One bird – two names. Bitter feud in the Colombian ornithology/bird conservation scene.

Fenwick's - Urrao - Antpitta Grallaria fenwickorum. Photo: ProAves

by Gunnar on March 6, 2011 · 17 comments

in Birding Neotropics

Ornithology Soap Opera

Colombia’s ornithology is living a soap opera of “Dallas” proportions of freud, deciept and back-stabbing. It would make a good TV series. I am just wondering which bad guy Larry Hagman was to play.  On one side Colombia’s leading bird conservation organization ProAves – on the other side the creme of Colombian Ornithologist. The cleft is huge and it has not become narrower by recent publications.

In short step by step.

  • Proaves mounts an expedition to the Paramo del Sol area in 2004 to search for a Hummingbird, the Dusky Starfrontlet Coeligena orina (Critically Endangered CR)  that has been lost 50 years – and then known only form one museum specimen. They find it not uncommon here and collect 1 specimen.  Another expedition visit the area 2 weeks later and collected 3 specimens. Together the two research teams publish a paper on the finding. Pdf here.  (This paragraph – slightly updated on Mar 15.)
  • ProAves creates a reserve with funding from the Fenwick family and lets Carantón become manager and head researcher.
  • Carantón finds a dead antpitta in the mistnet -which seems to be a new species to science.
  • He nets another one and collects it (kill, sacrifice)
  • However, there are no collecting permits issued.
  • Furthermore, Carantón does not mention the birds in his monthly reports to his employer ProAves
  • Eventually ProAves finds out about it and are furious.  As employer they have the legal right to the discovery
  • Plans for publishing a scientific paper starts, but ProAves wants to name the bird after George Fenwick and his family. George Fenwick is president of ABC, the US conservation organization that supports the work of ProAves.
  • The Colombian ornithologists dislike Fenwick, because he ABC has openly critizised scientific collecting of threatened species.
  • Carantón submits a paper to Condor – but it is rejected because collecting permits are missing.
  • ProAves tries to reconcile with Carantón but there is no agreement because ProAves insists on the Fenwick name and whom are to be co-authors of the paper.
  • Carantón’s paper was just about to be published, when a paper describing Fenwick’s Antpitta based on a couple of feathers and a photo appears in ProAves own magazine Conservación Colombiana.
  • A month later Carantóns paper is being published in Ornitologia Colombiana naming the species Urrao Antpitta Grallaria urraoensis
  • The same bird now has two names.
The key issues are:
  • Caranton collected the birds without permit and with-held the information to his employer
  • Caranton tried to publish in Condor without the concent of ProAves
  • ProAves had a sweet revenge (bitter-sweet maybe) when they scooped Caranton and hasten the publication of Grallaria fenwickorum in their own on-line magazine- and by this gaining priority to the name.

All this leads to some obvious questions.  Would it not have been better for ProAves if they had:
1. Abstained to publish? Surely, they could have given the Fenwick name to another species – for instance that new undescribed Megascops in Santa Marta.  Carantón would have to face the legal consequences of his actions.
2. Accepted that Caranton chose any name he pleased and go ahead and publish together?

On the other hand when it comes to Carantón:
Why all this trouble? Would it not have been better to work with ABC, knowing that a specimen was obtained without proper permits?

Yesterday an article was in Science published called “Feathers Are Flying Over Colombian Bird Name Flap”, although the text is not available on-line on Science web-page without a subscription, it was shared on the list-server NEOORN as well as on BirdForum yesterday. Therefor, I have not scruples of re-posting the whole article here  in quotes. It is a good read.

Today, ProAves published an editorial that responds to an article by renowned ornithologists Cadena and Stiles, who defended Caranton’s moral right to name and to describe the new species. There is a link to this editorial at the bottom.

Regalado 2011. News & Analysis: Ornithology: Feathers are flying over Colombian bird name flap. Science 331: 1123-1124.

“Last May, at the Washington, D.C., home of the Colombian ambassador, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and its partner in Colombia, Fundación ProAves, announced the discovery of a new species of Neotropical bird. ABC touted the feat as “remarkable” for being one of the first times a new species had been scientifically described from an individual captured, measured, photographed, and then released. For George Fenwick, head of ABC, it was a proud moment: The bird, Fenwick’s antpitta (Grallaria fenwickorum), was named in honor of his family.

The problem with the announcement was that it made no mention of the bird’s actual discoverer, a 28-year-old former employee of ProAves named Diego Carantón, and the two preserved specimens he had already collected. How Carantón, his specimens, and the name he had chosen – Grallaria urraoensis – came to be omitted from the taxonomic record is generating bitter debate between Colombia’s leading university ornithologists and ProAves, the country’s best-known private conservation organization, over scientific standards and credit for new discoveries.

ProAves’s leadership, in a lengthy statement expected to be released this week, says Carantón violated his employment contract by secretly collecting specimens, so the foundation was justified in rushing out a paper last May to seize nomenclatural priority – accorded to whoever publishes first – and name the bird after Fenwick.

ProAves agrees that Carantón identified the new species. In 2008, while Carantón managed ProAves’s Colibrí del Sol reserve in the Western Andes, he found a wet, unrecognizable bird dead in a capture net. He could not find the bird in any museum collections and eventually captured, and killed, a second bird. “I knew ProAves doesn’t like collecting, but I did it. I wanted to know what the bird was,” Carantón says.

