Nine months ago I wrote an essay called "Harvard Researcher Kills Rare Spider 'In the Name of Education': When Will the Killing Finally Stop?" about a puppy-size female spider called the South American Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi), who was admired by Harvard researcher Piotr Naskrecki and then killed "in the name of education." A large number of people were incredulous, but indeed, this is still the name of the game for some researchers: find a beautiful, unique, or rare animal and then kill it in the name of something or another to justify the unnecessary slaying.
I always wonder when this sort of killing will stop, and feel that it might be on the decline. However, I've just learned about another horrific situation resembling the killing of this spider. A "Ridiculously Gorgeous Rare Bird" called the mustached kingfisher was recently sighted and photographed in the forests of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. In her essay written for Slate magazine, Rachel E. Gross begins, "It's hard to believe the mustached kingfisher is a real bird. First of all, it looks more like a Baltimore Orioles-themed stuffed toy than a bird. Second, it's only found on the remotest of mist-caressed islands, similar to the legendary Pokemon bird Articuno. Finally, it has long eluded human capture, with only three specimens ever before collected, all females. "Beautiful but very cryptic," is how birdlife.org describes it. 'Very few sightings, and male plumage remains undescribed.' Until now. Last week, a team led by Chris Filardi, director of Pacific Programs at the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, identified and photographed the first-ever male mustached kingfisher." There is also a picture of Dr. Filardi holding the bird.
"Oh my god, the kingfisher"
After catching this remarkable bird, Dr. Filardi wrote, "When I came upon the netted bird in the cool shadowy light of the forest I gasped aloud, 'Oh my god, the kingfisher.' One of the most poorly known birds in the world was there, in front of me, like a creature of myth come to life. We now have the first photos ever taken of the bird, as well as the first definitive recordings of its unmistakable call."
The real story: Researcher finds a gorgeous, rare, and poorly known bird and "collects" him
All well and good, right? No. Surely not for the bird. It turns out it was a most unfortunate and final encounter for the bird -- "a creature of myth come to life" -- despite his blessing Dr. Filardi's career. In an essay written by Stephen Messenger for The Dodo called "Rare Bird Looks Downright Stunning In His First-Ever Photos," we learn about this remarkable discovery and then, in an update, we also learn, "A previous version of this post indicated that the moustached kingfisher was later released. The Dodo has confirmed with Dr. Filardi that the bird was collected as a specimen for additional study." Of course, "collect" means killed, a lame attempt to sanitize the totally unnecessary killing of this remarkable sentient being.
When will the killing of other animals stop? We need to give this question serious consideration because far too much research and conservation biology is far too bloody and does not need to be. I hope this question will be discussed openly in all courses and at all meetings that deal with the wide variety of human-animal interactions (anthrozoology) that occur in many different venues. Researchers who are prone to discover and kill would also benefit from thinking about the basic principles of compassionate conservation, namely, First do no harm and individual lives matter (please see "Compassionate Conservation, Cecil the Murdered Lion, and Blaze the Slaughtered Yellowstone Bear").
Killing "in the name of conservation" or "in the name of education" or "in the name of whatever" simply needs to stop. It is wrong and sets a horrific precedent for future research and for children. Imagine what a youngster would think if he or she heard something like, "I met a rare and gorgeous bird today ... and I killed him." Even if this handsome male were a member of a common species, there was no reason to kill him. It sickens me that this practice continues and I hope more people will work hard to put an end to it right now, before more fascinating animals are killed.