There is nothing more rewarding for ornithologists than finding a new bird species. Many scientists studying birds are accustomed to waiting patiently in forests for an avian friend to fly by or sing a characteristic tune, and Christopher Filardi, of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), is one such enthusiast. After searching high and low in what he calls "the remote highlands" of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Filardi finally came across the bird he had been searching more than two decades for: the moustached kingfisher.
"We search for them in earnest but they are seemingly beyond detection except by proxy and story," Filardi wrote in his AMNH blog. "They are ghosts, until they reveal themselves in a thrilling moment of clarity and then they are gone again. Maybe for another day, maybe a year, maybe a century."
Finding a male moustached kingfisher in the wild was a profound discovery, according to Filardi. While not much is known about this bird species to date, Filardi successfully captured an all-blue-black male with a bright orange face in nets he set up across the forest.
After taking the first-ever documented photos of a male moustached kingfisher, Filardi "collected" the bird, or rather killed it, for further scientific study. His actions have since brewed quite a bit of controversy.
"To search for and find an animal of a rare species -- an individual with feelings, interests, a home, and perhaps a mate -- only to kill him is perverse, cruel, and the sort of act that has led to the extinction of other animals who were also viewed as 'specimens,'" Colleen O'Brien, Senior Director at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told the Daily News. "All that was needed to document this rare bird was compassion, awe, and a camera, not disregard and a death warrant."
However, Filardi explained the reasoning behind the decision he made. While it was not an easy choice, he hopes that by killing this one kingfisher he might be able to save them all, according to The Washington Post.
"I have spent time in remote, and not so remote, forests of the Solomon Islands across nearly 20 years," Filardi told Audubon. "I have watched whole populations of birds decline and disappear in the wake of poorly managed logging operations and, more recently mining. On this trip, the real discovery was not finding an individual Moustached Kingfisher, but discovering that the world this species inhabits is still thriving in a rich and timeless way."
With this discovery, scientists will be able to better understand the species and its changing environment. And rather than sitting in the field and waiting for a single bird to fly by, researchers have a specimen they can directly preform tests on. However, the ethical basis of this decision and whether it was most beneficial to the fragile species will continually be debated, especially since so many other species have suffered from being "collected" for scientific purposes.
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