Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Gary Stiles and irresponsible bird collecting

11 March, 2011 - 16:30 -- John Burton

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.

More Information

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.  

Comments

Submitted by Richard E. Gibbons on

To the best of my knowledge, there is no consensus among ornithologists that collecting is an antiquated activity. Let me be clear so there is no misunderstanding; collectors do not gather stamps for a collection. They document the biodiversity for which many of us are working to protect. Why pick a fight with the people that have dedicated their lives to describing, curating, and understanding the very biodiversity so many of us cherish?

I encourage you to expand your council to include members from natural history museums. If you do, you may find there are good reasons conservationists still collect specimens for museums.

The heated divide that exists between collectors and anti-collectors is not without consequence. It amounts to infighting and is a distraction from a shared conservation mission.

I have followed this feud for many years and it seems there are only a few on the anti-collecting side that keep this fire burning. What is also evident, is a lack of interest to seek understanding for why collecting remains relevant. Blanket statements, such as your opening sentence, are what keep this misunderstanding alive and it is now more than ever that understanding is needed to work together as the list of challenges increases and the resources to meet them shrinks.

Richard E. Gibbons

Submitted by Matt on

Thank you for furthering the misinformation surrounding this issue. Why must you paint reasonable ornithologists as having a blood-lust for anything that flies? I don’t think anyone would dispute that collecting population-threatening numbers of any species must be avoided. But there’s an assumption, inherent in your post, that any collecting would threaten the survival of these species and/or populations. That’s a big assumption, and one that we should evaluate based on the evidence before labeling such (very limited) collecting as “irresponsible.”

Furthermore, there’s nothing in the article that suggests Stiles said anything like what you attribute to him. The direct quote from the Science article is “For F. Gary Stiles, curator of the bird collection at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, the attempt to designate the feathers and photographs as the holotype is ‘scientifically irresponsible.’”

Presumably that’s because there’s already a specimen, collected prior to these feathers and photographs. The fact that said specimen was collected without a permit is reprehensible, and that alone makes collecting that individual bird irresponsible. But it doesn’t change the fact that it exists and should be the holotype.

Submitted by Freddy on

por que no se ocupan de pelear contra los desmontes, la contaminacion y demas consecuencias del modelo productivo, en una hectarea de bosque desmontada se pierde miles de especimes, gente idiota que se pelea con la ciencia.

Submitted by Chris Witt on

Two critical clarifications: (1) Gary Stiles is a great scientist and a great human being who deserves far better than this libelous and misleading treatment in any public forum. (2) There are no more than a handful of bird populations in the world that might actually be detrimentally impacted by the scientific collection of two specimens, and this is fortunate because specimens continue to be an essential component to a rigorous biodiversity science. Conservationists need to stop vilifying scientists and redirect that energy towards the real and measurable threats to biodiversity that abound — I think they’ll find scientists, including those who collect specimens, to be great allies in this effort.

Submitted by John Lloyd on

This blog entry starts with an assertion that is demonstrably false – “For a long time now most ornithologists have frowned on the practice of collecting (=killing) species thought to be new to science” – and it goes downhill from there. We get a weak attempt to slander Gary Stiles, a man who has done more for bird conservation than John Burton ever will, and finally a bizarrely misinformed conclusion that reveals Mr Burton’s fundamental failure to understand the techniques that he believes will somehow replace collecting.

As someone with absolutely no personal or professional stake in this particular spat, I think that WLT, and its patrons, ought to be ashamed at having any association with the kind of self-serving, vitriolic nonsense set forth by Mr Burton. It is an unfortunate sign of the times that the CEO of a conservation organization apparently prefers superficial, ad hominem attack to a reasoned consideration of the facts. This tactic, and it is most certainly a tactic, is made all the more unfortunate by being directed at the very people whose hard work makes the mission of WLT, and similar organizations, possible. My challenge to John Burton? Try conserving “the world’s most biologically important and threatened lands” – your words – without standing on the shoulders of people like Gary Stiles. You will not succeed.

Submitted by Bioforest on

Como puede ser que alguien con tan poco criterio, se haga llamar el defensor de la verdad, Que verdad esta defendiendo este señor? Acaso conoce de la gran carrera del profesor Stiles, me parece una completa falta de respeto hacia alguen que no ha hecho mas que dedicar su vida a la ornitología, como alumno de el puedo afirmar que no es ningún irresponsable, al contrario es una de las personas mas integras y ademas un gran científico.
Si esta es una web seria dedicada a la conservación seguramente sabrán que las colectas son necesarias y mas para la ornitología.
Me parece una pena que usen esta pagina como medio para desprestigiar a las personas que mas están haciendo por la conservación del mundo.
ATT: Estudiante Biologia Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Submitted by Santa Marta Scr... on

The hypocrisy in this note is astounding. Perhaps WLT should ask its partner organization ProAves about the collection of an individual of the Santa Marta Screech Owl, another new species to science that is believed to be endangered or critically endangered.

Submitted by Birds killed by... on

Mr. Burton
Don’t misrepresent the true story creating confusion around bird collecting because most conservacionists benefit from it year after year. For example, ProAves has exclusive use of the Biomap data base of colombian specimens housed around the World. Despite Biomap is on-line, no student, no scientist in the World has access. But Proaves periodically updates its check-list based on Biomap.

If you are affected by ilegal collecting why don’t you ask to ProAves about the permit to collect feathers? It’s possible that they collect these feathers ilegally using a different license.

And if you are so affected by bird collecting why don’t you ask to Proaves, How many individuals died during the program of bird banding and training conducted in most of the reserves you support. I may tell you that the number easily exceeds thousend. However, just a handful of specimens are deposited at museums. Most of them were left rotting in the forest because bird banders were not qualified in taxidermy or at least in specimen freeze.

Finally, remember that collecting ilegally a bird or boasting describing a bird based on feathers, it isn’t a justification to steal a new species.

Sincerely,
Thousends of birds killed by Proaves banding.

Submitted by John Burton on

I think some evidence that more than one thousand birds died during banding needs to be produced before this figure ccan be accepted; it suggests that tens of thousands have been banded. I was once a bird ringer in the UK (=bander), and yes there is a very small mortality, but it should not be anything like what is suggested. And if there is evidence for such figures, I would be truly horrified.

The basic fact remains, thast there is no longer justification for killing bird as simply as type specimens. Any new species these days is almost bound to be rare, by the very fact it has not been described so far. If after description it is found to be common, then there is an argument for collecting as specimen.

Forget the ins and outs of scientific priority (which iis actually quite clear, and indisputable), the important thing is to give a lous and clear message, that killing rare birds for ‘scientific’ purposes, is no longer acceptable. Americans carried on shooting state firsts long after most of the world was accepting sight records, and it is time the scientific community woke up to the fact that , regardles of any scientific ‘justification’, this sort of attitude giive a very wrong message to the rest of the world.

