Comment on the proposed conservation of usage of Testudo gigantea Schweigger, 1812 (currently Geochelone (Aldabrachelys) gigantea) (Reptilia, Testudines) 4

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2010
Authors:Wright, B
Journal:Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature
Start Page:175
Date Published:06/2010
Type of Article:Comment
Full Text

The Wildlife Protection Society of India has been actively involved in an enormousvariety of wildlife conservation issues for more than 16 years. As we operate in aregion of exceptional biological diversity, we are continually dependent on the workof taxonomists and systematists, because the species that are ultimately deemed torequire protection and special attention are defined by them. Needless to say, wegreatly respect professionals from these disciplines, and would not think of interferingwith their work. At the same time, we believe that the conservation of the planet’sBulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 67(2) June 2010 175biological diversity has been widely accepted as a global priority, and this enormouschallenge can only be met with full collaboration between different nationals anddifferent professionals.Having recently lost ‘Aditya’, an Aldabra tortoise at the Alipore Zoo, Kolkata,that was thought to be 255 years old, we are especially interested in this remarkablespecies. In this light it is highly disappointing to find a raging, ever-more passionate,debate in which half a dozen taxonomists are pitted against other professionals,including not only taxonomists and systematists, but also conservationists, educators,and administrators. A discussion in a scientific journal has now been taintedwith acrimony, impassioned personal comments, and discrediting of people whorepresent another point of view. It hardly seems appropriate or defensible fortaxonomists to disqualify and discredit professionals from other disciplines bymaking so many cavalier comments. There are several perfectly clear and rationalstatements by professionals who specialise in the conservation of wildlife, explainingwhy constantly changing scientific names present profound risks to the conservationof endangered species. These have been submitted by, among others, the Chair andmembers of the CITES Animals Committee (Althaus BZN 66: 256–257; Grimm BZN66: 283) and professional educators and conservationists from internationallyrespected organisations (Beaver BZN 66: 80; Honegger BZN 66: 276; Mortimer BZN66: 285; Rhodin BZN 66: 87–88; Schmidt BZN 66: 288–289), not to mention theMinister of Environment of the Seychelles (Morgan BZN 66: 287) and the agencyresponsible for the conservation and management of the tortoise in question(Fleischer-Dogley et al. BZN 66: 180–181). The list even includes respected systematistswho have made major scientific contributions on the tortoise whose name is sohotly debated (Arnold BZN 66: 177). Yet, a few taxonomists (Hoogmoed BZN 66:254–256; Cheke BZN 67: 79–81; Dubois et al. BZN 67: 82–89) would have us believethat all these people do not know what they are talking about. They say that it isperfectly fine for scientific names to be in a constant state of debate, that this chaosand uncertainty has no relevance to the many complex challenges that are involvedin the conservation of endangered wildlife, particularly highly attractive species likethe Aldabra tortoise that is continually trafficked internationally on black markets.We at the Wildlife Protection Society of India know very well after decades ofunending problems and challenges, particularly those involving illegal trade inwildlife, that the above-mentioned statements of professional conservationists,educators, and administrators are absolutely true and credible. We can only hopethat taxonomists will learn to respect other professionals and understand the wisdomof collaborating with them or the consequences will be dire. Disparaging conclusions‘that issues beyond mere science and nomenclature are at issue here’ (Cheke, BZN 67:81) can only further degrade the discussion. Certainly, the designers of the ICZNwebsite were perfectly aware of the fundamental need for ‘stable and universalnomenclature’ when they wrote: ‘International conventions and national or regionallegislation concerning threatened or endangered animals specify the species orsubspecies name of the animals that the law intends to protect. Thereafter, protectiongoes with the name rather than the endangered species itself. Any subsequent changein name could therefore affect conservation measures. The Commission often acts toprotect the names of endangered species.’ (, the need to stabilise the name ‘gigantea’ for the Aldabra tortoise is not about176 Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 67(2) June 2010‘personal preference or personal comfort’ as was claimed so derogatorily (IversonBZN 66: 284; Dubois et al. BZN 67: 88), but rather about a name that requiresrecognition by different institutions for their proper function.

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