Carantón also did not immediately tell ProAves about the unfolding discovery, and foundation officials were furious to learn not only that there were two specimens already in a drawer at Bogotá’s Institute of Natural Sciences but also that Carantón had involved other researchers, including Colombia’s leading avian DNA expert, Daniel Cadena of the University of Los Andes, in the project. “It was a cross, a double-cross, a triple-cross for ProAves,” says David Caro, ProAves’s outgoing executive director.

Initially, Carantón was given permission to publish a description of the new species on the condition that he use the name G. fenwickorum. But negotiations became embittered as ProAves sought final say over the paper and the list of authors. “All the intellectual property of the discovery belongs to ProAves, and we have every right to authorize a publication or not, considering the bird was discovered on our reserve,” read one e-mail that Sara Lara, currently director of international affairs for ABC, sent to scientists and ProAves staff.

To make matters worse, the name G. fenwickorum didn’t sit well with the scientists. In 2008, Fenwick had penned an editorial sharply critical of Colombian museum collectors, accusing them of gratuitously killing endangered bird species. Cadena later resigned from the project, explaining in an e-mail, “I definitely don’t want to be part of a homage to Fenwick.”

When Carantón eventually decided to publish the discovery independently – and name the bird G. urraoensis, after the local municipality of Urrao – ProAves countered by hosting a hastily arranged field expedition. In May 2010, two junior field guides scooped Carantón, publishing a description of G. fenwickorum in ProAves’s in-house magazine, Conservación Colombiana, grabbing the right to name the bird. “It came down to the name,” says Caro. “We needed the name to raise more funds.”

The paper held another dart for the academics who had sided with Carantón. Given Fenwick’s opposition to killing rare birds for science, ProAves had collected only a few feathers and photographs – materials that in a pinch can be accepted as the museum holotype, or reference specimen. However, many collection curators believe a full specimen is needed to create an accurate record.

For F. Gary Stiles, curator of the bird collection at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, the attempt to designate the feathers and photographs as the holotype is “scientifically irresponsible.”

ProAves’s publication also caused dissent inside the foundation’s leadership. “I thought it was just too much to steal a young man’s discovery of a lifetime that way,” says ornithologist Niels Krabbe of the University of Copenhagen, one of two ProAves board members to resign in protest.

Two months later, a description by Carantón and a co-author appeared, this time in the journal of the Colombian Association of Ornithology. They called the bird G. urraoensis. In a lengthy editorial, Cadena and Stiles said ProAves had probably won naming priority but charged “grave faults” in the organization’s scientific ethics.

Carantón’s defenders argue that Carantón has a “moral right” to his discovery, despite any missteps. They call the case the latest in a series of hard-boiled moves by ProAves aimed at gratifying British and American donors and generating publicity at the expense of Colombian researchers. “They have created a lot of tension in the country,” says ornithologist Luis Germán Naranjo, who is conservation director for the World Wide Fund for Nature in Colombia.

There is little question that ProAves has been successful in protecting birds. Since its founding in 2001, the organization has bought 22,000 hectares of Andean habitat, creating 18 reserves for 91 threatened species. That land includes some of the only known habitat of the Colorful Puffleg, a hummingbird, and ProAves is credited with a resurgence of the rare Yellow-eared Parrot.

Success has brought a list of over 100 mostly foreign donors, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ABC. Paul Salaman, conservation director at World Land Trust in Washington, D.C., and an influential ProAves board member, says “the meteoric rise” of ProAves may have generated resentment. “It wants to get things done, and that upsets people,” says Salaman.

Some researchers still hope G. urraoensis could win out before international bodies that rule on species names. However, Ellinor Michel, executive secretary of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in London, says it will be difficult to unseat G. fenwickorum. “If the publication by ProAves [was] legitimate, then the name they gave will stand,” she says.”

Useful links:

The links are ordered in chronological order. When reading these links one notice that there was tension between ProAves and the Colombian ornithologists prior to these sad events. People on both sides are outraged. Who is right and who is wrong? Both?

Question now is – what shall we call this thing? Maybe best to make a fusion – Urrao Antpitta Grallaria fenwickorum.

UPDATE 1 March 6: The regional governmental environmental authority – CORPOURABÁ levy a fine of  US$10.600 on Carantón and ProAves for illegal collecting. ProAves pays the fine fully.

UPDATE 2 March 6: In a final response by Daniel Cadena in Spanish, he indicates that the name fenwickorum was NOT the principle reason for the breakdown in the negitiations of the parties.  In an early phase Cadena says he left negotiations because differences in whom to include or exclude in getting the paper together. He also says  the negotiations between Carantón and ProAves broke down because Caranton would not have full control of the content.  Here is a Google translated version of his reply.

UPDATE 3. March 6: It is well worth following the discussion from a birders standpoint on BirdForum.

UPDATE 4. March 7: In a message from Gavin Shire, public relations of ABC, he says ” the editorial wasn’t by George Fenwick, it was an ABC editorial, and it didn’t openly criticize collecting, it criticized collecting of endangered species and birds whose populations have not yet been determined to be able to handle it. Some chose to see it (and ABC) as anti-collecting per se, but that is far from so.”

UPDATE 5. March 7: Comments to this post can’t be anonymous! Please provide constructive feedback. No point to put “mas leña al fuego”….(how do you say that in English?)