Submitted by John Burton on

I will ask the webmaster to remove any anonymous comments from this page. I think any one who wants to comment should be readily identified.

Submitted by John Burton on

Richard Gibbons suggests that the WLT ought to have on its council staff of natural history museums. In fact we do have lots of very close connection, and numerous supporters who have worked in museums (including the late David Snow). I spent all my teenage years as an active visitor and collector at the natural history museum in London, and the first six years of my working life on the staff of the British Museum (Natural History) as it was then. I went on several field trips collecting speciments for the museum collections, and have continued to donate the odd specimen over the years. I have no objection to collecting per se; it’s simply how and when it is done, and what species are involved, and whether or not the appropriate licences have been obtained. All too often a few scientists believe that their work is so important they do not need to comply with the law — history is littered with unfortunate examples.

Submitted by John Burton on

Final Comment

There appears to be a major misunderstanding — perhaps deliberate — on the part of some of those commenting.

I am not holding ProAves up as the Good Guys and Stiles as the baddy. I believe quite simply that Stiles was wrong to state that it was scientifically irresponsible to desceribe a bird from feathers etc.

Most of the other comments made are irrelevant, and are creating straw men. Please stick to what I wrote. And if some of the assertions about misdemeanours, or illegailty, in ProAves can be substantiated, the WLT would certainly discontinue its support.

Submitted by Gilbert White on

Conservation needs good science and the work of biologists, yet biologists need to respect that many conservationists and conservation organisations have differing views on collecting.
In the case of the Fenwick’s antpitta the original discoverer secretly collected WITHIN A NATURE RESERVE AND WITHOUT PERMISSION. So it’s not really an issue about collecting per se.
It is sad that some in the ornithological community in Colombia have chosen, so far, to ignore those illegal actions, but rather see it as attack on collecting, and rant on about the need to collect any bird, no matter what circumstances, no matter where. It is a shame they do not see that this will only damage their own reputation.
Nevertheless, it would be a pity for people within the
wider ornithological and conservation community to fall out over differences of opinion on issues of collecting. The fantastic work of World Land Trust, Trust, and its partners such as ProAves, in saving some of the most
important habitats on earth is very important to conservation and John Burton and his team should be rightly proud of this. They have my continued support.

Submitted by R. Nielsen on

Remarkable that WLT now choose to join the misinformation campaign, and simultaneously take this mess to an new low point by maliciously spending an entire post on attacking a SINGLE person, who (unlike certain other people) actually has spend significant amounts of time doing conservation-oriented work in the field instead of sitting behind a desk.

I might suggest John Burton re-reads the blog he wrote, and then his later comment (“I am not holding ProAves up as the Good Guys and Stiles as the baddy.”). If this matter wasn’t so serious, I would feel tempted laughing at the obvious contradiction.

However, I fully understand why John would want the webmaster to delete the “anonymous” comments (disregarding the fact that emails are required to post, so anonymous isn’t possible). After all, anonymous or not, they brought out some good points. It is so much easier to deal with those points by just deleting the comments.

I had expected higher standards by WLT. That was evidently a mistake. I do hope this is a case of the blog author being unaware of the facts – rather than deliberately disregarding them.

@Gilbert White: I can only assume you have not spend much time reading up on this matter. No one has said illegal collecting is OK (even the collector himself apparently thought it was legal when it happened, and only became aware of the problems afterwards). No one has said that any bird should be collected regardless of the circumstances. How you came to those conclusions is truly puzzling, and makes your post yet another case of misinformation. What Stiles and others have said is that a specimen had been collected, and not using the information it contained is highly questionable. Not using it does not make it “un-dead”. If you believe this is not about “collecting per se”, please see the various articles/editorials that have been posted by/via ProAves and ABC.

Submitted by Manuel Rodrigue... on

Pues, yo creo en muchas ocasiones las colectas no se utilizan de la mejor manera y en ocasiones son excesivas, incluso hoy en día no estoy muy interesado en hacerlas y me parece que es necesario desarrollar nuevas técnicas (ADN) que permitan tener una muy alta confianza en la determinación de especies. Adicionalmente, se y he tenido experiencia de que en el mundo de la taxonomía y sistemática hay muchas personas muy irresponsables con la colecta de especímenes, lo cual me parece un atentado contra la biodiversidad.

Por otro lado, tuve la oportunidad de ser alumno del profesor Gary Stiles de la materia de Ornitologìa y de sobre su pasión por la aves y teniendo la oportunidad de salir a campo con el, creo que no es una persona que abusa de la colección de especímenes.

Submitted by Henry Tristram on

Dear R. Nielsen, it is widely accepted that the collector of the antpitta kept the collecting secret, stating in Science: “I knew ProAves doesn’t like collecting, but I did it.” He knew he should have requested permission… for goodness sake, he was being paid to protect a nature reserve! There is no doubt that he knew he was doing wrong. It may be true that ProAves does not like collecting, but in a statement released by ProAves (see link) “ProAves has confirmed that it is not against collecting in appropriate circumstances, but that its employees and contractors are obligated to abide by the country’s laws, and must receive approval from ProAves and the appropriate governmental entity before taking specimens from its protected areas.” That seems completely reasonable. Nowhere in their two editorials or website can I find any reference against collecting, just ProAves considered the species critically endangered and preferred to use tissues samples.

Surely it was obvious that something was amiss when the antpitta collector proceeded to try and publish in the well-respected ornithological journal “Condor”, and they rejected the paper over doubts regarding the collecting. When ProAves published the new species the following year, their editorial explained clearly that the collector had done so illegally, plus broken his contract and internal regulations of working in the reserve. On the same link I give, it states that a “lengthy and exhaustive review by the Colombian regional governmental environmental authority…. found [the collector] had acted illegally..”. Doesn’t get any clearer than that!

This antpitta situation appears to have been blown into a issue over collecting in general when it clearly has nothing to do with that (reviewing carefully the issues).

Considering that, I recommend that all readers/repliers should agree to no longer tolerate illegal collecting activities under any circumstances.

Submitted by Miguel Rodríguez on

Bien lo dice el viejo y conocido refrán, a palabras necias oidos sordos. Sin embargo si es preocupante la doble moral manejada por PROAVES.

Que estén bien, menos pelea y màs trabajo

Miguel

Submitted by John Burton on

Thank you Henry Tristram. Yopu have got it very accurately.
If anyone took the trouble to look at what I actually said, and also what I have written in the past they would realise that I am not anti collecting. But I am anti a predominately US-led, gung-ho attitude to collecting. To many of us on the other side of the world it seems to reflect a more general attitude, reflected in the gun laws of the USA. A simlistic and no doubt entirely wrong view point. But nonetheless one that New World scientists should be aware of.

And don’t shoot the messenger, and don’t create straw men.

Submitted by Richard E. Gibbons on

@ John: Thanks for continuing this important discussion. Your comment regarding US institutions with active bird collecting programs provides insight to the misunderstanding.

