Tales from the cryptozoologists

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1996:

Louisiana State University researcher
Bruce Whitney in the November edition of The
Wilson Bulletin, an ornithological journal,
announced the identification of a previously
unknown bird species, the pink-legged graveteiro,
an acrobatic insectivore first noticed in November
1994. Unlike other birds found recently in Brazil,
the pink-legged graveteiro turned up not in the
Amazon rainforest, but rather in the treetops above
a major highway. As the pink-legged graveteiro
normally doesn’t descend to the ground and apparently
dwells only over cocoa plantations, a disturbed
if rich habitat, it had escaped notice despite
apparently dwelling in close proximity to humans
for as long as 300 years. European settlers brought
cocoa to Brazil in 1746. Whitney and collegues
counted 131 of the birds’ nests, found at 53 different
sites. The pink-legged graveteiro belongs to
the 230-odd-member ovenbird family, a group
who build domed nests of hardened clay and saliva.
Thai biologist Paiboon Naiyaner in late
November announced his discovery of a previously
unidentified “elegant mountain crab.” The tiny
nocturnal freshwater crab is colored brown, blue,
white, red, and purple.
Ireland is the only member of the
European Union which has not yet ratified the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species, but that may soon be rectified, under
E.U. pressure, with the adoption of a long-awaited
Irish endangered species law. The E.U. has also
asked Britain, Germany, Greece, Portugal, and
Italy to expedite their pace of identifying critical
habitat for endangered species.
Zoologist Mike Tyler, of Adelaide
U n i v e r s i t y, told the Australia/New Zealand
Academy of Science on October 3 that heroic
efforts to save endangered species may be misguided
until the full inventory of species is known. “I
don’t think that we can make any rational decisions
or value judgements about what should be kept and
what shouldn’t until the cataloguing process is a
good deal farther along,” Tyler argued. Tyler and
colleagues have identified 38 new frog species in
northwestern Australia since 1974, but estimate
that at the present pace, fully cataloguing
Australian wildlife could take 1,000 more years.
The staff of the Field Museum in
Chicago may lead the world in discovering previously
unidentified mammal species, led by Philip
Hershkovitz, 87, who is credited with finding 75
species over the past half century in South
America––including one in Brazil just four years
ago. Among Hershkovitz’ discoveries are primates,
marsupials, rodents, and a tapir.
Lawrence Heany has found 13 new species since
finding his first, a yellow-spotted Philippine bat,
in 1981. Bruce Patterson claimed a shrew opossum
in Ecuador, Ronald Pine identified a sucker-footed
bat in Peru, and Bill Stanley and Julian Kerbis discovered
new shrew species in Africa. Mammal
discoveries typically lead to finding unique insect
parasites, as well. The Field team estimates that
while about 1.4 million species of plants, animals,
and microorganisms are now formally known to
science, from 10 million to 100 million remain to
be identified. Large species turn up these days
only in the most remote parts of Asia, the thickest
rainforest, or the ocean depths––but of the 459
mammal species discovered between the 1982 and
1992 editions of Mammal Species of the World,
says Patterson, about two-thirds were found in
museums and DNA laboratories, often by more
closely inspecting specimens collected decades or
even centuries ago. The down side of finding new
animals, says Heany, is that they “are often on the
verge of extinction just as they are discovered.”
Canadian environment Minister
Sergio Marchi on November 1 introduced a proposed
national endangered species act, in hopes of
having it in place by spring––which would require
balancing competing provincial interests and opposition
from resource-based industries, including
hunting, fishing, mining, and trapping. Canadian
species are now protected––if at all––one by one,
province by province. Federal protection is extended
only to species on the CITES Appendixes I and
II, or covered by treaty with the United States.
As initially tabled, the Marchi bill provides fines
of up to $1 million plus five years imprisonment
for killing, capturing, or selling threatened
species, yet does not even try to designate or protect
critical habitat, as that would be generally
taken as encroaching on a provincial prerogative.
The Species Survival
Commission of the World Conservation
U n i o n, which began the first global
endangered species list in 1960 with a
card file on 34 animals, in October published
a new edition of its now authoritative
Red List, using new criteria for
assessing endangerment, supplied by
more than 7,000 scientists––and reported
that 1,096 mammals and 1,108 birds are
either threatened or endangered, about
25% of the known mammal species and
11% of the known bird species. The complete
Red List also includes 253 reptiles
(20%), 124 amphibians (25%), 734 fish
(34%), and 1,891 invertebrates, with the
cautionary note that the status of most of
the animals in these taxonomic groups has
not been thoroughly studied. The actual
rate of endangerment may therefore be
either higher or lower. Indonesia, with
128 threatened mammal species, and
India and China, with 75 each, have the
most mammals at risk, while Indonesia,
Brazil, and China have the most birds at
risk: 104, 103, and 90. Often particular
members of a taxonomic group are in desperate
trouble while others are thriving.
Of the primates, for instance, about half
are on the Red List, but humans are obviously
abundant, and of the 18 species of
hooved mammals, 11 are at risk but
domestic cattle and horses are thriving. In
addition, some of the taxonomic groups
with the most species at risk are as a
whole quite healthy––but happen to be
exceptionally diverse, e.g. rodents,
including 330 species at risk; bats, with
231 species at risk; and shrews and
moles, with 152 species at risk. The
World Conservation Union was formerly
known as the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature.

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