UPDATE 6. March 7. Daniel Cadena read Gavin Shire’s comment and promises this will be his very last comment on the issue (on NeoOrn today). “First, I find comments from Gavin Shire most remarkable. I honestly do not know who wrote the editorial piece on scientific collecting published by ABC. Because it was not signed, I always thought it was an institutional statement. However, I was recently told by Antonio Regalado, the journalist who wrote the piece for Science, that ABC said Fenwick was the one who wrote this. Regardless, it is remarkable that ABC personnel will focus on this minor detail (as ABC president Fenwick likely had some responsibility) and will obviate the fact that such editorial was full of misdirected accusations and outright fabrications.

Second, I saw the thread on BirdForum you (Gunnar) linked to. Crazy how people with no firsthand knowledge of all the story can distort the facts (e.g. someone said that the Caranton and Certuche paper was rushed to publication by itself online, ignoring it was part of a full issue of Ornitología Colombiana, which was not only published online but physically sent to several institutions via regular post). I realize it is a complex story, but people do not realize that making strong statements without full knowledge of facts can cause much harm…”

UPDATE 7. March 7: It is necessary to link to the said ABC editorial. Here is the editorial from June 2007 titled “Should the last Ivory-bill be collected” – scroll down until you find it.

UPDATE 8. March 7. From a birders point of view, this article may sound quite reasonable. However, the scientist involved in the particular cases pointed out were not happy. In their opinon, as indicated by Cadena above, there were a lot of statements that were abusive and fabricated lies. Thus Remsen and Stiles contested in this reply. According to Remsen they never got a reply from ABC on their observations. The plot thickens. There was a extremely poor relation between ProAves/ABC and the institutional ornitological community in Colombia since at least 3 years prior to the publication of the new Antpitta.

Update 9. March 8. Floyd Hayes summery on NeoOrn of 10 commandments to come to agreement is very good. I quote it fully here:

“Now that I have spent several hours thoroughly reading both sides of this sad but fascinating fiasco, which somehow managed to escape my attention until a few days ago, I would like to summarize my personal conclusions:

1. Everybody must respect the existing laws of the land within a government’s jurisdiction, including researchers who must obtain a collecting permit before collecting any specimen, even an undescribed species.

2. Employees must respect the contractual obligations of their employer; if they disagree, they should resign and find employment elsewhere (which may be difficult, given the limited availability of options for employment).

3. Organizations must not impose unreasonable contractual obligations on their employees, such as demanding ownership of intellectual property rights and prior approval before publishing scientific results of a non-commercial nature in a scientific journal, otherwise employees will become disgruntled and the organization will lose the respect of its supporters. Birds must not be equated with pharmaceuticals.

4. Conservation organizations and scientists, including scientists who collect specimens, must consider each other as allies in the conservation of biodiversity, and respect differences in philosophical approaches to conservation.

5. Public statements must be signed if they are not intended to reflect the philosophy of an organization.

6. The authors of public statements must strive to be as accurate as possible.

7. When one or more persons are offended by one or more inaccuracies in a public statement, the record must be set straight and an apology issued.

8. The discoverer of a new species has a moral right to describe and name it, or to approve of someone else describing and naming it. Nobody can usurp that moral right.

9. Money and fame must not be motives for claiming credit for somebody else’s scientific discovery without consent of the discoverer.

10. We must all strive to get along, even if we must agree to disagree.

I apologize if anybody is offended by anything I have written here.”

Update 10. Towards a better future understanding.

I notice that the key figures are striving to improve communications in the future.  Here are final words from National Network of Colombian Ornithologists (RNOA for its acronym in Spanish) and Thomas Donegan of ProvAves. Seemingly, there is a will to go forward.

RNOA demands the respect deserved by the Colombian ornithological community and requests that, in the future, its opinion be taken into account before making accusations that put into question the integrity of any of its members. We sincerely hope that future conservation actions undertaken by Fundación ProAves, which we acknowledge and appreciate, will be developed according to ethical principles and through an open dialogue with Colombian Ornithologists.

Thomas Donegan of ProAves – personal comment.

What is done is done. We should now all draw a line under this and try to get on with life. As a minimum, I would call for dispassionate objectivity, respect and professionalism in discussions on this forum and elsewhere (again, that applies to all sides).
This Grallaria episode is a mess, but ProAves is a great organisation doing fantastic conservation work. People should be kinder to it and be proud of the great work it has achieved.

Update 11. March 29, 2011 Grallaria fenwickorum invalidated?

In a communication by Diego Lizcano, a professor at Universidad de Pamplona, it held forward that the storing and cataloging of the type (some feathers in an envolope) has been dealt with in way that could make the name Grallaria fenwickorum invalid. The message is summerized by Diego Calderon in the comments n madebelow and with a link to the original in Spanish. A propasal has been made to SACC to invalidate G. fenwickorum and recognize G. urraoensis. Still not an end to this story and the name? It shall be very interesting to follow SACC’s treatment. But in the end I wonder if it does not lie on ICZN to decide which name should prevail?

Top Photo:  Grallaria fenwickorum from the original ProAves press-release.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Floyd Hayes March 6, 2011 at 10:34 pm

ProAves wrote: “Carantón assigned all intellectual property rights in his work to ProAves, his employer. This is a standard term of employment contracts in Colombia. As in many other countries, the employer’s rights to an employee’s intellectual property is automatic, and there is often no need even to state this in the contract. For example, an employee researcher of a pharmaceutical company cannot publish results of research independently or sell products developed in the course of employment on a personal basis. Furthermore, most employers and many universities and research institutions, like ProAves, have approval processes for published work of their employees. All intellectual property developed by Carantón in the course of his employment belongs to his employer, ProAves and he could only publish information resulting from his employment with the consent of his employers.”

