The Americans Take What They Want in Haiti – Even Near-Extinct Lizards
by Dady Chery
A nation whose sovereignty has been stolen has no rights that the big powers – or their scientists – are bound to respect. American zoogeographers recently snatched the rarest of Haitian reptiles, with impunity. “The animals collected on this expedition were endangered animals and possibly the last individuals of their kind.” Had the shoe been on the other foot, it would have represented an international crime, since “such comportment by scientists is criminal and would be illegal in the United States.”
The author of this piece is mostly correct. It is an aspect of the colonial attitude, cause ya can't really get away with that kind of shit anymore around here, or indeed in most nations where there would be great scrutiny and regulation. But Haiti's sovereignty is essentially non-existent.
The deprivations of academic herpetologists are legion, many populations have been wrecked in the name of science, in this country until very recently. It is surely the most socially retarded of all vertebrate studies. One Upmanship, no doubt, and also naming rights for anything new, a plum for any grad student looking to ingratiate his/her advisor.
This field trip was exceptional in it's funding, helicopters!, most of this work is done on the slimmest of shoestrings. Field work is the real fun in herpetology, travel to distant or exotic locations, observing the critters in the field. But the mores of 50 years ago are completely unacceptable and have been hard to dislodge. Pickling for the sake of it was still sop in the late seventies, and while more sampling is better the redundancy and lack of consideration for the populations involved was appalling.
As bad as this is at least Haiti currently bans commercial export, which has not always been the case. Who knows how long that will last though, it is always the places where turmoil is rife, government is weak, that get exploited, thus Timor in it's darkest times, Liberia, and today former East Bloc states which are exploited mercilessly.