I think it would help us all if we get to the specific point of disagreement and briefly ignore the details of the Colombia situation. It would be great if you indicate whether or not you agree with the following statements.

1. Collection of specimens for the documentation and study of biodiversity is a valid scientific endeavor, although not as important as it once was due to the many advances in technology.

2. Collection of wildlife material should be coordinated with the all appropriate agencies and should be sensitive to local stakeholders.

3. The collection of specimens from critically-low populations is irresponsible and morally reprehensible. If population size is unknown, collecting should not be an option for potentially new taxa.

4. Some have the opinion that many US-based ornithologists collect bird specimens with a cavalier attitude that is reactionary and befitting another century.

5. Your opinion is not the same, but this view must be considered when developing organizational position statements.

Is this an accurate and fair summary?

Submitted by Floyd Hayes on

I’m aghast to see this ad hominem attack against a highly respected scientist and conservationist. It’s utterly reprehensible. I hope a retraction and an apology will be issued.

Submitted by Kevin Winker on

John, most ornithologists have not frowned on collecting birds that may be new to science. Most birds new to science have in fact been collected and carefully studied using other specimens collected and preserved across hundreds of years to determine just what they are. Most taxa that are new these days are described as subspecies. I find it troubling that you should denigrate a top-notch, world-class ornithologist like Gary Stiles to try to make your rather weak point. Ornithologists and conservation biologists are usually one and the same, on the same side of conserving biodiversity. Apparently accurately describing that biodiversity is not as important to you as it is to us – the vast majority of whom are extremely responsible.

Recently, American Ornithologists’ Union President Erica Dunn asked the Committee on Bird Collections Committee and the Conservation Committee to work together to draft a paper on bird collecting and its ethical and conservation aspects. For those who are genuinely interested in what most ornithologists think, it is a good starting point:

Winker, K., J. M. Reed, P. Escalante, R. A. Askins, C. Cicero, G. E. Hough, and J. Bates. 2010. The importance, effects, and ethics of bird collecting. Auk 127:690-695.

I would be happy to send a pdf of this to anyone, or it can be obtained here: http://www.kevinwinker.org.

Submitted by Juanita on

Some points regarding J Burton original post:

1. Unfortunately your view that collecting = killing falls far from the true in real science. Surveys and expeditions set to document diversity and its VARIATION need to have certain standards and vouchers that represent such diversity and variation. Even with the up-to-date photographic cameras and speeding up DNA techniques, having a voucher, a tangible demonstration of such diversity is still needed… not only in the New World but in GOOD science. If good science is been made, then each and every individual that is collected is not a trophy for some one to get money on! It constitutes an specimens from which multiple information can and is acquire, and not just by the collector, but by everyone that has access to it once it has been deposited at a collection or museum. Unfortunately it seems you have not been able to have such experience, where a specimen actually gives you so much more than just a “pretty picure”.

2. From J . Burton posts, it seems that that you are suggesting that Dr. Gary Stiles was trying to “hide” the specimen that was deposited at the ICN collection, while calling the description of your partner organization Proaves “ scientifically irresponsible”… Are you suggesting Dr. Gary Stiles is benefiting from preserving a particular specimen in a collection he is the curator? Are you suggesting Dr. Gary Stiles acting on his self-interest? What fives you that impression? After many years of knowing and working with several Colombian and Costa Rican ornithologists, I can only have words gratitude and respect for a man that has truly teach generation of the appreciation and CONSERVATION of diversity in all means possible. Yes, one of such means is keeping, cureating and maintaining and amazing ornithological scientific collection.

3. The fist specimen deposited in the ICN collection, to my understanding, corresponds to an individual that was found dead in the nets. As sad as this may be, I am glad the collector took the LEGAL and WISE decision of bringing it in to a PUBLIC COLLECTION, for the COLOMBIAN ornithologist to be able to study. According to the laws of the Republica de Colombia, any collecting of any part of biodiversity (individual, blood, saliva, feathers, parasites and so on), requires a research permit and a collection permit. However, act of taking an already dead bird in a collection does not requires such a permit. In some occasions, this has been a wonderful way to document and understand some of the death of migrant in the cities… where random people find dead birds and take them to a collection and a SCIENTIST for them to exanimate.

Closing thoughts:
- Sometime ago, the project Biomap was run by Proaves, with the leadership of Dr. Gary Stiles. He has not “played a side”, or has been blaming one person or other, he has definitely called the attention to what, in his understanding and thoughts (and years of devoted conservation), should be a good scientific practice.

-Unfortunately this is not the first time Proaves is at the center of the public debate in Colombia. In past years the organization has had problems with local communities (since their policy of conservation is acquiring land and not working with the local communities), they have also unfortunately restrict some access to the public and open source database that Biomap was supposed to be.

Open to thoughts and discussion… GOOD scientific discussion.

Submitted by John Burton on

A detailed response to Dr Gibbons last posting.

1. In principle agree. Important to recognise that not all collecting is lethal

2. Absolutely AGREE

3. Completely Agree, if collecting here is a synonym for killing.. You will know that I and others were critics of the killing of the Peruvian specimen of the Jocotoco Ant-pitta, as it was already known to be a critically low population, and a photo would have sufficed.

4. Agree; but not just US-based. It is an attitude that occurs in other parts of the world. But perhaps because of stereotypes, related to US attitudes to gun law etc., it becomes more readily identified with US ornithologists.

5. Not quite sure I understand this statement, but I think I agree. Many of the supporters of conservation organisations would be opposed to all forms of killing of wildlife. I do not go as far as that, but would generally look at issues on a case by case basis. However, I am now going to discuss with my Board a formal position for the WLT. It would be a good idea if AOU, BOU, BTO NTC, et al also had formal positions on this issue. As a long time member of the BOU I will be asking them in due course.

6 I would also add that the permission of the landowner for collecting/killing is also an absolute prerequisite, particularly if the land has any status as a protected area.

7. I would also re-emphasise that we need to be careful on the semantics of the term collecting. In general, I have no objections to non-lethal forms of collecting. I think when we mean killing, we should say just that, and not hide behind ‘collecting’.

[Unfortunately there are complications to even this form of collecting – for instance I was told that to take mammalian blood samples of some species, under UK law, in some circumstances requires a vivisection licence]

Is this an accurate and fair summary?
Pretty well

I think this can lead to a constructive dialogue,

John

Submitted by John Burton on

A response to Juanita

Again, I must ask those responding to
a] read what I have written,
b] not jump to conclusions, and
c] not create straw men
I will now deal with some Juanita’s comments.

I have probably had far more experience than Juanita rather condescendingly suggests at the end of her first comment, and I have already pointed out that I do have experience in both museology, and ornithology; my CV is on the WLT Website. I don’t know what Juanita’s experience is, but her comments suggest that she is still living in the past and is not interested in conservation of the very organisms she wants to study.