I have published many scientific papers during my employment as a professor by three different universities (one public, two private) in two countries, as a graduate student in two universities, and as an employee of two government agencies, and none has ever demanded prior approval or to be informed in advance before I published a paper. The notion of ProAves demanding ownership of the intellectual rights of its employees strikes me as being unduly heavy-handed. I would have to be desperate for employment before I would ever consider working for such a demanding employer.


Eric Campbell March 9, 2011 at 9:17 pm

As a teacher, I understand Floyd Hayes comment, but should stress that Floyd fails to note that the organisation in question (Proaves) is not a University or government agency, it does not receive government handouts or have students paying for the privilege of studying. Proaves website shows it is clearly a charity NGO that depends on project donations and therefore responsible to its donors. They have reportedly supported over 100 undergraduate student thesis projects, been involved in over 50 scientific articles and specifically involved in many new species for science. Having checked – they have never been involved in any problem of this nature before and clearly support and encourage research while focusing effort on conservation. It is actually quite unusual to see charities support so much research while fulfilling their mission of wildlife protection.

The request by Proaves over intellectual rights is rare from the perspective of academic researchers, but completely within their rights as an institution and something that is almost bog-standard outside the academic sector. Proaves was open and transparent with that request by declaring it within the employment contract of the person in question. In retrospect, it was prophetic that proaves secured those intellectual rights – precisely to ensure against this “renegade” employee who was found guilty by a government entity of illegal bird collecting.

It is interesting that there is no criticism of the journal that published the second article using the illegal specimens, despite being aware of the original claim (now vindicated) of the illegal collecting and even when another US journal rejected the article for that reason. In the ten points by Floyd, it is surprising that something like the following is absent: “Organisations and/or journals should verify that collecting permits are in order and that there is no disputes on data collected before proceeding to publish papers. Illegal collection of specimens and data shall not be rewarded.”

Rewarding someone with a publication for having undertaken illegal activities within a nature reserve based on the predilection that they have a “moral right to describe it” (#8) seems dubious. In fact, let’s be crystal clear, anyone that illegally collects forfeits all moral rights. If the ornithological community fails to condemn illegal collecting within protected areas – they set a dangerous precedent.


Floyd Hayes March 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Eric, I still think demanding ownership of intellectual property rights when it comes to birds is unnecessary, but I agree with your point about journals verifying that collecting permits are in order and that the illegal collection of specimens and data shouyld not be rewarded.


Glen Ingram March 16, 2011 at 3:54 am

Names are not about science. They are more about literature and its form. Names go to the authors of the first, valid publication in which they occur not to discoverers. In science, it’s the other way round: the discoverer gets the credit for the new. Usually these coincide, thank goodness.

But, this “law of priority” of the publication makes naming new species very vulnerable to “ninjaing” or ‘hijacking”. Naming can be an immoral, cut-throat business. First in wins no matter the means. Taxonomists tend to be very secretive people because of this problem.

The Proaves incident is nothing new. I can think of several cases of this in birds in the last 30 years where the seduction and allure of naming a new taxon has triumphed over good sense. I do not judge Proaves, but I assume they have sacked their PR people.

But, when one plays with nomenclature, one has to abide by the rules. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature is a long, difficult, technical document with traps for the unwary and the dabbler. In this, I think the naming of a new antpitta in Conservación Colombiana has a problem: Grallaria fenwickorum might not be technically valid or available.

The authors of the paper are: “Luis Felipe Barrera, Avery Bartels, & Fundación ProAves de Colombia”.

Who is “Fundación ProAves de Colombia”? No one. It is an anonymous author.

International Code of Zoological Nomenclature “Article 14. Anonymous authorship of names and nomenclatural acts. A new name or nomenclatural act published after 1950 with anonymous authorship [Art. 50.1] is not thereby made available; such publication before 1951 does not prevent availability. This Article does not apply to nomenclatural acts published by the Commission”.

It is probably worth a technical referral to the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature to clear this up.


Glen Ingram March 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm

P.S. I missed that, later in the paper, Proaves is specifically excluded from authorship of the name but not from authorship of the paper. You can do that.

Guest March 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm

It’s not fair to put this situation as if it were a battle among Colombian ornithologists, if you Gunnar knew the Colombian ornithological scene you wouldn’t have used that title for your post. Rather, this is a colonial-like abuse from an NGO of UK birders, ProAves Inc., with a corporation motto and mission. Its partner American Bird Conservancy is another NGO with quite a prestige for distorting ornithological facts. What both of them have in common? A profit motivation and inflate conservation propaganda. Bird discoveries are produced almost everyday, when they come from ABC or ProAves funded workers is a big news to attract wealthy donors and, obviously, bird tourists to their reserves through their own companies (like EcoTours). See the recent examples of the Yellow-billed Cotinga in Costa Rica. Meanwhile, they could use all their efforts to make miserable the nascent career of national young ornithologists and that’s why academics and professors in Colombia are vociferous. It is NOT a bitter feud among Colombians


NEOORN post March 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Subject: ProAves response to NEOORN postings – and some personal views on all this mess
From: Thomas Donegan
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2011 13:08:07 +0000

