Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A revision of an iconic textbook on invertebrates—the famous ‘BEPS’—was panned by a reviewer in 1958

It is hard to imagine that one of the advanced textbooks which you only got your hands on in the VIth form and which lived with you until the end of an undergraduate course in zoology took a pasting from a reviewer for New Scientist

The mention of ‘BEPS’, as the book was known throughout the world often brought forth the chant of its authors as a sort of mediaeval religious incantation: Borradaile...Eastham.....Potts.......and Saunders*.

This is what the review (New Scientist 17 July 1958) of the third edition said:

The Invertebrata. A manual for the use of students. By L. A. Borradaile, F.A. Potts, L. E. S. Eastham and J. T. Saunders. 3rd Edition revised by G. A. Kerkut. (Cambridge University 
Press, 795 pp., 55s.) 
BEPS has been the standard English text-book on invertebrate animals for twenty-five years, and will be familiar to anyone who has taken even the briefest University course in zoology. It is a fact book for undergraduates, for more senior zoologists in search of their memories, and for sixth-form libraries This new edition will maintain, but not enhance, its reputation as a useful but dull book. Of the four original Cambridge authors, only one. Professor Eastham, has been in a position to revise his part, and the whole has been undertaken by Dr. G. A. Kerkut, of Southampton. 
     The changes in the text are not large, and much of the increase of seventy pages is due to the addition of a useful appendix on zoological literature and to an increase in the number of illustrations. The text has been broken up into a series of paragraphs with sub-headings. which gives a somewhat staccato effect to the whole. Many errors of fact have come through unaltered, as have many general passages which were badly in need of reshaping in the light of new information. Some of the alterations have been made necessary by changes or expansions in the classifications used. Some of these are for the better, some for the worse; but the reader is now given a minimum of 400 group names to be learnt, in place of 280. 
     The earlier editions left out a few small groups. Some of these have now been included, but others are still ignored. For example, Kinorhyncha and Priapulida now appear, but Mesozoa and Symphyla, both of which are of more interest, are absent. 
     Most of the old and excellent illustrations reappear, and these have been improved by transferring the names of structures illustrated from the captions to the guide lines. But they are supplemented by new drawings, and some of the old ones have been redrawn. Manyof these arc technically execrable and some banal in content as well. A comparison of Figure 218 in the second edition with Figure 226 in the new will illustrate both these faults. 
     Revision of a standard text-book is an onerous task which no one would undertake lightly, and, where the textbook is one that will be largely used by students, its publishers must carry considerable responsibility. This one falls short of what is to be expected of so distinguished a house. 
R. B. Freeman.

[Richard Broke Freeman (1915-1986) was Reader in Taxonomy at University College London although he is probably best remembered as a bibliographer and expert on Charles Darwin.]

The first edition of BEPS was published in 1932 By 1958 two of the original authors (Lancelot Alexander Borradaile 1872-1945; Frank Armitage Potts 1882-1937) were dead. John Tennant Saunders 1888-1965 (grandfather of Jennifer Saunders the comedian and actress) had recently retired as Principal of University College, Ibadan, Nigeria. Leonard Ernest Sydney Eastham (1893-1977) was about to retire from the chair of zoology at Sheffield but revised his section on insects. Gerald Allan Kerkut (1927-2004) was responsible for the revision of the third and fourth editions; it was not his last book to be panned by a reviewer.

Was the poor reception of the third edition of BEPS in 1958 the reason why a fourth appeared in 1961?

What I think this rather sad tale for the original BEPS quartet means is that textbooks do not age well. The whole style and treatment makes revision beyond a certain point difficult especially in such a wide-ranging book by a single author. BEPS was essentially a 1920s book hanging on into the 1960s. As fashions changed and as soon as an alternative appeared, in the form of Invertebrate Zoology by R.D. Barnes (Saunders, 1963), it was dropped. However, BEPS is still a good starting point for looking things up—if only I could find my copy.

L.A. Borradaile
F.A. Potts (from here)
L.E.S. Eastham (from here)

...and I cannot find a photograph of J.T. Saunders.

*The order of the authors is BEPS on the jacket and BPES on the title page, Eastham and Saunders being described as having ‘chapters by’.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Teddy Bears and Hamsters: A 1900s Pet Scam

Still on the European Hamster (Cricetus cricetus), I came across this story in The Zoo Story by L.R. Brightwell, a history of London Zoo published in 1952.