I have not suggested that Gary Stiles was hiding a specimen; in fact Stiles remains one of the most important ornithologists in South America. The fact remains that an illegally collected specimen creates problems (which is why publication was refused), and until its status is decided it is unwise to base a scientific description on it; with the benefit of hindsight, Stiles may well agree.
A number of commentators seemed to be confused as to what constitutes a holotype (or any other type for that matter). It is not the first specimen collected, it is whatever the taxonomist designates. Nowhere I have I questioned Stiles abilities as an ornithologist, but do believe he is wrong to state it is ‘scientifically irresponsible’ to name new species based on feathers etc.This is view upheld by the ICZN. And there are numerous examples of scientific descriptions being based on a wide range of material. As any competent taxonomist will know, there are plenty of examples where there is no holotype (or even no type), and there are some where the type is a plaster cast, and others where drawings constitute the type. This all goes way back to Linnaeus. When commentators get wound up with the issue of types, and what constitutes a type, it suggests to me that they do not understand taxonomic processes, and are using this as a stalking horse for their real objective, and that is to uphold irresponsible collecting. In the 21st century, type specimens for birds have questionable value (and don’t misinterpret that as me stating they are unimportant), but as anyone with a serious interest in field ornithology will know, types often have to fit the species concept now, not the other way round. It is field work that is ‘creating’ new species such as the genera Phylloscopus and Larus, as much as specimen collecting.

Submitted by John Burton on

I do need to point out to Kevin Winker, that there is a world beyond the USA, and that what he is assuming as a general attitude to collecting is, unfortunately a largely North American attitude. It is certainly not the dominant viewpoint in Britain, India or many other places

I would also point out that I am only discussing what happens in the 21st century, when species are disappearing at an alarming rate, and habitat even faster
And I am not denigrating Gary Stiles, and never had. I have only ever said that it is apalling to read that he thinks it is ‘scientifically irresponsible’ to describe a specimen based on feathers etc. It is patently not irresponsible, since it is accepted by the ICZN who are the arbitrators in this field, and have the final say.

Conserving biodiversity is, to me, much more of a priority than collecting it and describing it; that can be done later if it is essential. I don’t want the World littered with too many Great Auks, found only in museums.

I would certainly like to see the AOU draft on collecting policy — an I hope that the BOU (I have beena member for over 40 years) will draft one, if does not already exist.

But thanks to all the commentators. From what started as a fairly polarised outburst in response to my few lines, it has developed into a more reasoned discussion.

Submitted by John Burton on

Gary Stiles, an apology

Just to make it abslutely clear, while I was appalled at Dr Stiles saying it was scientifically irresponsible to describe a bird from feathers etc, that was all it was. It was not an attack on Dr Stiles, as I have no information or knowledge of any other aspect of his involvement in the description. The reason I was appalled was because it apparently shows a lack of understanding of recent rulings by the ICZN. Dr Stiles has made enormous contributions to ornithology, and I have no intention of denigrating him. If he thinks otherwise, then I do apologise. And perhaps everyone else will take not of this.

Submitted by John Burton on

Richard Porter, a well known ornithologist (specialising in the Birds of the Middle East, formerly on the staff of the RSPB comments as follows:

Thanks for copying me in John. As you know I am opposed to any collecting (dead or alive!) and have never allowed it on any expeditions I have led, nor on any surveys I have organised. This applies to all animals – not just birds.

Why do I have this view? Because much (in fact all) of my research/survey/conservation work involves working with natives of the country concerned I believe that collecting/killing sends out totally the wrong message. Very often meeting me or one of my Western colleagues is their first experience of ‘conservationists’. I want to convey a view that ALL wildlife should be respected, and that I, as a conservationist, care for and respect ALL wildlife. It’s really as simple as that.

Once you have conveyed that message working with and influencing opinions and attitudes to wildlife conservation become much easier as there is no unnecessary junk in the way.
Best wishes

Richard

Submitted by R. Nielsen on

@Henry Tristram and John

I never said the collector was right in keeping it secret from proaves. What I said is that he was not aware that the collection was ILLEGAL when he did it (with the recent ruling it has been firmly established that it was, of course). Legal or illegal collection is based on laws and rules under Colombian environmental agencies. From a legal perspective it is entirely irrelevant if proaves likes collecting or not because they (just like everybody else) are below the national environmental agencies.

Submitted by R. Nielsen on

A correction to my previous comment based on a direct report from proaves: The recent ruling did not result in a conviction because of illegal collection, but because of breach of reporting requirements to the environmental agency (CORPOURABA).

Submitted by Herman Mays on

John says, “I do need to point out to Kevin Winker, that there is a world beyond the USA, and that what he is assuming as a general attitude to collecting is, unfortunately a largely North American attitude. It is certainly not the dominant viewpoint in Britain, India or many other places”

I have participated in ornithological research outside the USA, as has Kevin. I’ve worked in Mainland China, Taiwan and Japan and in general there is a reasonable attitude towards responsible scientific collecting of avian species in these countries. I have colleagues who participate in research in Russia, New Guinea, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and all participate in scientific collecting of avian and other vertebrate species. To say that this is largely due to some attitudes towards collecting unique to Americans is simply not in line with the facts and to imply that an emphasis on collecting has anything to do with some perceived American “gun culture” is simply ridiculous.

John says, “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.”

I participate in collaborative research in avian population genetics and systematics using genetic tools. The best molecular systematic work is done with vouchered material. The birds in the drawers are just as important as the DNA in the freezer.

I suspect much of the debate stems from a birder’s sentimentality towards anything with feathers. I don’t see the same outrage for scientific collecting for entomologists, arachnologists, and other invertebrate specialists despite the fact that many invertebrate populations could be just as vulnerable as avian populations (but it should be noted that any pop so vulnerable that it crashes from the loss of a couple individuals likely has no viability to begin with). Even ichthyologists, herpetologists and many mammalogists seem to have a more enlightened views towards scientific collecting. Why should ornithology be any different?

Submitted by Ellen Paul on

To Gilbert White (great name, do you live in Selborne?) – you are missing the point on the antpitta. If it was in fact illegally collected – and now it is coming out that the transgression was not the lack of a permit, but rather the lack of reporting – quite different, yes? – then all agree that it was wrong.

However, what people are upset about is the condemnation of this supposedly illegal and unethical act by people who then rushed to publish.

In our country – this blood thirsty U.S. – we do not publish papers if we did not have the proper permits to do the work described. We do not publish papers if we did not have the approval of our animal care and use committees to do the work described.

So if ProAves genuinely believes that the collecting of the bird was illegal and unethical, it should not have published.

That, Mr. White, is what people are upset about. ]

Got it?

Submitted by Ellen Paul on

Mr. Burton – is there some reason you won’t approve the posting of my first post? You had asked for the AOU statement and I provided it along with an explanation of the problem with photos, and I don’t understand why you won’t allow it to be posted.

Although I did miss one rather HUGE reason photos are not adequate. You can fake a photo. You can’t fake a specimen.

