scientists as poachers AND victims

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Thu Apr 11 08:25:41 EDT 2002

When I was a graduate student, I had to visit the Peabody Museum at Yale to
check out some specimens.
The eminent Charles Sibley graciously spoke to me and asked about my work and
then went on to tell me at length about his-----at that point he was
classifying the world's birds by their egg white proteins (later on to serum
proteins and later still he used DNA hybridization).

He had collectors all over the world sending him egg specimens.   I said I was
interested in the breeding biology of some of the species of uncertain family
affinities that he was studying and asked him if I could contact his collectors
for additional information.

He demurred, telling me that they wouldn't want to talk to me because much of
their collecting was illegal.  [Illegal even in the pre-CITES days].

I was astounded that a senior ornithologist, one of the most respected (or
feared) would be so careless as to say this to a graduate student he had met
for the first time.  .

Some years later he was caught, fined, and pilloried both in the press and at
the International Ornithological Congress----not so much for having violated
the laws of several countries, but for his arrogance.

Mike Gochfeld

PS:  On the other hand, I think that wildlife agents find it easier to try to
arrest and fine scientific researchers who may have specimens for which they
didn't have the correct permits, rather than tackle the wildlife-trafficking
commercial establishment with no permits but lots of lawyers.

Kenelm Philip wrote:

>         I am amused by the people who seem to have just realized that
> museums (horrors!) actually take specimens--even birds (not to mention
> mammals, fish, etc.).
>         However, while there have indeed been curators who collected
> illegally, and thus really were poachers (even scientists can be crim-
> inals--and museum curators who venture into crime are known for being
> 'self-documenting' criminals, since their collection labels provide
> evidence), the vast majority of these people collect with due regard
> for the increasing number of regulations that have zeroed in on collecting.
> When you have to get a gov't permit to shoot birds for a collection, and
> the permit specifies how many birds of each species you may shoot, one
> can hardly accuse you of poaching!


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