Modern taxonomy protocols were established more than 280 years ago, but for fifteen years it has been possible to sponsor the name of new discoveries.
By Pierre Bouvier
What is the relationship between William Shakespeare, Beyoncé, Dolly Parton, Bernie Sanders, Michael Jackson, Adolf Hitler, Lenin, Donald Trump, Bob Marley or Master Yoda? Everyone has given their name to a plant or animal.
In terms of taxonomy (the science of laws and the principles of the classification of living organisms), everything is possible, or almost, reports Shaena Montanari, scientific journalist, in an article entitled "Taxonomy for sale to the highest bidder" published on the site Undark.com and taken over by The Atlantic.
So far, about 1.5 million species have been listed
The protocols of modern taxonomy were established more than two hundred and eighty years ago by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné), who created a hierarchical network to classify all living organisms known as binomial nomenclature. So far, about 1.5 million species have been recorded and, as their numbers have increased, scientists have let their imagination speak or celebrate celebrities.
Now, some offer to sponsor discoveries, often to protect them. The anniversary of the 30th anniversary of the American environmental NGO Rainforest Trust, in December 2018, was the occasion of an auction to name twelve species of orchids, frogs, a mouse and an ant. The Virginia-based US-based NGO said the sale had raised $ 182,500 (about € 161,000), which will be used for its conservation programs.
The highest bid was for a Panama worm-like blind amphibian, priced at $ 25,000 (22,000 euros), paid for by a UK sustainable building materials company, EnviroBuild.
EnviroBuild then announced the name it wanted to assign to the amphibian: Dermophis donaldtrumpi. The company chose this name to draw attention to climate change, to which President Trump is 'Blind'. "Realizing the similarities between the amazing but unknown creature and the leader of the" free world ", we could not resist the purchase of the rights in honor of your president"said EnviroBuild co-founder Aidan Bell at Washington Post.
We bought the naming rights for rainforestTrust's charity auction. Https://t.co/ysegG2KvNX
The path of "commercialization" was opened about fifteen years ago, after the discovery of the Plecturocebus aureipalatii or Titi Madidi, in November 2004, in Madidi National Park, Western Bolivia, by an expedition of the Wildlife Conservation Society, led by primatologist Robert Wallace. There were then only twenty-eight officially recognized species of Titi, this new monkey becoming the twenty-ninth.
The concern of some scientists
Instead of naming the species directly, Robert Wallace chose to entrust the task to the Fundación para el Desarrollo del Sistema Nacional de Areas Protegidas (Fundesnap), the body managing the national park where the species was discovered. The Foundation has decided to auction the name of the animal, to fund the protection of the species living there. The sale was won for $ 650,000 ($ 575,000) by the GoldenPalace.com Virtual Casino, which chose to call the pet Plecturocebus aureipalatii (Golden Palace in English).
The scientific name of the beetle Anophthalmus hitleri is due to collector Oscar Scheibel
Some scientists are worried about this drift. Once registered in the scientific literature, the name is eternal unless it is declared invalid after further research. Naming can also threaten the survival of a species, as in the case of Anophthalmus hitleri. The scientific name of this beetle is due to the German collector Oscar Scheibel, who bought a specimen of the species, then not described in 1933, and gave him the name of the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, who sent him a letter of gratitude. Since then, the species has been poached because of its name by collectors of Nazi objects and collectors of beetles.
So, should we go back to tradition, stick to the formal scientific names derived from Latin and Greek derived from physical or geographical characteristics? Christian Kammerer, from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is not fond of these auctions, even if he understands the motives: "I think it depreciates taxonomy as a science. But this one is currently in a difficult situation. " Nobody finances it. One thing remains certain, fifteen years after the auction of Titi Madidi's name, Madidi National Park still uses part of the $ 650,000.