Apart from that, you are the one who is misunderstanding the ICZN “rulings” which are actually not recent…they date back about 10 years. And the “ruling” was not actually a change in ICZN policy. It was simply a clarification of existing policy. What you aren’t saying or acknowledging, though, is that ICZN doesn’t set the standards of scientific evidence. It is merely stating what they will accept, which is quite a bit less than the “best evidence” or even “high quality evidence.” The standards for best evidence or high quality evidence are set by scientists and set for good reasons. I’ve now given you the reasons for the photos and would be glad to do the same for the DNA if you like. Or you could read the document for which I posted the link, though you have not seen fit to allow that post to appear to others, I am sure you can see it.

Submitted by Ellen Paul on

Someone told me that posts with links get held automatically so I am re-posting this without the link. I suspect that Mr. Burton isn’t reading these comments anymore, but for the benefit of others:

Here, Mr. Burton:

[link omitted, google Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research and look at the chapter on scientific collecting]

The AOU statement is contained in this publication – twice. Along with a clear explanation of why a specimen is still the scientific standard – by far.

I wrote this further explanation this morning, asking Bob Ridgely to intervene and assure that you saw it (not realizing that your blog was open to comments):

I continue to wonder how anyone can think that a photograph could ever be an acceptable substitute. How hard is it to think this through?

1. I have a really great camera
2. I am extremely good at using it
3. It never fails
4. I always have plenty of battery
5. I never drop it while in the field
6. The lighting is always right because I always caught that bird at the best time of day and in the best light (well, if not, I guess I could keep it in captivity over night…and hope it is still alive in the morning….oh….wait….hey, is that even humane treatment of that animal?)
7. The bird doesn’t escape while I am futzing with my camera (and exactly who is holding this bird if I am alone in the field?)
8. I remember to shoot in raw
9. I get phenomenal photos
10. My chip doesn’t get corrupted
11. My chip doesn’t get accidentally erased
12. My camera isn’t stolen

I am sure I have forgotten a few….but living with someone who has a great camera and is extremely good at using it and he gets great photos…but guess what? The ratio of great photos to stuff that gets deleted is about 1:10. And he’s dropped it. And he doesn’t always remember to shoot in raw. And one of these days he will accidentally erase something, and yes, one of these days, the camera probably will get stolen.

Not great odds when you are documenting a species new to science.

Shall we talk about all the things that can go wrong with blood samples? Even assuming you don’t have to try to take the samples across international borders (or assuming you do, but you forgot to call me to ask me for guidance…or, more likely…you didn’t listen to me!), there must be a dozen or more things that can go wrong between the field and the successful extraction and analysis of the DNA.

Singling out the U.S. as some country of unethical scientists is not only offensive, but it is wrong. To the contrary, it is the U.K. that seems to be the outlier on this issue.

Submitted by Andy Johnson on

Let’s make a distinction here from John’s initial post: Scientific collecting results in a dead organism, but scientific collecting is not simply the process of killing an animal. Scientific collectors – you pick the taxon – spend hours painstakingly preparing the specimens they collect. There is a long-term commitment by the individual and the institution that they are working for to properly preserve and care for the specimen. They record the circumstances in which the animal was taken: Locality data including GPS coordinates, elevation, habitat data, associated species, behavior, and internal data on reproductive condition, overall body condition, and other data that might be useful for future generations of conservation biologists. Then, there is curation of the material back in the collections, which can take years. They invest a tremendous amount of time and diligence into each specimen that they collect and prepare so that they themselves or others may use their specimens and the associated data to better understand these populations. This understanding contributes to their conservation. These data from museums are almost always available for free, and increasingly available on the web, and used by a variety of conservation biologists. A Google search will take you to websites that are taxon-specific data portals, like ORNIS, MaNIS, or HERPNET, for instance.
Scientific collectors have the UTMOST RESPECT for the animals that they are collecting to study and the habitats that they haunt. They are there to gather data that will lead to a better understanding of the diversity that surrounds them. They hate to kill the animals that they study, but understand that these individuals comprise populations, which are a renewable resource. The only way any of them might undertake such a painstaking, often thankless endeavor is because they realize that by collecting individuals at a sustainable level from these populations to study them, they will ultimately help to better understand and hopefully conserve the species and the habitats that they depend upon.
Go back to any locality that a collector has visited in the past 150 years and, if the habitat is still intact as it was when the expedition visited there, and perhaps except for the species that are considered good to eat by the locals (for example, pheasants, guans, etc.), you will that find all of the species he or she collected are still there. Even the Jocotoco Antpittas in Peru. That’s the beauty of population biology: Individuals die, and populations in healthy habitats endure that. When mortality is at the hands of a scientific collector, the species benefits because those data are recorded, cataloged, and archived in collections where they are available to taxonomists, systematists, and other conservationists, which includes the collectors of the specimens, and we have a chance to learn about that species from the specimens collected and help to make a case to conserve it.
We are all in this together – this conservation effort to document and ultimately save biodiversity on this planet. Please stop demonizing the scientific collectors: a group of people who in many cases have provided the only record of what we know about the flora and fauna of an area. An analysis of the specimens collected by Melvin Carriker or Walter Koelz from areas that they worked but are now entirely deforested readily demonstrate this. To this day, scientific collectors make a significant and lasting contribution to the conservation of our ever-eroding biodiversity.

Submitted by Peter Capainolo on

“I don’t want the World littered with too many Great Auks, found only in museums.”

How did scientific collecting affect Great Auks?

Submitted by Richard E. Gibbons on

Dear John,

Thanks for the message. I think we are making progress. To provide some backstory, I came to a natural history museum from the ringing culture and there is definitely an anti-collecting view there. It was only after spending some time with the presumed trophy collectors did I realize this was far from the truth. What is read in a museum newsletter by the outsider as gloating on the taking of a trophy is written as pride by the director that the difficult work would allow centuries of investigations with specimens unique to the world. I hope you are right that one day taking the lives of other animals will not be necessary, but for now, the sacrifice of a few for the sake of many is still very much relevant. From the perspective of the museum crowd, having the voucher to back up your findings is at the very foundation of science.

The issue of whether taking a life for one reason or the other is a personal philosophical one and opinions differ wildly depending on your flavor of cultural credence. Regardless of your stripes, consumption of resources beyond sustainability is the real driver of diversity loss.

I’ve attached two papers regarding the lethal collection of birds in response to your comment for official organizational policies.

See comments on comments below.

Best regards,

Richard

1. Collection of specimens for the documentation and study of biodiversity is a valid scientific endeavor, although not as important as it once was due to the many advances in technology.

In principle agree. Important to recognise that not all collecting is lethal

Not all collecting is lethal, but collecting in the parlance of museums is lethal. Please consider looking over the attached manuscripts, which outline why lethal collection is more important today than it was 100 years ago.

2. Collection of wildlife material should be coordinated with the all appropriate agencies and should be sensitive to local stakeholders.