Leonard Robert Brightwell (1889-1962) was a well-known and prolific author and illustrator. He had strong zoological connexions since he illustrated The Science of Life for the authors, H.G. Wells, Julian Huxley and G.P. Wells.

In his chapter covering the decade 1901-1910 and under the heading of one of his drawings showing how Fellows of the Zoological Society were dressed at the time while looking at a far more intelligent Chimpanzee, he wrote on the appearance of a new toy:
     …A matter of unscientific interest also was the arrival from U.S.A. of that still popular nursery potentate, the Teddy Bear…It is now generally agreed that the toy was really inspired by the Koala, or Billy Blue Gum, an Australian marsupial. But we are all full of Teddy Roosevelt, his famous range of dentures, fire-eating speeches and highly coloured hunting adventures. Whatever the nursery favourite's real origin, it is from the irrepressible "he-man" president that it took its name. The toy's immediate and tumultuous popularity led to a strange development in the animal trade. Certain livestock dealers—with a shrewd eye for what the public evidently wanted—gave it the "Teddy Bear Rat". This was the hamster, a chubby, handsomely marked beast not unlike a guinea pig and so abundant in some parts of the Continent as to be a plague. This is the rodent said to have eaten the cruel bishop in the Rhenish “Mouse Tower". To launch such a dirt-cheap creature on the public at an extravagant figure seemed to the business mind elementary common sense. But the hamster unfortunately combines with the guinea pig's chisel teeth a very unguinea-pig-like temperament. It led to so many complaints and damaged fingers that the police eventually prohibited its sale. The Zoo soon had to refuse offers of Teddy bear rats, so eager were disgruntled householders to part with their spiteful pets.

The European Hamster has always had a terrible reputation for biting its keepers in captivity and for defending itself in the wild. George Jennison in his Natural History Animals of 1927 wrote:
     It is an irascible creature, a bold and determined fighter with its own kind and against vultures and smaller birds, dogs, cats and the lesser carnivores that prey upon it.

The UFAW Handbook 6th edition says European hamsters are capable of inflicting serious bites but that at the Hannover medical school they have been tamed by frequent handling and personal attention to individuals such that ‘a large degree of tameness can be achieved in successive generations’. That is also true of the other hamsters kept as pets and in labs, the Syrian, Chinese and Djungarian but the European is that much bigger and a braver (wo)man than me would be needed to start the process.

European Hamsters and Maize Fields. A Nutritional Route to Local Extinction?

I have not seen a European Hamster (Cricetus cricetus) in the wild despite having twice looked for them at dusk in a hedgerow in Hungary where they had previously been seen—a classic case of, ‘if only you had been here last week’.

In the west of its range, notably in France, the hamster has declined markedly over the past decades. All sorts of reasons have been suggested, most to do with changes in agriculture. A recent paper1 by Mathilde Tissier, Yves Handrich, Odeline Dallongeville, Jean-Patrice Robin and Caroline Haboldfrom of the University of Strasbourg has suggested a nutritional reason for that decline. Previously members of that team had found an association between the decline of the species in France, where it was common on agricultural land, and the increase in the growing of maize by farmers2.

Observations of the hamster in the wild have indicated they feed on cereal crops, tubers and invertebrates. Hamsters hoard large amounts of food in their burrows and they hibernate. There is evidence that after hibernation female hamsters do not emerge from their burrows before their first pregnancy of the season, relying until then on their hoarded seeds. During gestation and lactation they emerge and supplement their diet of seeds with fresh plants like clover and invertebrates such as earthworms.

Using females from a captive colony of European Hamsters, the group first studied the effect of four different diets after emergence from hibernation: wheat+clover; wheat+earthworms; maize+clover; maize+earthworms. Similar numbers of young were born with all four diets. However, there was a marked difference in their early survival. On the wheat+earthworm diet, 80% of young survived to weaning while on the other three diets survival to weaning was under 12%. Clearly, something was missing from the diet; protein at about 18% of the diet one would guess with the clover supplement (compared with over 40% with earthworms). However, there was a clear difference between wheat and maize in terms of survival of the young.

At this point, human nutritionists would be bouncing up and down to tell you that there is a key difference between wheat and maize: the content and bioavailability of niacin (Vitamin B3 or nicotinamide) are much lower in maize and that, given the supply of earthworms rich in other nutrients that are relatively low in maize, the most likely nutrient lacking would be niacin.

