Sometimes, science is sad. Last month, a researcher named Chris Filardi captured and killed a rare bird – a male Moustached Kingfisher – in the name of science. Many of his peers are criticizing the act, calling it ‘unnecessary’ and ‘a horrific precedent.’ Filardi insists that killing animals for research is “standard practice.”
Filardi is the director of Pacific Programs at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). He was in the Solomon Islands with a team of researchers, and although it’s unclear whether the kingfisher was the target of the operation, the bird was surely the victim. The research crew first heard the rare bird, which is not often spotted by non-natives and has not been studied extensively, before they caught a glimpse of the small orange-headed bird with brilliant blue stripes across his face and wings. After Filardi posed with the bird for photos – the first-ever images captured of a male Moustached Kingfisher – the bird was euthanized.
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Audubon reported on the finding, breaking the news to the world that the first-ever male Moustached Kingfisher had not only been seen and photographed, but also murdered. That revelation led to a strong backlash from the scientific community, putting Filardi under the spotlight. Two weeks later, Filardi defended the killing in a separate article on Audubon, where he argues that it was okay to kill the bird for research because it isn’t an endangered species. “Though sightings and information about the bird are rare in the ornithological community, the bird itself is not. Elders of the local land-owning tribe (now living at lower elevations) relate stories of eating Mbarikuku, the local name for the bird; our local partners knew it as unremarkably common,” he wrote. Filardi claims that “collecting” the bird for further study is “standard practice for field biologists.”
In an update to the original story, Audubon reports that an AMNH official gave assurances the research team determined that killing the male bird wouldn’t negatively impact the wild population prior to “collecting” the specimen. Even if that is true – that the loss of one male bird wouldn’t have a big impact on the species – are we comfortable living in a world where scientists have to kill an animal in order to learn anything about it?
Images via American Museum of Natural History