Dear all,
There have been some bizarre comments on this forum about ProAves and this Grallaria. As one of few members of ProAves still left in this discussion group (many people having signed off long ago), I have been asked by colleagues to send this message correcting a few mis-statements made on this forum and elsewhere. Some may think of this email as defending the undefendable and I appreciate that this issue has polarised people’s views. But the other side have been defended here using rumours presented as fact and have attacked ProAves with strong language. Some things therefore need clarifying and it unfortunately falls on these reluctant shoulders to do that. Knowing some of the members of this group, I look forward with trepidation to the public execution which will follow this message, but would encourage members of NEOORN please not to shoot the messenger in replying. As set out at the end of this message, the author of it has very mixed feelings about all of this and was not a central character in this mess. ProAves would like to draw the attention of NEOORN members to the following and I am therefore passing these points on:

1. ProAves has clarified in a statement ( that it is not opposed to collecting in appropriate circumstances. Various external researchers have asked in advance and been given permission to collect in its nature reserves, including Daniel Cadena – one of the people at the centre of this dispute – so this should be common knowledge. ProAves asks for a rationale to be presented as to why the particular specimen collection activity in question is necessary, for proper permits to be in place and for reporting under the permits to be complied with. This is understandable given that ProAves’ reserves are established to protect birds and because it is now liable for a massive fine due to collecting activities it never knew about or authorised. In response to Floyd’s latest message, ProAves has indeed sanctioned specific instances of scientific collecting and recognises that there are mortalities resulting from its mist-net and expedition programmes. ProAves has only condemned illegal collecting and the withholding of information.

2. Why David Caro is leaving his current position at ProAves. Before January, the “chisme” was that David resigned due to disagreeing with ProAves’ stance on the Grallaria. Now it has conversely been claimed on this forum that he has been sacked for defending ProAves’ position. This is an interesting conclusion, as he was already “outgoing” per Science when the quote was published. To dispell a myth: David Caro has had various health problems last year and resigned from his position at the end of last year on medical advice. He has since then been transitioning his work to the new executive director, Lina Daza, part time. David Caro was recently nominated to become a member of ProAves’ advisory counsel (consejo). As a result, he is likely to maintain an active role at ProAves in whatever position he seeks following his recovery, be it at ProAves or elsewhere.

3. “We needed the name to raise more funds.” David Caro has asked that it be communicated to this forum that he considers to have been misquoted in Science. The quote attributed to him does not make sense anyway because the Fenwick donation which led to the purchase of the Colibri del Sol reserve occurred several years before the Grallaria was found and was given unconditionally. No funding was received or sought by ProAves for ‘naming rights’ (if such a thing exists). Use of fenwickorum was just something that people at ProAves wanted to do to thank a valued donor.

4. The end of David Caro’s era as director of ProAves should not be surrounded only by negative comment. He has been a tireless worker and very effective administrator for conservation and research in Colombia. His tenure as executive director, and previously as part of ProAves’ administrative staff, has seen ProAves’ protected area network grow considerably to 18 nature reserves protecting over 22,0000 hectares of endangered tropical forest. A number of huge strides forward in the foundation’s conservation management, environmental education, community outreach and research programmes have taken place during this time in charge. He should be congratulated for his excellent work in furthering conservation in Colombia.

5. ProAves and Ecoturs are not “for profit”. Ecoturs gives all its profits from ecotourism to ProAves. Ecoturs operates in a separate legal entity for legal reasons – because a charity is not allowed to provide ecotourism services in Colombia. Ecoturs undertakes ecotourism operations to assist with the sustainability of ProAves’ nature reserves. The income ProAves receives from Ecoturs funds core reserve protection costs and allows ProAves to focus on expanding nature reserves in size and number. The benefits for birds and conservation from this arrangement are clear. ProAves actively raises funds but entirely for its conservation work. It operates with a lean administrative and office staff, channelling funding where possible to land purchase for conservation and the management and protection of its existing reserves. Almost all of its reserves are registered with the National Parks network and those which are not have applications pending. ProAves is frequently audited by its donors and other third parties. It should be regarded as a model for effective conservation work by an NGO in Latin America.

6. CORPOURABA’s enforcement action against Carantón (and, through his agency, ProAves) was for a breach of reporting requirements, not for illegal collecting per se. ProAves has taken the position that the collecting itself was irregular because ProAves would usually at least notify proposed instances of collection in advance to the regional corporation where it is borderline as regards the scope of the permit. This is discussed in the second editorial. However, there was no such finding by CORPOURABA – who concentrated on the easy-to-prove reporting violations. Assertions that ProAves’ feather sampling was illegal miss the point: these activities were duly reported to the regional corporation. It is the reporting aspects that Carantón was found to have breached, presumably a consequence of his wish (for reasons that are still not clear) to hide the discovery from his then employer, ProAves.