The next season, a simple experiment was done. The maize+earthworm diet was compared with the same to which niacin was added. The results were clear. From a mean of less than two surviving until weaning with the maize+earthworm diet, supplementation with niacin increased that survival to over four.

The authors continued:

…regarding the European hamster, given that wild populations of this species are surrounded by 55–80% of intensively managed maize monoculture in Alsace (France), with sized field of 1.4 ha that corresponds to seven times the home range of a female, extremely low crop rotations (i.e. sometimes more than seven successive years of maize cultivated in the same plot) and high use of herbicides—dramatically reducing the proportion of adventive species—wild hamsters are undoubtedly constrained in their diet.

Now, you may ask, having demonstrated that nutritional deficiency can affect the survival of young hamsters to weaning, do the authors have any evidence that is a key cause of the decline of the species in France? In other words, do observations in the wild show the number of young emerging from the burrow, particularly from the first litter of the season, to be low?

The discursive paper (some of the data presented are irrelevant to the main story) which could have benefitted from a benignly dictatorial editor, raises several other questions. For example, nowhere I can see is any comparison made with data from the captive colony fed a presumably ‘complete’ diet. What was the litter size, survival to weaning etc. compared with the best performing experimental groups?

I must admit to being confused on the ‘normal’ litter size at birth of the European Hamster which is why a comparison with the breeding colony would have been informative. I have found value of 4-18 young, with numbers declining since about 19803. I have also found an account that there is a strong genetic element determining litter size in captive colonies4.

The reduction in litter size after parturition seemed to vary from a gradual loss on the wheat+clover diet, for example, to a complete lack of lack of maternal care in most of the animals on maize+clover. It is well known that if nutrition is inadequate or other environmental conditions are not right, female rodents kill and eat their young thereby conserving their resources to try again when the chances of producing fit young are better. Indeed a great deal of effort in he past went into devising diets for laboratory rodents, including hamsters, of course, to overcome such problems. So to those of us who have kept rodents the lack of maternal care in the malnourished hamsters was to be expected. However, true to form that British comic which masquerades as a newspaper, the Daily Mail, was on form when it picked up this story:

There is evidence in Syrian Hamsters that the sex ratio is manipulated after parturition by maternal cannibalism in different environmental conditions5. Having some proprietorial interest in mechanisms controlling the sex ratio in rodents, in my case the selective reabsorption of embryos in the Guinea Pig6, it would be of interest to know the sex ratio of the young surviving to weaning in the different experimental groups.

Again back in the real world, how many animals could be affected by niacin-deficiency from eating cultivated maize as a staple in the wild, Tissier et al. wondered. American Black Bears with young, as opposed to bears without young, avoid eating maize and other cultivated crops. They also suggested that bees could be adversely affected by feeding too heavily on maize pollen.


1 Tissier ML, Handrich Y, Dallongeville O, Robin J-P, Habold C. 2017 Diets derived from maize monoculture cause maternal infanticides in the endangered European hamster due to a vitamin B3 deficiency. Proc. R. Soc. B 284, 20162168. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.2168

2 Tissier ML, Handrich Y, Dallongeville O, Robin J-P, Weitten M, Pevet P, Kourkgy C, Habold C. 2016. How maize monoculture and increasing winter rainfall have brought the hibernating European hamster to the verge of extinction. Scientific Reports 6 25531 doi: 10.1038/srep25531

3 Surov A, Banaszek A, Bogomolov P, Feoktistova N, Monecke S. 2016. Dramatic global decrease in the range and the reproduction rate of European hamsters Cricetus cricetus. Endangered Species Research 31, 119-145 doi 10.3354/esr00749

4 La Haye MJJ, Koelwijn HP, Siepel H, Verwimp N, Windig JJ. 2012. Genetic rescue and the increase of litter size in the recovery breeding program of the common hamster (Cricetus cricetus) in the Netherlands. Relatedness, inbreeding and heritability of litter size in a breeding program of an endangered rodent. Hereditas 149, 207-216

5 Beer AK, Zucker I. 2012. Sex ratio adjustment by sex-specific maternal cannibalism in hamsters. Physiology & Behavior 107, 271-276 doi: 10.1016/jphysbeh.2012.09.001

6 Peaker M, Taylor, E. 1996. Sex ratio and litter size in the guineapig. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 108, 63-67

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

European Amphibians and Reptiles: A New Field Guide

Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe by Jeroen Speybroek, Wouter Beukema, Bobby Bok and Jan Van Der Voort and illustrated by Ilian Velikov. London: Bloomsbury.

