Killing…in the name of what!?

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: J G Keulemans (1842 - 1912), Novitates Zoologicae

Illustration by:   J G Keulemans  (1842 – 1912);  Novitates Zoologicae

 

 

Once Upon a Time There Were Rhinos

Hang your heads in shame, patriots. The hunt is on. Remember my previous post about Corey Knowlton, America’s poster boy for wildlife conservation? Well, he’s finally gotten approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to bring back—as a trophy—the critically endangered black rhino he paid the Namibian government $350,000 to wipe off the face of the earth. It’s basically the US government giving him the thumbs up for helping to annihilate a species.

Of course Mr. Knowlton (so tough to type out his name, my fingers start to ball up into fists when I get halfway through) isn’t going to prance around in a black mask and black cape and tell you he’s a horrible, rotten, no-good villain. He’s still trying to desperately spin his bloodlust into some positive PR routine so that people will believe he’s actually helping the conservation efforts of the rhino. Uh huh. Killing to save lives, you say? Who would fall for such a ridiculously hypocritical stance? Oh, our government. I kid, I kid. Truth is our government wasn’t fooled by Knowlton at all, they were simply bought. Apparently hundreds of thousands of dollars can buy just about anything these days.  As if we didn’t know that already.

I know Knowlton says that the money he paid for the hunt is for aiding the anti-poaching and conservation efforts, but my original question still stands:  Why not just donate the money? I wish someone would slap him up side the head tap him on the shoulder and tell him his money is still good, even if he doesn’t kill something critically endangered just for the chance to hang its head on his wall.

click photo for info

click photo for some actual facts on the whole mess

Time for a Rant (Or, the Black Rhino Fiasco)

Tell me if this sounds like some backwards, contradictory, nonsensical craziness to you or if it’s just me that’s finding the following news story absurd.  The Namibian government, under intense pressure to save the ever dwindling and extremely endangered black rhino species, recently allowed the US-based Dallas Safari Club to launch an auction raising money for conservation efforts of the species.  Well, that sounds really nice, doesn’t it? Where can I donate? And what’s up for auction?

Oh, the prize…a hunting permit to kill a black rhino.  The critically endangered black rhino.

I rechecked what I wrote and there are no typos. The winner of the auction designed to save the black rhino from extinction gets a permit to kill a black rhino. Let’s just all take a minute to let that sink in. It’s like having a weight loss plan of doughnuts and bacon. Training for a marathon by smoking a pack of Marlboro Reds each day. Getting over a fear of clowns by watching IT. Nothing about this makes sense. If anyone actually thinks the money the government is receiving is purely for conservation efforts, they’ve got to be the most gullible suckers on the planet.

The safari group has said on record that the winner of the auction (a man who shelled out a whopping $350,000) doesn’t have to kill the rhino. He could just shoot it with a camera if he wants.  Of course we all know that’s not going to happen.  And the group is fine with the particular rhino they have in mind to kill because, according to them, it’s old and aggressive. My question is, aggressive to whom exactly? Is it roaming around a heavily populated metropolis goring people to death as they’re trying to get to work? No, it’s out in the grasslands of Africa away from people.  How is its aggression getting in the way of anything? I’m not sure anyone involved truly believes this rhino is a threat anyway.  Sounds more like a rationale to excuse horrific behavior perpetrated by a less than transparent government and a hunter who obviously has more money than he knows what to do with.

The winner himself said that he wants to be “intimate with a black rhino.” I don’t know what kind of childhood he had, but when I want to get “intimate” with something it rarely ever means—no, wait, it NEVER means—killing something. Is he really going to have deep, longing gazes into the rhino’s eyes late at night as he stares at its head mounted on the wall of his den? Is that going to stimulate some sort of spiritual connection that he’s been craving for all the years of his life? If so, he needs to be committed.

And to be honest, what kind of hunter is this guy? Rhinos happen to be one of the easiest things to kill. Their eyesight is crap so you can practically walk right up to them before they even know you’re there. Plus, it’s going to be a guided hunt which means he’s just going to be led to where the rhino is known to be and have it pointed out to him. Basically, this guy spent over a quarter of a million dollars to shoot a fish in a barrel.

The ironic part is that now Huffington Post is reporting that he’s been receiving death threats. Police officials and the FBI are working together to keep him safe. Does anyone see the irony here? I’m in no way hoping for ill things to befall this guy, but come on, how can he honestly still go through with this hunt after he himself is being hunted?  Shouldn’t there be some moment when the light bulb comes on above his head and he says, “Whoa, so wait. Killing something that doesn’t want to die is…not cool?”   Because the thing is, this “winner” could easily choose to be a part of the larger scope of life instead of its downfall.  He could recognize the farce the Namibian government and his precious hunt club are advocating for what it is, and try to save an animal. And there’s an amazingly easy way to accomplish that last part…simply don’t kill it!

black_rhino

Click photo for info on the Black Rhino hunt