A researcher from the American Museum of Natural History tracked down an extremely rare bird in Guadalcanal and, after consideration, collected a specimen. With extreme prejudice. What I’m saying here is he killed it.
The bird was a rare Moustached Kingfisher, a species that hadn’t been officially observed by anyone in 50 years. There are believed to be fewer than 1,000 Moustached Kingfishers left in the world.
Scientist Christopher Filardi spotted one on a research field trip last month and possibly had some sort of blood vendetta against the tiny thing. Anyway, it’s over now—he killed the absolute hell out of it.
Filardi responded to alarmed criticism of this act in an essay posted to the Audubon website entitled “Why I Collected a Moustached Kingfisher,” in which he addresses concerns about the bird’s rarity and conservation status:
Though sightings and information about the bird are rare in the ornithological community, the bird itself is not. Elders of the local land-owning tribe (now living at lower elevations) relate stories of eating Mbarikuku, the local name for the bird; our local partners knew it as unremarkably common. With a remote range so difficult to access, there has been a perception of rarity because so few outside people or scientists have seen or otherwise recorded the bird. As I wrote from the field, this is a bird that is poorly known and elusive to western science—not rare or in imminent danger of extinction.
And so, like anything poorly known and elusive to Western science, the right thing to do was drop that fucker like a bag of dirt. Blammo.
In this context, the decision to collect an individual specimen of the Moustached Kingfisher as part of our survey work reflects standard practice for field biologists.
Ethical collection of any individual organism is determined by basic criteria including collection below levels that will impact populations, adherence to permitting guidelines, and consideration of the importance of voucher specimens. With this first modern voucher of the kingfisher, the only adult male, we now have a comprehensive set of material for molecular, morphological, toxicological, and plumage studies that are unavailable from blood samples, individual feathers, or photographs.
Filardi goes on to outline in great detail the broad anticipated benefits of collecting a single specimen of the Moustached Kingfisher—the study of ecosystems, the impact of pollutants, even a positive conservation benefit. Not to mention man’s dominion over the natural world! We win again, tiny birds.
Look. Scientific discovery is often brutally ugly. Filardi has spent the last 20 years of his life studying bird populations in the Solomon Islands, so it is unlikely in the extreme you or PETA or anyone else cares more about the survival of the Moustached Kingfisher than he does.
Through a vision shared with my Solomon Island mentors, and focused keenly on sacred Uluna-Sutahuri lands, the Moustached Kingfisher I collected is a symbol of hope and a purveyor of possibility, not a record of loss.
We’ll cut you some slack this time, Filardi. Just stay the hell away from Big Bird.