Absolutely AGREE

Natural history museums are generally very good about this. I for one have been on several expeditions and we always work with the local communities before we do anything. This isn’t to say there aren’t people making bad decisions. I have personally worked in areas where previous collectors did not do the appropriate communication and it made my work much more difficult. This is common courtesy.

3. The collection of specimens from critically-low populations is irresponsible and morally reprehensible. If population size is unknown, collecting should not be an option for potentially new taxa.

Completely Agree, if collecting here is a synonym for killing.. You will know that I and others were critics of the killing of the Peruvian specimen of the Jocotoco Ant-pitta, as it was already known to be a critically low population, and a photo would have sufficed.

This is perhaps the biggest bone of contention.

The circumstances surrounding the collection of the Jocotoco Antpitta are delicate to say the least. As opposed to the chopped up habitat on the Ecuadorian side, the Peruvian forest is vast and unbroken. An associate of our museum risked life and limb to get to this remote location and discovered the presence of the Jocotoco Antpitta. He also communicated that he had detected many territories in the area he scouted. When the team arrived, they confirmed this report and found the species to be be quite common in the area they were located and that similar habitat continued for kilometers in all directions. Taking two specimens was judged by O’Neill to be a worthwhile sacrifice given the population estimate for the area. Even if the population was 200, similar to Ecuador, 2 would make no difference in effective population i.e. the trait diversity of the population that provides the variability to adapt to changing selection pressures over evolutionary time. This was also allowed within the framework of the permit. The expedition and its organizers played a significant role in establishing the area as a national park( 88,000 hectares).

4. Some have the opinion that many US-based ornithologists collect bird specimens with a cavalier attitude that is reactionary and befitting another century.

Agree; but not just US-based. It is an attitude that occurs in other parts of the world. But perhaps because of stereotypes, related to US attitudes to gun law etc., it becomes more readily identified with US ornithologists.

Is this a personal experience? Please elaborate.

5. Your opinion is not the same, but this view must be considered when developing organizational position statements.

Not quite sure I understand this statement, but I think I agree. Many of the supporters of conservation organisations would be opposed to all forms of killing of wildlife. I do not go as far as that, but would generally look at issues on a case by case basis. However, I am now going to discuss with my Board a formal position for the WLT. It would be a good idea if AOU, BOU, BTO NTC, et al also had formal positions on this issue. As a long time member of the BOU I will be asking them in due course.

The AOU has a policy statement and a new manual for the ethical treatment of birds.

6 I would also add that the permission of the landowner for collecting/killing is also an absolute prerequisite, particularly if the land has any status as a protected area.

Goes without saying.

7. I would also re-emphasise that we need to be careful on the semantics of the term collecting. In general, I have no objections to non-lethal forms of collecting. I think when we mean killing, we should say just that, and not hide behind ‘collecting’.

Here is a chance for meaningful gains in understanding. Let me address some of the language used here. You may consider the term “collecting” to be a euphemism to hide behind, but in fact it is a term of respect given for the taking of life for the greater good. When you say “killing” to describe the taking of specimens, a scientific collector hears someone dishonoring the collector and the specimens and that is offensive. You may prefer the term killing and it may be the proper word for your worldview, but it is perceived as offensive and that is often counterproductive.

[Unfortunately there are complications to even this form of collecting – for instance I was told that to take mammalian blood samples of some species, under UK law, in some circumstances requires a vivisection licence]

Impacts to wildlife are vast and diverse. Everyday consumption and the massive human footprint is the prime driver for biodiversity loss. Singling out collecting (lethal) as contributing to the loss of our shared natural heritage comes across as displacement behavior.

Is this an accurate and fair summary?

Pretty well

A few comments on your original response

To the best of my knowledge, there is no consensus among ornithologists that collecting is an antiquated activity. No consensus perhaps, but the overwhelming majority, world wide do not believe that the collecting of rare or endangered species should be condoned.

I’m not sure this is true, but if it is, it doesn’t mean that collecting (lethal) is still the best way to answer many important questions regarding the maintenance of biodiversity. (see attached papers)

Let me be clear so there is no misunderstanding; collectors do not gather stamps for a collection. Most collectors may be do not, but some do; I would quote the collecting of a Jocotoco Antpitta in Peru, for which there was no other justification, than to add it to a collection.

How could we know this was not an allopatric sister species? How could the more subtle characters of population variation be studied in the future when Jocotocos may actually be extinct? There are many questions that can’t be answered with a photo or a recording and the papers provided should give some background on why one, two, or three specimens from a distant region are not sufficient. I can understand that many would become passionate about this species, but that is another issue.

They document the biodiversity for which many of us are working to protect. Why pick a fight with the people that have dedicated their lives to describing, curating, and understanding the very biodiversity so many of us cherish? I am not doing so. It is not essential to kill rare birds in order to document. A semantic issue : Document, does not involve killing. Collecting does not have to either. I have spent over 50 years documenting and collecting and from time to time, in the past, that has involved killing specimens. In the 21st century killing specimens is no longer essential.

Agree to disagree without being disagreeable. See justification in attached papers.

I encourage you to expand your council to include members from natural history museums. If you do, you may find there are good reasons conservationists still collect specimens for museums. Having spent the first six years of my professional life on the staff of the British Museum (Natural History) as it was then, and spent many hours, and days, in the collections of the AM(NH), Bombay NHS, Zoological Institute of India, and many, many other museums, world wide, and having numerous friends and colleagues who are professional taxonomists I do not believe this is a priority. David Snow was a long time supporter of the WLT, and Sir Ghillean Prance works closely with us, to name but two involved with taxonomy in South America; there are many others.

Agree to disagree for the reasons stated in the provided manuscripts.

I would encourage you to contact and discuss the matter with Nathalie Seddon and Joe Tobias of Oxford. They might be able to provide some ideas about the modern museum and its contributions to our understanding of the biodiversity we are working to protect.

The heated divide that exists between collectors and anti-collectors is not without consequence. It amounts to infighting and is a distraction from a shared conservation mission. This is not a fight between collectors and anti-collectors. It is a conflict between antiquated, gung-ho bird collectors, and modern, 21st century conservation orientated ornithologists. Taxonomy and collecting are relevant to conservation, but not to the extent that those practising it should be above the law, or be irresponsible.

I’ll agree with the last part and ask that you walk the second sentence back a couple of steps. Did you have a bad experience in the field with a collector? This is where the tension is highest and I believe passions are involved.

I have followed this feud for many years and it seems there are only a few on the anti-collecting side that keep this fire burning. I think that there is a very large number outside the US. I don’t know about within the US, but the overwhelming majority of ornithologists would be against collecting rare birds, worldwide.

