New threat to types

Wolfgang Wuster bss166 at BANGOR.AC.UK
Mon Jul 10 09:48:41 CDT 1995

On Sun, 9 Jul 1995, Paulo Petry - Fisheries wrote:

> Folks,
>         I'd like to endorse Alberto's comments. As well as him, I felt a
> fair amount of prejudice and arrogance in the tone of the original message.
> I can not speak for all the museum folks "in the third world", but many of
> them take money out of their own pockets to maintain the specimens in decent
> shape.

As always, there is no single correct answer. I have worked with spirit
collections in Brazil, Ecuador, Thailand and Malaysia. They have included
some excellently curated collections, where I would happily have deposited
a type specimen, and some where (often undocumented) specimens were drying
out or rotting away because there was no money to buy alcohol, and nobody
gave a damn. Clearly, a blanket rule forcing the return of type material
to the country of origin would condemn some of this material to
disappearance through neglect.

Another problem which struck me, at least in the smaller and poorer of
these countries, is that in the face of economic restrictions, the
maintenance of a collection often depends on one single person's
enthusiasm and determination in the face of adverse circumstances (such as
spending their own money to maintain the collection, as has already been
mentioned). What happens when that person dies and there is no
successor, or the successor lacks the determination and enthusiasm?

What can be done? Vetting of potential receiving institutions in the
tropical countries? How? Would there not be objections from the receiving
country or institution against this outside interference? These are some
of the issues that need to be addressed. Nationalistic or patronisingly
colonial attitudes should be left out of this debate, and our concern for
the safety and accessibility of the types should form the centre of
everyone's attention, and should be discussed here.

Wolfgang Wuster
School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, UK
e-mail: bss166 at

Thought for the day: If you see a light at the end of the tunnel,
it is probably a train coming your way.

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