7. Was the Barrera et al. paper really “scientifically irresponsible” in using samples? There were two specimens of this critically endangered species already collected. These were cited, illustrated and discussed in the fenwickorum paper as forming part of the basis for the description. Barrera et al. presented full details of their justification for what they did: the two existing specimens were under threat of confiscation pursuant to a freezing order issued by the environmental authority CORPOURABA. There are recent examples of illegally collected specimens being confiscated from museums in Colombia in similar circumstances, so they did not want to create types which would end up confiscated and unavailable for study in the office of a Corporación Autónoma Regional or rubbish bin. In the event, it has been ordered that they be transferred to another museum, one assumes as some sort of sanction for the ICN’s own failure also to report the specimens. Perhaps the fenwickorum authors should have used the full specimens anyway; and many would conclude that they should have waited until the investigation had run its course. Some people with a particular view about bird collections and holotypes might say that they should have collected a third specimen for use as a holotype and reported it in compliance with the permits. The question of whether the collection of a third full specimen of a critically endangered species is warranted is not a straightforward one, given that the two specimens already available were considered sufficient for two independent teams to conclude that a new species was involved and to describe its phenotype in detail. Notably, the Carantón & Certuche team also captured but did not collect further individuals. We can all discuss whether a different holotype should have been selected, but it is understandable why the individual on which fenwickorum holotype is based was released.

8. Gary Stiles is a great ambassador and servant for ornithology and conservation in Colombia and elsewhere. He was one of the council members of ProAves in its early days. Though he is no longer in that position, many people at ProAves greatly appreciate his work and contribution to ornithological study. Gary is a great ornithologist and his work has led to important conservation outcomes.

9. John Burton of World Land Trust has done more than perhaps anyone else in fundraising for land purchase for conservation from public donations. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest and the birds that inhabit them throughout the world are protected because of him and World Land Trust. John is a great conservationist.

10. It is unnecessary and futile to compare different people’s important but differing contributions to conservation in a subjective, biased, self-serving manner in the way that has been done on this listserver.

11. ProAves recognises that the widely discussed ABC Bird Calls paper includes factual inaccuracies, as has been widely pointed out. As regards matters relating to Colombia, the Atlapetes latinuchus yariguierum description was based on a series of specimens, including the holotype which was collected on a ProAves expedition (which died having been roosted overnight for further study). Also, there were fewer Bushbirds collected than was stated in the ABC article. The opinions expressed in Bird Calls are those of ABC, not ProAves. The viewpoints on John Burton’s blog are his own. ProAves did not review or approve either of those pieces and neither ABC nor WLT has implied this.

12. ProAves may partner in projects and conservation actions with ABC, WLT and other organisations, but each are separate organisations, with their own staff, have their own position on issues such as specimen collecting and also include various individual employees or directors who have different attitudes on this and other topics.

13. Dusky Starfrontlet authors. An email written by Niels Krabbe (lead author) to the other co-authors dated 23 January 2005 argues that Paul should be an author of the paper because he conceived, obtained funding for and organised much of the logistics for ProAves expedition to Frontino (which rediscovered the species) and because he wrote a good portion of the manuscript. If that is correct, then it is not clear why his co-authorship of the paper should be controversial.

14. Santa Marta Screech Owl specimen. The collection of the specimen and its current status have been reported to CORPAMAG. One specimen was collected outside the El Dorado Nature Reserve in an area which has recently been acquired and added to the reserve. The collection was only undertaken after a two-month period of field research on the owl to assess its population status. This specimen is the type for a paper being written on the new Megascops. When that is ready, and within the terms of permission, the specimen will be deposited in a registered bird collection. This approach has been agreed with the lead author, who is no longer involved with ProAves and has had full access to the specimen.

15. If people want to learn more about the dispute, then they should read the three editorials and Cadena’s response to the second ProAves paper in full rather than dipping into selected highlights/lowlights:

First ProAves editorial (including English translation)

ACO editorial:

ProAves response to ACO editorial (Spanish and English):

Cadena response to ProAves response:

Daniel Cadena (for his part, one of the ACO editorial authors) in his blog and ProAves have both sensibly expressed a desire to draw a line under this and move on. ProAves repears that call here. It would be nice if people now did that. Everyone (that means not just the people that one disagrees with) can learn several obvious lessons about how not to go about during collaborative research work from this episode. However, certain members of this discussion group are repeating the mistakes of the original urraoensis and fenwickorum teams in using their communications for maximum insult and antagonism rather than for constructive discussion and reconciliation. It should be regarded as a minimum for decent human behaviour that professionally educated people deal with one another in a cordial and professional fashion based on facts, even if they disagree with one another. The spreading of false rumours, insults and false attributions on discussion forums should not be encouraged.

There ends ProAves’ statements. Biomap is not a ProAves project, but a collaboration between museums. I have though been reliably informed that there are over 350 registered users of Biomap from a range of different institutions in Colombia and abroad. People who want to use the database, which is freely available and accessible online, should simply as users:

Finally, given that the responsibility of sending this email has fallen on me, and because I have more mixed feelings about this that many people at ProAves, I must make some personal comments /disclaimers here.

1. ProAves has taken very tough action in this case and it is understandable that some people disagree with their approach. Given the strength of feeling on this topic, it was probably not prudent for ProAves to have produced its own description in the manner that has happened. I will not defend that decision because I was not involved in, or even aware of, the much-discussed arguments, fieldwork or decision itself or the writing of the MS which was submitted to Conservacion Colombiana (although I did review and provide comments on the submitted MS). The name chosen, nature of the holotype and some of the publicity also appear to have wound certain people up. Taking all those steps in relation to the same description was not, in my view, very prudent. However, those on the other side of this would do well to try and understand why ProAves decided to go ahead with their own description: The first step to preventing this sort of unfortunate situation from happening again is to consider why it arose. ProAves reacted to the Carantón/Certuche team, and those egging them on and leading their ‘negotiations’, behaving rather poorly. Breach of the terms of research permits in collecting activities, breach of ProAves’ regulations, breach of contract, infringement of intellectual property rights and lack of respect for donors and employer can all be considered a matter of fact, not opinion. Members of the urraoensis team complain about ProAves’ ethics, and they have some fair points: I was brought up to “turn the other cheek” and ProAves did not do that. However, the law sets a baseline for acceptable human behaviour and (unlike ProAves) the urraoensis team have not even met that low standard, never mind some higher ethical standard. The urraoensis team should not be regarded as a cause celebre: quite the contrary. In my own personal view, even though it appears always to have acted lawfully, ProAves should also not be regarded as cause celebre either. It is though most surprising that certain people have jumped in with comments defending the urraoensis team’s behaviour and pointing the finger unilaterally at ProAves with strong language as the party at fault. The situation is far more complex than that. As above, this is a view one formed from (now quite a lot of, almost entirely ex post facto) second hand information and I would refer people again to the editorials for versions of the facts.

2. What is done is done. We should now all draw a line under this and try to get on with life. As a minimum, I would call for dispassionate objectivity, respect and professionalism in discussions on this forum and elsewhere (again, that applies to all sides).

3. This Grallaria episode is a mess, but ProAves is a great organisation doing fantastic conservation work. People should be kinder to it and be proud of the great work it has achieved.

4. Enter axeman, stage left.

Thomas Donegan.


Colombian Ornithology Network March 17, 2011 at 11:28 am

From National Network of Colombian Ornithologists (RNOA for its acronym in Spanish):

For Immediate Release, to the general public:

The National Network of Birdwatchers of Colombia (RNOA for its acronym in Spanish), is an organization that groups 21 non-governmental, regional and national organizations as well as university student groups working and studying wild birds and their habitats in Colombia. The philosophy that drives the RNOA is based on fair and equal participation of all its members. Therefore RNOA welcomes any institution that shares our goals and principles, and our passion for the study, appreciation and conservation of birds. Thanks to the commitment of its members with biodiversity and bird conservation in Colombia, in 2000 we formulated through a participatory exercise the National Strategy for the Conservation of Birds in Colombia. This document has guided actions as significant as the designation of almost 200 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the national territory. The Red Data Book of Birds of Colombia, published in 2002, was also the result of a participatory process in which many ornithologists and birdwatchers throughout the country contributed their records and knowledge. A second edition of this book also developed with the participation of the Colombian ornithological community is currently in preparation.

Over the last ten years, we have made important achievements in both the field of ornithology and science and conservation in general. These achievements are increasing the awareness of the public and building local capacities for the study and conservation of birds. RNOA, its member organizations and active sectors of Colombian civil society have been actively engaged in ornithology-centred activities over the last 20 years, using birds as tools for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity as a whole.

For all of these reasons, and given the unfortunate events related with the description in 2010 of a new species of the genus Grallaria, including the recent and biased sequence of messages and publications that have circulated in national and international media in relation to them, the board of directors of the RNOA informs that:

1. RNOA unconditionally supports the position of the Colombian Association of Ornithology (Asociación Colombiana de Ornitología-ACO, a member of RNOA), regarding the nomination of Grallaria urraoensis as a new species, according to the editorial published in the peer reviewed electronic journal Ornitologia Colombiana

2. RNOA does not support illegal activities, any actions that compromise the ethics of ornithological research, nor anything that threatens the dignity and honor of people and their rights. In consequence, RNOA does not support the unethical behavior of Fundación ProAves, an institution that has been questioned on previous occasions for their methods. In this case, they have distorted the situation by pointing fingers at the biologist, Diego
Carantón, a young ornithologist that had every right to publish his discovery of a new species of Grallaria. We respectfully remind the
community that moral rights are indispensable, inalienable, and indefeasible 
principles that have been flagrantly violated by ProAves in this situation.

3. Regarding John Burton of the World Land Trust’s comment in their publication, the Green Diary, defending Fundación Proaves by slandering the flawless work of Professor Gary Stiles as irresponsible. RNOA categorically refutes this accusation against of the character of Professor Stiles.

Professor Gary Stiles has played a very important role in Neotropical ornithology, not only through his direct scientific contributions, but also by mentoring and inspiring several generations of ornithologists in Central and South America. His research has been fundamental to the success of several conservation initiatives, including the establishment of the conservation corridor connecting Braulio Carrillo National Park with La Selva Biological Reserve in Costa Rica. In Colombia his research supported the
establishment of the Chiribiquete National Park (3162914.8 acres) and the Yaigojé-Apaporis National Park (2619288.8 acres). His life is an example of professionalism, ethics, and commitment to science and biodiversity conservation. To defame his professionalism and integrity is an affront to Colombian ornithology as well as Professor Stiles’ colleagues around the world.

4. RNOA is a participatory, collegiate body that furthers the development of Ornithology in Colombia. It reflects the collective, serious and committed work and experience of its members throughout the country for over 20 years . Our work has enabled Colombian Ornithology to grow and gain the knowledge necessary to ensure the conservation of birds in our territory.

5. RNOA demands the respect deserved by the Colombian ornithological community and requests that, in the future, its opinion be taken into account before making accusations that put into question the integrity of any of its members. We sincerely hope that future conservation actions undertaken by Fundación ProAves, which we acknowledge and appreciate, will be developed according to ethical principles and through an open dialogue with Colombian Ornithologists.


RNOA Board of Directors

RNOA is the Colombian OSNA equivalent.


