Do We Have A Right To Be Outraged?

Over the past 24 hours I’ve received several e-mails with links to an online National Geographic article showing a picture of a Worcester’s Buttonquail. The bird, presumed extinct, was photographed for the first time at a poultry market in the Philippines, where it was being sold for food. This article and picture can be viewed at news.nationalgeographic.com.

Many of the folks who forwarded this directly to me, or to birding listservs I subscribe to, expressed either incredulity or outrage that this ultra-rare bird might end up being someone’s dinner. I see some danger in making a habit of using our own yardstick (which is currently in need of repair) to measure the actions and cultures of others around the globe. It is easy to cast stones at those who have no apparent appreciation for our need to preserve this unique bird. My question is this, what life experiences have these Philippine natives had that might cause them to develop concerns over the continuing existence of a single species of bird?

I once heard a great analogy involving a beach ball. Two people were standing on opposite sides of the same multi-colored beach ball arguing over what color it was. After much back and forth, one combatant finally invited the other to look at their side of the beach ball. At this point, both of them realized that the beach ball’s color was a matter of perspective. Perhaps we should take a look at the other side of the beach ball in the case of this endangered quail.

Put yourself in the place of the person who captured/killed the Worcester’s Buttonquail and then took it to market to sell or trade. Does this person live on a five- or six-figure income? Is he/she highly-educated. Does he/she have an understanding of basic concepts of bio-diversity? The answers to these questions are surely, no, no, and no.

In many corners of the world humans are simply trying to survive, much like the buttonquail. Their waking hours are consumed with eking out a meager existence. They have no time to watch birds, no money to purchase bird books or bins, and they probably aren’t inclined to visit the local library (if one even exists) to research the rare and endemic birds of their region. The buttonquail represents one thing to such a person…food. Until we exhibit an appreciation of, and real concerns about their situation, our cries for change fall on deaf ears.

There was a time and a place in our pasts where wildlife preservation was of little concern, and that did not change until we reached a certain level of comfort. If you think we have no skeletons in the closet, do a little research about the Grand Kankakee Marsh. This massive freshwater wetland system once covered more than a half million acres at the south end of Lake Michigan. Gradually, rivers were straightened and channeled, and eventually nearly the entire marsh was drained to create more land for industry, agriculture, and human habitation. Today, only a few fragments of this once great marsh remain.

Our excitement and irritation over this buttonquail story are likely to be short-lived and then, predictably, we will move on to the next bird-related news story that captures our attention. While I offer no easy answers as far a balancing the global economic equation, I think it’s important to recognize that until the comparative luxury of leisure time is available to all, all will not share the views we hold towards wildlife, and in particular wild birds. Until such a time comes, we should be diligent in sharing our values with others, all the while respecting that their values have been shaped by life experiences utterly different than our own.

1

Well said, David.

2

The question that troubles me is: what of the person/people who documented this? If they saw the quail alive — as it is shown in the photo — why didn’t they buy it and free it? What would prompt someone who recognized the bird to leave it in the marketplace?
I can think of scenarios that would cause this to happen, but why does the story not address this? In our rush to condemn the person who caught and sold the bird, we are ignoring the others involved in the bird’s demise.

3

Brilliant, Mr. Trons. Very well stated and rightious. Keep up the good commentary.

4

I will echo Craig’s sentiment David, very well said. I would add that I do fear that this is not the first, nor will it be the last of the Buttonquail in that area to be sold for food. Nature dictates that where there is one, there is (or was) at the least one more. Now the area will teem with scientists and bird watchers hoping to see or save as many as possible. What will that do to the indigenous people of that area. Will they react harshly to the bird because of the outsiders it will bring in? Will they react favorably to it? A domino effect has now been set to action.

Thanks for opening my mind to that as well David.

5

Touched on by Mr. Adney was the important point that scientific knowledge of this rare species has been advanced due to the unintended actions of the person or people that trapped the buttonquail and eventually brought it to market. The results of this person or those peoples actions have had the positive result of providing strong evidence that the species may still be extant. Those involved may actually hold an important key to discovery a population of buttonquails which might lead to any number of positive outcomes including additions to our understanding of the natural history of the species, habitat conservation and/or other conservation efforts, and ecotourism.

