I have a question for you, so I’ll just toss it out there: Is the act of killing ever justified? I’m not just talking about killing people, but killing anything. Is trapping something, using it for your own needs, and explicitly erasing its existence after it has served its purpose, a justifiable act? Is that ever okay? I’m sure that most of you, and hopefully ALL of you, are shaking your heads. Perhaps you are even thinking: No, killing is never, an acceptable resolution.
Apparently, not everyone thinks this way. Meet Christopher Filardi. He does not agree with you. In fact, not only does he believe that killing is a-okay and completely justifiable in the right circumstances, he’ll go one even further and kill an endangered species if the poor creature should be unfortunate enough to cross his path.
I know what you’re thinking: Damned hunters. However, Filardi’s not a hunter with an unquenchable bloodlust. Instead, he’s actually the Director to Pacific Programs at the American Museum of Natural History. Yes, now here is the part where you scratch your head and wonder how a man, who should be protecting scientific breakthroughs, is instead killing them. Filardi is a scientist, and his most recent contribution to the planet was capturing an amazingly rare bird, taking samples of it, and then euthanizing it!
If you’re getting a bit hot under the collar, or you’re starting to curl your hands into fists, and your teeth are starting to grind as you think of his callous dispatching of a bird that had never even been photographed before this moment, then maybe his side of the story will soothe you (spoiler alert: it probably won’t). I’m not the only one that has been upset about this turn of events, and I don’t mean just the public either. Filardi’s actions have apparently divided the scientific community as well.
According to Mr. Malarkey—I mean, Mr. Filardi—there are somewhere around 4,000 of these birds on the island they’re confined to. This rock solid number must be based on actual evidence, like sightings, droppings, shed feathers, individual song counts, and stuff like that, right? Nope. He’s pulling that number right out of his you know what, based on how many of these birds he thinks the habitat can sustain.
That’s like looking at an apartment building and guessing how many people are inside, assuming that every unit is occupied. But as we know in the real world, there are some buildings that are nearly empty. There are some buildings that are well past capacity. The point is, what an area can hold is by no means an indication of what is actually inside.
Not to mention, after spending 20 some years looking for one of these birds, you’d think if there were 4,000 of these little buggers flying around on an isolated island, he’d have run across a few long before now, right?
Well, to be clear, from his own follow-up article (which reeks of “methinks thou doth protest too much”) where he tries to explain why he killed the rare bird, here’s how he came up with that lofty figure…apparently during his expedition on the island, he “estimate[ed] three pairs and possible offspring” in the research area by how many calls the team heard. At one point, they “detected” three of these birds in a glen…presumably by their calls, since he would have said “observed” or “caught sight of” or something similar if they had been seen.
So. After searching the whole island, he didn’t manage to actually see any birds, but instead heard maybe a total of six. And this is of course assuming his team could differentiate the varying calls (I bring this up, not to question their credentials, but rather because the bird’s calls are not well-known, so mistakes could easily be made I would think). In fact, with the captured bird, Filardi made the first ever recording of a male Guadalcanal Moustached Kingfisher’s call.
Okay, so…from the 6 birds (detected from calls, not sight), Filardi then calculated a population of 4,000 birds based on his own assumptions regarding the total suitable habitat. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, this is not especially strong evidence on which to justify the killing of one of perhaps only six birds actually observed to exist.
He also takes the word of the locals on the island and attempts to use it as scientific evidence. The locals have told him that they’re “unremarkably common” to see. However, these people are not expert ornithologists. There have been plenty of times when I thought I saw a fox sparrow and it turned out to be a lark sparrow, or thought I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker and instead it was a red-bellied woodpecker. All I’m saying is that sometimes our eyes deceive us. Passing along an execution sentence based on unreliable eyewitness accounts does not fly inside the court of law, so why should it fly outside? And…AND…we run into the same problem as before…if the birds are so “unremarkably common,” why has it taken 20 some odd years for Filardi or any scientist to capture one?
Official records (you know, using actual data and such) state that there are only 250–1,000 of these birds in existence. I guess that should be adjusted to 249–999.
Well, Mr. Filardi, congratulations! Go you! You got your “unicorn” (the word he himself used to describe the bird he killed). Let’s just hope you don’t run into an actual unicorn or I’m sure its enchanted horn will be sawed off and sitting in a drawer in your museum’s basement not long after the two of you meet.
Illustration by: J G Keulemans (1842 – 1912); Novitates Zoologicae