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Archive for September, 2014

Mea culpa

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Of all the things William Oliver said to me, this was one that stuck the most. It was probably because the last time I heard him say it, that was during the tumultuous time of transition from FFI to PBCFI. When I received the news this morning, I was shocked. I didn’t even know he was not in good health. I meant to visit him but that plan never came into fruition. There were a few times when I was in Malate and was tempted to just pop in, but I never did.

I first met William while I was still with PESCP back in 2005. He was with my friend, Carmela Espanola, at that time, and I just arrived from Boracay for this particular meeting. He told Carmela then that I might be suitable for the new project he was cooking up. A few months later, I was working for FFI.

William and I were not always in the same page. I resented the way he communicated with me at times.  There were instances when I directly disobeyed him. I did not do it simply to irritate William; I believed I was acting ‘in the best interest of the project’. That was another statement that, if you work for William, you’ll always hear from him. I learned a lot from William, albeit he never really intended to– be it how to, or how not to go about doing something. I fell in love with the leopard cat through a project I did for him. It was through the Reintroductions Project that I was honed to deal with different kinds of people, from government agencies to farmers to private land owners. But most of all, he shared his passion for conservation.

The fact that I will never be able to discuss conservation woes with him or talk about his reintroduction plans is just starting to sink in. The artist who rendered endangered Philippines species to life with his ‘Only in the Philippines poster series’ will no longer produce another work of art. This person who did so much for the conservation of endemic Philippine wildlife will no longer be around to see Visayan spotted deer roam the forests of Panay. I regret that I never visited him and never talked to him when I got back after finishing graduate studies. Mea culpa.

Farewell, William.

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Martha In his first technical book, The Bird: Its Form and Function (1906), William Beebe wrote the following oft-quoted statement: “The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.” 

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the most popular Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) in history: Martha. She was named after George Washington’s wife, and resided at Cincinnati Zoo until her death from old age at 1 PM, 1st of September 1914. The breeding attempts of the Zoo were in vain; and by 1910, Martha was the sole survivor of her kind. The last known wild bird was killed in Ohio in 1900. A reward of $1000 was even offered to find a mate for Martha but there were no more male Passenger Pigeons to be found.

In the online database of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, there are about 828 extinct species of known plants and animals; 272 of these are mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Ectopistes migratorius  is just one of them. Working in conservation, we are usually pelted with bad news about dwindling populations, vanishing habitats, and policies that are detrimental to conservation. Good news are far and few between. Martha’s death is important, not only because she was the last of her kind but more so because the demise of her kind was brought about by humans in so short a time. It took only decades for possibly the most abundant species of bird to dwindle to one individual.

But what if there is a possibility to bring extinct species back to life? It is a given that it will be long difficult process; it is given that there is a need to explore the ecological implications of what can be called ‘reintroduction’; this effort will have to be in addition to what we’ve already been doing (in situ conservation, policy-lobbying, awareness, etc). Should we give it a chance?

NB: The objective of this blog is merely to inform, and ask a question. The author is not endorsing revive&restore (http://longnow.org/revive/). An account about the Passenger Pigeons can be found at: http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmnh/passpig.htm

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