"....The truth is out there."
-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Sunday, December 07, 2008
-- Sunday Contemplation --
The actual probability that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker exists is 100%... OR... 0%, since it either does or it doesn't. When I tell folks I view the probability of its survival somewhere around 70-80%, I invariably hear from some who say they've seen it and that I am WRONG because they know with 100% probability it does; and of course I hear from skeptical others, who scold me for voicing such hope, proclaiming, equally assuredly, the probability is 0% (for now I'll stick with my own numbers). Unfortunately, even if the species does survive, the probability that they will be documented definitively to the satisfaction of all is yet some other number. And then there's always the thorny issue of whether documenting them is even in the birds' best interest or not. In rummaging through my files I find more words I wrote (a tad dramatically) back in 2002 following the unsuccessful Van Remsen search in Louisiana:
"...The forest holds her secrets well. And we humans, despite vaunted wisdom and technology, are really ‘babes in the woods’ when we enter the domains of other creatures. In remote woodland we are bumbling clods while any remaining Ivorybills, having honed their woodsy intelligence over millenia, likely bear a genius I.Q. So I'm not surprised that hundreds have failed to find the bird; nor even that the most organized and strategized search of all time in Jan.-Feb. of this year came up empty-handed. The 2002 Zeiss-sponsored expedition planned for months before sending 6 highly qualified searchers and modern equipment into Pearl River for 30 days to seek out the birds. They received widespread news coverage, from "The Wall Street Journal " and "New York Times" to NPR, but in the end could only report the same sorts of ‘possible signs’ of the birds that others had glimpsed/heard.
Christopher Cokinos spent ten years researching and writing about six bird species wiped out by Man, including the Ivorybill, for his 2000 book "Hope Is The Thing With Feathers." The subject matter drove him to major depression. What humans have done, and continue to do, to other species, is a sorrowful tale. I do not wish to proceed on false hope, but am even less willing to give up too easily on a creature as grand as the Ivorybill.
If the Ivorybill is ever found thousands may stampede to view it, and managing such a ‘mob’ of birders, biologists, naturalists, photographers, newsmen, curiosity-seekers, could be an insurmountable task. So for its own sake, in my more rational moments, I often hope the bird is NOT found, lest it be hounded to death by humans, after having made it this far. But I must admit in my ideal dream-world, the Ivorybill IS found... by ME! --- a pair... with a nest!! They raise young. I watch them for weeks and take hundreds of photos before they depart. Then I show the world my pictures and prove to the naysayers that the species survives after-all; that only ignorance and naivete allowed “experts” to prematurely write the species off; that our science and academia lacks deep understanding of the natural world. We have sacrificed intuition for cold rationality; replaced respect for nature with exploitation of her. Wake up I say and listen to the world out there; listen to the forest’s pleas... Listen... to the forests... please!
And then I die, never breathing a word of where I found the birds or when or how; nary a hint; leaving behind me a trail of wide-eyed seekers, achingly frustrated, panting in my dust, pleading for information. I die giving the Ivorybills the last full ounce of my respect. And though I know it is too little too late, they and their kind deserve nothing less."
And that is the real dilemma... any Ivory-bills (and many other creatures) that hang on, need more than we as a species, are likely able or willing, to bestow them. In the short-run, with concerted effort, we can temporarily postpone certain outcomes, preserve patches of habitat, do some feel-good conservation, even captively breed California Condors and the like... but long-term... well, I don't even like to think about it.
(However, one of the greatest scholars in this arena, E.O. Wilson, is far more optimistic than I about the future.)
We know it was inexperience with rare birds (and a pretty low competence level in the field to begin with) that led to the unfortunate errors (eg. birds seen in a very short time of arrival in the Choc etc, birds seen with naked eye etc) - it happens to us all, it's just that good birders know it and keep their feet on the ground.
No amount of coefficients and drag factors will carry an iota of weight with a half-decent birder never mind an official rarities committee.
The Real No. 2
Still, I sometimes wonder whether some investigators may have found a small group of 3 or 4 birds, clinging to a tenuous existence amid hunters' rifles, roadways and encroaching civilization, and made a secret, strategic decision to try to protect the very last of their kind by temporarily taking them in from the cold.
I do not seriously think this actually happened, but it could explain why no more sightings are being reported! Also, it helps provide some consolation to the romantic in me by extending some hope that it might still be possible one day to see them.
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