The fact that people hunt, fish, and gather native wildlife has played a part in scientific knowledge growth many times in the past and will continue to play a roll in the future. Fishing and local food markets both played significant roles in the discovery of the two only known extant species of an entire taxonomic class of Chordates, thought to be extinct until their independent discoveries during the middle and end of the last century—the Coelacanths. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coelacanth). It is possible that if the future holds a recovery for the buttonquail, that may well owe in part to the success of that hunter who brought it to market. It most assuredly can be stated that if the future holds extinction for the buttonquail, it will not likely have been caused or set in motion by the actions of that one hunter.

6

First and foremost I want to thank those who have taken time to share their thoughts on this issue. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and necessary for BirdFellow to grow and become an ever more useful resource for birders of all experience levels. I enjoy writing these pieces and hope to come up topics that spur conversation within our community. This piece is obviously one that has stirred up some response.

I wanted to follow up on David Bailey’s comments about hunters and fisherman contributing to scientific knowledge. Here in Oregon, both Baikal Teal and Jack Snipe have been accepted into the state’s official list of birds solely on the basis of specimens taken by hunters. Were it not for these records, we would be left to speculate about whether these species occur in the state. In recent years there have been sight records (seen by birders) of both Baikal Teal and Jack Snipe that have been submitted to and are currently being processed by the Oregon Bird Records Committee. The pre-existing specimen records of both species lends credibility to reports that might otherwise be viewed as less plausible.

We can all hope for the survival of Worcester’s Buttonquail, and armed with the knowledge that this species is extant (opposite of extinct) we have some chance of affecting a positive outcome. At the same time, humans have a long track record of making a mess of natural systems that were not enhanced by our involvement. Ultimately, humans are just as much a part of the ecosystem as any other organism, therefore we are by default always a part of the balancing act.

7

Reminds me of the story of the young Charles Darwin during his famous voyage on the “Beagle” and his search for the lesser rhea in South America. While exploring the hot, dry “devil’s country” near Bahia Blanca, on the coast of Patagonia, Darwin roamed for days on horseback with local cowboys, or gauchos. With spurs clanking and daggers at their waists, the gauchos smoked, drank and ate whatever they could shoot. A popular meal was the greater rhea, a large, flightless bird Darwin compared to an ostrich. But the gauchos also told Darwin of a second, smaller rhea, which turned out to be not just a smaller variety, but a distinct species, with different coloring, shorter, more feathery legs and blue-tinted eggs. Darwin was anxious to find this lesser rhea, particularly since a rival French naturalist was searching for it as well. But only after the Beagle sailed several hundred miles down the coast did he finally find one. He later learned that that the lesser rhea lived primarily south of the Rio Negro, and the greater rhea to the north. Why, Darwin wondered, did two such similar species live in neighboring regions? Why was there more than one rhea? In the months and years to come, Darwin eventually would ask himself: could the two rheas perhaps have originated from a common ancestor? Darwin was impressed by how the gauchos hunted rhea by throwing bolas—two balls connected by a cord. When Darwin tried to do the same, however, he ended up entangling the legs of his own horse. The Gauchos roared with laughter; they cried they had seen every sort of animal caught, but had never before seen a man caught by himself.
After leaving Bahia Blanca, where Darwin hunted greater rheas with the gauchos, the Beagle sailed south for 17 days. The next stop was Port Desire, about 700 miles down the coast. A few days after Christmas, Conrad Martens, the ship’s artist, shot a rhea for dinner. It was rather small, but Darwin assumed it was just a young greater rhea. Halfway through the feast, Darwin realized his mistake: the elusive lesser rhea he had been searching for was sitting half-eaten on his plate.

“It was cooked and eaten before my memory returned. Fortunately the head, neck, legs, wings, many of the larger feathers, and a large part of the skin, had been preserved. From these a very nearly perfect specimen has been put together.”

8

Here is a link to the story about the lesser rhea and Darwin

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101090483

9

p1GKjc HHIS I slhuod have thought of that!

10

, If you aren’t moving frrwaods in your walk, you are moving backwards. I am reminded of the book, Who Moved My Cheese? The classic book on how to deal with change expresses one key that stands out to me more than any if you don’t adapt to change, you get left behind. It is all about adapting as change occurs (whether it is good change or bad change). And depending on how you view it, it may mean taking a leap of faith or at least taking a risk. But the bottom line is this: adapt roll with the punches look at the boulders as stepping stones and not walls.Bob

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