I think there is still some misunderstanding on what is rare and what is critically low i.e. effective population size (see paper). I was a guide in Texas for Whooping Cranes. They have an inspiring conservation story. With only 12 individuals, the species returned from the brink of extinction. It is estimated that more than 75% of the population variation made it through the bottleneck, which is quite remarkable. No one is wants to remove biodiversity as you are suggesting is being done by collecting “rare” species. Collecting 2 of 200 from a population that encounters 30 annual mortality by natural means has no impact on effective population. These concepts are important to the discussion.

What is also evident, is a lack of interest to seek understanding for why collecting remains relevant. Blanket statements, such as your opening sentence, are what keep this misunderstanding alive and it is now more than ever that understanding is needed to work together as the list of challenges increases and the resources to meet them shrinks. Unfortunately, until bird collectors take a more responsible line with their collecting, I will continue to keep the argument alive. Natural mortality, road-kills, kills against buildings wires etc provide vast numbers of specimens, for any quantitative studies, and I will continue to consistently oppose the selective killing of rare birds.

I would like to hear the case made that the majority of lethal collection is irresponsible i.e. impacting biodiversity. Show this scientist the numbers. No scientific collector would consider such an atrocious act and believe me, the population models are running through the heads of the molecular wonks behind the trigger. Please read the two papers I have provided and let me know if we have moved this discussion anywhere closer to middle ground.

If not and the will to progress toward that end is lacking, I will see you in the cultural trenches.

Submitted by John Burton on

Over and out for a while

I am about to travel.

I am very sorry, but I wont be able to continue this rather interesting dialogue as I am about to travel and will be rather busy until the end of the month. I may even get a chance to search for Pearson’s Cisticola (but wont shoot it).
I will try and answer a few random points from last couple of days. First Richard Gibbons: Thanks for moving things forward. When I get back from Zambia, I will try amnd collate all the contructive comments and formulate a position: perhaps one we can all agree on.

Ellen Paul. I am not sure what happened to her first post, we haven’t actually deleted any as far as I am aware – I will check with our web team. I think she’s right, links cause a hiccup. She also makes a point about faking photos, but not specimens. Unfortunately that is wrong; there are dozens of examples of fake specimens (actually hundreds)in Museums. I have been researching a popular book on Natural History fakes and forgeries for several years, and it is astounding how many there are. [Draft nearly ready for publication, but no publisher so far]
But Ellen Paul (and to a lesser extent even Richard Gibbons) is still missing the point. I have not claimed that specimens are not needed. I have said it is morally wrong, and scientifically unjustified to kill extremely rare species. That’s all. If she or any one else disagree, please say so.

Andy Johnson over-eggs the scientific collectors. Some may be as he describes, but certainly not all. And he is still missing the point. Or is he? Are all these commentators saying that it is perfectly OK for scientists to kill very rare species. Read what Richard Porter has to say – and he is one of the most highly
respected field ornithologists in the Old World.[see comment no 27].

I have never had any particularly negative episodes with colectors, and i continue to collect for museums to this day. My days of killing specimens have long gone, but I still gather corpses, put themm in the freezer,skin,dry, pickle them etc. Check the Registers of the BM(NH) and you will see I am not anti collecting. I have made many of the points made in the comments here to those against collecting.
Au revoir

Submitted by Colombian Birdi... on

Mr. Burton,

A statement has been released by RNOA, an organization that unites 21 governmental and non-governamental ornithology associations and birding groups.

For the entire statement of Colombian ornithologists, go here:
http://www.PetitionOnline.com/RNOA/petition.html

” 3. Regarding John Burton of the World Land Trust’s comment in their publication, the Green Diary, defending Fundación Proaves by slandering the flawless work of Professor Gary Stiles as irresponsible. RNOA categorically refutes this accusation against of the character of Professor Stiles.

Professor Gary Stiles has played a very important role in Neotropical
ornithology, not only through his direct scientific contributions, but also by mentoring and inspiring several generations of ornithologists in Central and South America. His research has been fundamental to the success of several conservation initiatives, including the establishment of the conservation corridor connecting Braulio Carrillo National Park with La Selva Biological Reserve in Costa Rica. In Colombia his research supported the establishment of the Chiribiquete National Park (3162914.8 acres) and the
Yaigojé-Apaporis National Park (2619288.8 acres). His life is an example of professionalism, ethics, and commitment to science and biodiversity conservation.

To defame his professionalism and integrity is an affront to Colombian ornithology as well as Professor Stiles’ colleagues around the world.”

Submitted by Claudia on

For Immediate Release, to the general public: (spanish version below)

The National Network of Birdwatchers of Colombia (RNOA for its acronym in Spanish), is an organization that groups 21 non-governmental, regional and national organizations as well as university student groups working and studying wild birds and their habitats in Colombia. The philosophy that drives the RNOA is based on fair and equal participation of all its members. Therefore RNOA welcomes any institution that shares our goals and principles, and our passion for the study, appreciation and conservation of birds. Thanks to the commitment of its members with biodiversity and bird conservation in Colombia, in 2000 we formulated through a participatory exercise the National Strategy for the Conservation of Birds in Colombia. This document has guided actions as significant as the designation of almost 200 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the national territory. The Red Data Book of Birds of Colombia, published in 2002, was also the result of a participatory process in which many ornithologists and birdwatchers throughout the country contributed their records and knowledge. A second edition of this book also developed with the participation of the Colombian ornithological community is currently in preparation.

Over the last ten years, we have made important achievements in both the field of ornithology and science and conservation in general. These achievements are increasing the awareness of the public and building local capacities for the study and conservation of birds. RNOA, its member organizations and active sectors of Colombian civil society have been actively engaged in ornithology-centred activities over the last 20 years, using birds as tools for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity as a whole.

For all of these reasons, and given the unfortunate events related with the description in 2010 of a new species of the genus Grallaria, including the recent and biased sequence of messages and publications that have circulated in national and international media in relation to them, the board of directors of the RNOA informs that:

1. RNOA unconditionally supports the position of the Colombian
Association of Ornithology (Asociación Colombiana de Ornitología-ACO, a
member of RNOA), regarding the nomination of Grallaria urraoensis as a
new species, according to the editorial published in the peer reviewed
electronic journal Ornitologia Colombiana
http://www.ornitologiacolombiana.org/oc9/notaeditoroc9.htm#English

2. RNOA does not support illegal activities, any actions that compromise the ethics of ornithological research, nor anything that threatens the dignity and honor of people and their rights. In consequence, RNOA does not support the unethical behavior of Fundación ProAves, an institution that has been questioned on previous occasions for their methods. In this case, they have distorted the situation by pointing fingers at the biologist, Diego
Carantón, a young ornithologist that had every right to publish his discovery of a new species of Grallaria. We respectfully remind the
community that moral rights are indispensable, inalienable, and indefeasible 
principles that have been flagrantly violated by ProAves in this situation.

3. Regarding John Burton of the World Land Trust’s comment in their publication, the Green Diary, defending Fundación Proaves by slandering the flawless work
of Professor Gary Stiles as irresponsible. RNOA categorically refutes this accusation against of the character of Professor Stiles.

