Comment on the proposed conservation of usage of Testudo gigantea Schweigger, 1812 (currently Geochelone (Aldabrachelys) gigantea) (Reptilia, Testudines) 3 | International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature

Comment on the proposed conservation of usage of Testudo gigantea Schweigger, 1812 (currently Geochelone (Aldabrachelys) gigantea) (Reptilia, Testudines) 3

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2010
Authors:Tapia, W
Journal:Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature
Start Page:174
Date Published:06/2010
Type of Article:Comment
Full Text

As part of the management authority for the wildlife and protected areas of theGalápagos Archipelago, Republic of Ecuador, we would like to clarify somemisconceptions recently published in the Bulletin regarding the giant tortoises thatare endemic to our islands. Although we understand that the Commission makes itsdecisions on a case-by-case basis, comments of several people who oppose theconservation of the name gigantea for the Aldabra tortoise have included allegationsabout the situation regarding Galápagos tortoises that need to be corrected. It mayseem perfectly clear for some taxonomists to follow repeated changes to the scientificname of a single, charismatic species (Hoogmoed, BZN 66: 355), but the reality inthe field is quite different. Every time a scientific name changes it involves themanagement authority and other collaborating organisations in a process of174 Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 67(2) June 2010actualisation of laws, regulations, norms, documents, customs instructions, educationalmaterials, pamphlets and other literature, signage, and so forth. These changesrequire significant time and effort from trained personnel. We fully understand thattaxonomic knowledge and perceptions change over time (this is research that theGalápagos National Park is now actively involved with) and management authoritiesmust assimilate this new information and make appropriate adjustments. However,when names are changed because of technicalities in a complex nomenclatural code,with no increase in our understanding of the animals involved, it is a different matterbecause it creates uncertainty about these animals, and it also risks creatingfrustration at the administrative and political levels that can lose interest in theappropriation of resources needed for conservation and management. For example,although Pritchard (1996) concluded that elephantopus, the accustomed name of theGalapagos tortoises, should be changed to nigra (with about a dozen subspecies), wehave never used nigra for any of our education or conservation activities: we have toomany other pressing priorities involved in the conservation of the tortoises and theirecosystems. The claims made by a few taxonomists that name changes for theGalápagos tortoise caused no problems for the management authority and wereaccepted without any concerns (Cheke, BZN 67: 80; Dubois et al., BZN 67: 83) arenot true. The fact that these people did not know of evidence for such problems doesnot prove that the problems did not exist. In the case of the Aldabra tortoise thereis obviously no consensus among taxonomists on which specific name to use, eventhough the majority are in favour of conserving gigantea. This situation onlyincreases the administrative and conservation problems.For these reasons we sympathise with the opinions of the management authority ofthe Republic of Seychelles, the other sovereign state that has endemic giant tortoises.The comments of the Minister of Environment (BZN 66: 287) and the SeychellesIslands Foundation and its staff and collaborators (BZN 66: 80, 180–181, 352–354),other wildlife authorities in the region like the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (BZN66: 181), as well as the Chairman and members of the CITES Animals Committee(BZN 66: 283, 356) are consistent with the problems that we face in Galápagos.We beseech taxonomists to recognise other priorities that are critical to thoseinvolved in protecting the animals and their habitats while they are still alive. Stablenames, universally understood and accepted, are a basic need.

Taxonomic Group(s): 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith