Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More on that orang pendek sighting

Ther'es a good discussion, with some new information, going on at Cryptomundo about the report of an unclassified ape from Sumatra. My comment on that list:

The lack of a clear close-up view of the whole animal in the sighting report is disappointing. Just from the description, I wonder if an exceptionally large lar gibbon (Hylobates lar) can be ruled out.
I tossed out on the National Association of Science Writers list the question of whether you’d get a refereed journal to publish a formal species description on the basis of a DNA sample. [Researchers gathered hair samples and a piece of rattan the observed animal had been chewing on.] In the case of other species (two monkeys, one shrike) that were accepted on DNA samples, the samples were taken, along with clear closeup pictures and measurements, while the animal was in hand. The type specimen was then released back into the wild. This has become acceptable, but my colleague John Gever suggested DNA from hairs and rattan could always be challenged as contaminated unless the samples were gathered under laboratory conditions - meaning you had the whole animal to start with.
There doesn’t seem to be a precedent for a formal species description, and certainly not one of a vertebrate, based on a wild-gathered DNA sample alone. If anyone knows of exceptions, please let me know.
(And while I agree 100% with the suggestion that any name eventually established should honor Debbie Martyr, it might be premature to put it in the genus Pongo - while I agree that’s the likely identity, right now we can’t be sure it doesn’t belong in Hylobates or even rate its own genus.)

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