There is no greater delight for those of us who live in a country with few species of reptiles and amphibians than seeing active lizards, amphibians and chelonians in southern Europe. With the thought of a Naturetrek trip to Albania in a little under three weeks, I wondered if there was anything more suitable to take with us than the 2002—and latest—edition of Collins Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe that was written by Nick Arnold. As a field guide I find that book extremely irritating in that descriptions, illustrations and distribution maps of a species are in different sections of the book. I also thought I should be au fait with the inevitable taxonomic inflation that must have occurred. Hence, I found the almost identically titled but differently authored book from a different publisher that appeared last year.

I do not envy anybody the task of producing a field guide or even a check list. What does one do when a paper is published that splits a species on the basis of the phylogenetic species concept or genetic species concept rather than the biological species concept? And how does one then present that evidence in relation to the morphological semi-splitters of the past who created a new subspecies for virtually every locality specimens were collected from? 

Molecular systematists have had a whale of a time generating data on European reptiles and amphibians but you can take it from the preceding paragraph that I am by no means convinced that many of the species being described on the basis of differences in a few genes are ‘good species’ that hold up to the scrutiny of the biological species concept. Returning to the writing of field guides, authors tend to fall into the trap of having to appear modern by including every ‘split’ and, therefore, every change in taxonomy proposed. I will return to this question later.

The new book is clearly written as the herpetological equivalent of the area or country guide for birdwatchers (who come in many different guises and with different interests). The authors, before moving on to the description of individual species, devote chapters to: the diversity and origin of the European species, including the retreat to the separate refuges in the south during the Ice Ages and then re-colonisation as the ice melted; advice on how to, and where to, watch the European species; the identification of amphibian eggs and larvae. The diversity chapter includes a section on threats, such as the spreading of disease by herpetologists themselves, and conservation efforts. There is also complete checklist of species.

How does it compare with Arnold’s book of fourteen years earlier? For that comparison, I will divide this review into four parts.

Firstly, as a field guide, Speybroek et al. is much better. Descriptions, maps, illustrations and photographs are close together. However, it is not perfect because each species (or closely related groups of species) does not start at the top of a page. The publishers seem to have been trying to ensure that the book fitted into a set number of pages, in this case 432. However, in doing so, they have been wasteful of space. The illustrations are too big for the amount of information they convey. The whole design could have been much ‘tighter’ and the book, therefore, lighter in the pocket or backpack. The book weighs 740 g covering 219 species. The Collins Bird Guide for Europe covers over 700 species but weighs just 700 g.

The illustrations are more extensive and, ignoring the excessive white space, are good but no better than those of Denys Ovenden who illustrated Arnold’s book. There are some oddities. For example, the main illustration of the Ibiza Wall Lizard is captioned ‘brightly coloured individual’ and looks nothing like any of the lizards I have seen on Ibiza (although there are photographs of this form on a few websites). The photograph on the next page, from an introduced population on Mallorca, is however typical of those usually seen. Perhaps some of the species needed several illustrations to display the range of local variation in coloration.

Secondly, as a guide to the taxonomic changes or the authority on which changes have been made, this book falls short. The description of what happened during and after the Ice Ages is not linked to possible speciation and taxonomy The explanation under the heading ‘New species, new names’ is superficial. I have touched on the difficulties in drawing up a definitive list of species. It seems to me that the authors—and they are not alone—have adopted as species whatever those proponents of species concepts other than the biological species concept have proposed as species. But they do not say so or comment in any way on which species concept(s) they consider valid. The authors conclude the section: ‘Luckily, the majority of European amphibian or reptile species has nowadays been studied from a genetic viewpoint, making future name changes increasingly less likely, but never entirely out of the question’. Wanna bet?

Thirdly, In terms of biology, there are some serious omissions. It is mentioned that the two Bombina species hybridise but there is no mention of the narrow hybrid zones that have been studied extensively and which have contributed so much to knowledge of speciation and introgression. There is also no mention of the special place of the Edible Frog in biology; there is not even an explanation of the ‘kl.’ in its modern scientific name. Given its and other European forms’ key status as examples of hybridogenesis, in this case between the Pool Frog and the Marsh Frog, it does seem odd that the phenomenon is not even given a mention. Compounding this omission is the appearance of the distribution of the Pool and the Edible frogs together on one map and of the Marsh Frog on another. And yet the authors found lots of space for the itemisation and description of subspecies rather than simply the extent and nature of geographical variation. And, yes, you can take it that I regard the whole concept of subspecies and formal trinomials as deeply flawed.