Diego March 18, 2011 at 8:51 pm

There is an official communication by the RNOA of Colombia about this and WLT blog… take a second to read ans sign:


Diego March 25, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Important UPDATE!
An official communication from the museum where G.fenwickorum “type feathers” were “deposited” just been released:

(view or download attachment)

It is all in Spanish, so basically it says:

* Alonso Quevedo from Proaves gave an envelope with feathers labeled as “Grallaria sp.” to Diego Lizcano, a professor at Universidad de Pamplona.

* No comment was made of the importance of the samples contained!

* The envelope was sent to the museum director unsuccessfully, so Diego Lizcano received back the envelope and it was left in the “teaching” cabinet until last week when they were asked if they had this material and they got updated of the situation with this antpitta.

* The university and museum clearly state:

1. this material sent by ProAves is not been cataloged in the museum so it still has not a proper collection number.

2. Differently to what the Grallaria fenwickorum description published by Proaves affirms, at Pamplona University we do not have a tissue collection and they do not have anything cataloged under number 699.

3. We never received from ProAves the ID of the collected species; we only received the name of the genus, the collector name (Luis Felipe Barrera) and locality (see attached photo in the document).

4. We were never informed by ProAves about the high importance of the feathers they were sending to us; not even that was a holotype, so the material was not cataloged or stored properly at our institution.

5. The material did not bring collecting permits.

6. We never received from ProAves any copy of the publication of this species or any information about the species they described.

.. after these clear points Diego Lizcano gives general background info on the museum, and states that the institution where he works, can not guarantee the preservation of this samples in the long term due to several reasons including they do not have any ornithologist there. Also, he said they decided to give this material to the proper authorities so it can be storaged in a museum where can be safely kept.

at the end he adds photos of the samples and the label it had while in their museum…

you can take a look by yourself:

WHAT A MESS and how big lack of care can be!!!


Diego March 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm

lack of care from the “collectors” I mean.. not the museum!


Diego March 31, 2011 at 6:30 am

more and more info comes to the light… just sent this to NEOORN:

NEOORNers following the antpitta stuff from Colombia: an official communication from Diego Caranton has been published (see below).

It is only in Spanish so not all could read, but quickly some interesting points (when using “” I am textually citing Diego Caranton text):

* “In our discussions, they [proaves] focused only in stuff like: which is going to be the name of the new species?, who are going to author it?, which would the authorship order will be?, where the paper will be published?, who is going to deal with the communications with the journal?. All these questions became absurd demands from them”

* if there were going to be more than 2 authors Proaves was demanding that the first author should be Alonso Quevedo so the citations resulted in Quevedo et al. showing someone from proaves and not Diego’s name that for the time after all this was not going to be affiliated to proaves.

* they also demanded that proaves authors should exceed the non-proaves ones.. so they suggested including Sara Ines Lara even though she had done NOTHING about all this process…
…. again, NOT RARE unethical demands and offers!…

* “I have to highlight that Mr. Paez [proaves Research Director] was never OK about his name being included in the author line, but proaves directors board considered that Mr. Paez as research director should be included [against his will!] as a mere working duty”
….. WOW!!!

and maybe one of the most important points (and VERY enlightening for me!) in all this text by Diego Caranton is this part: “Considering that proaves and the ACO (Asociacion Colombiana de Ornitologia) have presented different versions about what happened with the THE CONDOR submission, here I am publishing the official letter from The Condor editor Michael Patten, describing the official position of that journal about all events”…. this is in English, so PLEASE READ BY YOURSELF:


… just add this to all the info you have read and keep building you own opinion in this case… mine gets stronger…

*Grallaria urraoensis*


——– Original Message ——–
Subject: [RNOACOL] Comunicado caso nueva especie de Grallaria
Date: Wed, 30 Mar 2011 20:56:39 -0700 (PDT)
From: Diego Carantón

Hola Todos

El caso de la nueva especie de Grallaria ha sido un tema bastante complicado y dificil de manejar, sin embargo creo que ha permitido que la RNOA y otros foros sirvan como espacios de analisis y discusion de este proceso; que tanto investigadores, estudiantes, observadores y aficionados entre otros se enteren de los pormenores que pueden rodear en algun momento la publicacion de un trabajo de investigación.

Lo mas importante es saber que tenemos el derecho de expresar y cuando se requiera tambien denunciar irregularidades de cualquier tipo y que el gremio o algunos de sus miembros pueden servirnos de apoyo. A mi me complace leer nuevos registros de aves y me alegra que se facilite informacion para trabajos, pero al igual que en el pais no solo podemos hablar de las buenas noticias, es importante que nos enteremos tambien de las malas.

Creo que este proceso ya esta cumpliendo su ciclo y pensaria que estamos llegando a las conclusiones, por esto es importante que de a conocer un comunicado oficial de mi parte que espero aclare algunos de los puntos. ver en el link

Quiero agradecer a todos los miembros de la RNOA por aportar sus comentarios y apoyo, lo cual nos permitio aprender y analizar una situacion que se puede dar en cualquier momento.


Profesional Investigación y Monitoreo
Territorial Andes Occidentales
PNN Las Orquideas

Grupo de Observadores de Aves del Tolima


Gunnar Engblom March 31, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Diego, I just puked in my mouth too, after reading MIchael Patten’s letter. Incredibly unethical proceedings by ProAves here.


COLOMBIA Birding - Diego Calde August 15, 2011 at 12:06 am

urraoensis accepted by SACC:


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