta
Editor's Comment (17/03/11)
John Burton has repeatedly asked everyone to read what he has written and not create 'straw men'. He has also apologised to Dr Stiles, in case his comments could be interpreted as a slur on him. Most correspondents now seem to agree that the important issue is to clarify an agreed position over the killing of rare and/or endangered species for scientific study. We will not be publishing any further comments, but feel free to send them, if you feel they will be helpful in formulating a policy on scientific collecting on nature reserves.