Professor Gary Stiles has played a very important role in Neotropical
ornithology, not only through his direct scientific contributions, but also
by mentoring and inspiring several generations of ornithologists in Central and South America. His research has been fundamental to the success of several
conservation initiatives, including the establishment of the conservation
corridor connecting Braulio Carrillo National Park with La Selva
Biological Reserve in Costa Rica. In Colombia his research supported the
establishment of the Chiribiquete National Park (3162914.8 acres) and the
Yaigojé-Apaporis National Park (2619288.8 acres). His life is an example
of professionalism, ethics, and commitment to science and biodiversity
conservation. To defame his professionalism and integrity is an affront to Colombian ornithology as well as Professor Stiles’ colleagues around the
world.

4. RNOA is a participatory, collegiate body that furthers
the development of Ornithology in Colombia. It reflects the
collective, serious and committed work and experience of its members throughout the country for over 20 years . Our work has enabled Colombian Ornithology to grow and gain the knowledge necessary to ensure the conservation of birds in our territory.

5. RNOA demands the respect deserved by the Colombian ornithological community and requests that, in the future, its opinion be taken into account before making accusations that put into question the integrity of any of its members. We sincerely hope that future conservation actions undertaken by Fundación ProAves, which we acknowledge and appreciate, will be developed according to ethical principles and through an open dialogue with Colombian Ornithologists.

Sincerely,

RNOA Board of Directors

Submitted by Gustavo Bravo on

Mr. Burton,

Do you want to talk about morality? Well, with all due respect I will tell you what most of us Colombians consider unmoral. I came across another blogpost in The Telegraph highlighting the conservation work of ProAves. In the note, Mr. Alonso Quevedo, President of ProAves says [WLT Editor's note - This quote has been removed as it was retracted by the Telegraph before this comment was posted]

You would not be surprised to find out that in Colombia negotiating with armed groups is ILLEGAL. Also, any penny that you give to those groups is directly translated into more deaths, more war, more drug production, more deforestation, and more loss of diversity. THAT Mr. Burton is what really is unethical and unmoral. What really upsets me about this Grallaria events is that ProAves by playing with their usual double standards basically destroyed the career of a young biologist that made a mistake. If you are condemning Caranton for having collected a specimen, you should also condemn ProAves for supporting the groups that have been bleeding Colombia and its biological resources for over 40 years.

Best,

Gustavo Bravo

Submitted by Paola comlombin... on

this a common case when foreign researchers misjudge an excellent profesor and professional like GARY, just base in one side version of the story. As a biologist of colombia i consider to PROAVES as an organization that have their most important priorities in selling book and tourism to united states birdwhatchers.

Submitted by Paul Matiku on

Nature Kenya the East Africa Natural History Soceity set up the Nairobi Museum in 1910. Today the Museum, is a leading government research institution whose curatorial strength is based on among many aspects the number of specimens in the various taxonomic collections. The collections are an invalauble contribution to science through training. Students and researchers do not always have to go to the wild to see wildlife if their studies just need observing specimens. So collecting in itself is not supposed to be a bad thing. So what is not good in collecting? I think collecting has to be scientific, should only be a small proportion of the wild population, should be managed through some kind of national policy/approvals, should help the species. So collecting should not be done if it is not helpful to conservation.

Collecting should be separated from ilegal trade of specimens/species.

Submitted by F. Friedrich Kling on

As a life-long conservationist my core philosophy incorporates a loving respect for nature.

I recognize that Darwin and Audubon collected birds and did great work with those specimens given the limitations of science; however, in light of current DNA technology, I am deeply troubled and saddened by people who insist on “collecting” live specimens simply to be warehoused in some natural history museum. What makes this incident particularly tragic is that the species is on the verge of extinction. One would assume that a scientist would know better- apparently not.

Communities look to the scientific community for leadership so what message are we sending when biologists kill birds or
other wildlife while conservationists request that locals not hunt? This creates an obvious contradiction, which explains John Burton’s sensible attention to this matter.

I greatly admire John Burton’s herculean efforts to save the plant’s ever dwindling biodiversity. As a consequence of this outrage I will double my financial support to World Land Trust.

Mr. Burton, your friends in the United States have the greatest respect and admiration for your tireless work in mitigating this present Sixth Mass Extinction Event. The world is a better place thanks to you, sir.

Respectfully yours,

Frank Friedrich Kling

Submitted by Kevin Winker on

Hi, Frank. Audubon shot Passenger Pigeons, and he did not preserve all of the specimens he took. Still, he did some good work for his time. There is a gargantuan difference between hunting and the collection of specimens, and today’s specimen-based science is making great strides in understanding and preserving biodiversity. “Current DNA technology” is the tip of the iceberg; give me a whole bird whenever possible. “Warehousing” is a cheap shot, given how important specimens are through time; there are an increasing number of really good retrospective studies that are aiding conservation efforts.

As I said in my earlier post, we are all on the same side as conservationists, and we need to refrain from shooting from the hip in a reactionary manner without carefully assembling the facts. You might enjoy reading more about these issues in these two papers, both available at my web site (www.kevinwinker.org):

Winker, K. 2004. Natural history museums in a post-biodiversity era. BioScience 54:455-459.

Winker, K. 2009. Reuniting phenotype and genotype in biodiversity research. BioScience 59:657-665.

See also the papers on subspecies. All relevant, and all reliant upon specimens. We do share your respect for nature, and we practice and advocate ethical treatment of animals (see citation in previous post).

Regards, Kevin Winker

Submitted by F. Friedrich Kling on

Finally, I feel compelled to respond to “Paola Colombiana research biologist”. Yes, ProAves does “sell books and tourism to American birdwatchers” in order to support reserve management and expansion, but no other organization in Colombia has done more to preserve Colombian habitat and species. To date, ProAves has established 19 reserves that encompass 57,000 acres in highly strategic and bio-diverse regions. Within the past two years ProAves created the 10,500 acre Roncesvalles reserve (education has provided an important anchor), which has prevented the extinction of the magnificent Yellow-Eared parrot and most recently a 5,500 acre reserve in the El Choco rainforest in which three new species of poison dart frogs was discovered.

Submitted by Sam Powers on

Great blog. It's nice to see such an accurate articulation, I'm definitely bookmarking this. Keep up the good work!

Submitted by John on

A year after the above correspondence, I reviewed the whole lot. What comes through most clearly is how so many of the defenders of the right to kill rare birds seemed unable to actually read. They failed to read what I actually wrote, and despite clarifications, and apologies concerning interpretations of what I actually wrote about Stiles, continued to berate me about what they THOUGHT I wrote.

To me the correspondence was highly illuminating, but if I had to pick out one comment, and ask for all who claim to be conservationists to pin it over their desk, it would be the comment by Richard Porter.

John, you did the right thing to clarify and send apologies to Dr. Stiles as he is an amazing ornithologist with vast knowledge of his field. The issue about killing or not birds won't be solved here.

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