Fourthly, in terms of geographical coverage, Arnold includes the Canary Islands and Madeira; Speybroeck et al. does not. I cannot understand why Britain was included in the title or included in the publisher’s British Wild Life Field Guides series. Yes, the maps include the distribution in Britain, but anybody seeking information on British reptiles and amphibians would be better looking elsewhere. 

In conclusion, while I found myself disappointed by the lack of coverage of some topics, as a field guide, the new book wins simply on the grounds of better arrangement of descriptive text, illustrations and maps. It is the one I will pack.

Writing such a book as this cannot have been an easy task, with decisions on what to leave out being a lot harder than what to keep in, but throughout the enthusiasm of the authors and illustrator shines through. For example, Jan van der Voort, a civil servant whose photographs appear throughout the book, has photographed every species in Europe. Who can resist the end of the Preface by Jeroen Speybroeck:

There is nothing quite like the the enchantment offered by a sizeable frog chorus in a Bulgarian swamp comprising a mixture of tree frogs, fire-bellied toads, green toads, spadefoot toads and water frogs. Reptilian thrills are plentiful, such as finding your first chameleon, bumping into mating tortoises, or experiencing the thrill of chasing down a feisty whip snake. I hope this book will foster the fascination in many more people, albeit always with respect for the animals and the conservation of them and their natural environment.

Amen to that.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Red-billed Blue Magpies in Hong Kong

Our Hong Kong correspondent sent us photographs this week of these birds visiting a tree growing close to his flat. They are Red-billed Blue Magpies, Urocissa erythroryncha*, a bird redolent of the hillsides of Hong Kong.

…and these blue magpies were doing things by the book:

Having arrived for the first time in the dark (20 hours by air from London in a Qantas Boeing 707 in 1965), the next morning I staggered onto the balcony of our flat in the University Compound as a party of about ten of these birds glides downhill through the trees that lined the nullah until they were over the small squatters’ huts that lay the just outside the university grounds. After a little flurry there, they turned round and went back the way they had come. Welcome to Hong Kong.

In the 1930s Herklots had his office near the nullah but further down the slope. In his Hong Kong Birds he wrote:

…In winter it collects to form small flocks and I have on occasion seen as many as eighteen birds together, a very beautiful sight. They love chasing each other in amongst the branches and down the slope of a wooded hillside and evidently take delight in their erratic swoops and turns as they glide from tree to tree with their long and beautiful tails fully displayed…

There are six species in the genus Urocissa. I—and I hope not sounding like a world list ticker from whom may the gods preserve us—have seen three including the Red-billed: U. ornata, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie and U. flavirostris, the Yellow-billed Blue Magpie in Bhutan.

*often given as U. erythrorhynca which is apparently incorrect. I suspect Boddaert, who he named the bird in 1783, was perhaps not classicist of the first water and that later authors tried to correct his error.

Friday, 3 March 2017

More on Natasha du Breuil and her fish and reptile keeping acivities in Hong Kong in the 1950s

I have written previously of Mme Natasha du Breuil's fascinating life and her interest in aquaria and reptiles (here, here and here).

I have found more articles in Water Life magazine which throw some light on her activities and her helpfulness to others.

In an article in the June-July issue of 1953 (a Coronation Special) G.W. Drummond wrote:

     Recently I returned to Hong Kong from Korea and paid many interesting visits to Madame du Breuil. I am indebted to her for many kindnesses, her authority on "anything Chinese" and her vivid interest in anything to do with fish.     Madame du Breuil is keenly interested in the many species of marine fish that abound around Hong Kong and had kept Scatophagus argus, together with two unamed types, in 50 per cent sea water for some time. They were in beautiful condition and I imagine that before long a larger marine tank will be installed in her house. I hope to be able to assist her in collecting some of the fish found locally.     I am also indebted to a friend of Madame du Breuil, a Miss Chu who arranged for me to visit a local Chinese herbalist. He had been successfully breeding Neon Teras for some time...

I have been unable to find anything about G.W. Drummond. His opening statement about returning from Korea might suggest he was in the armed forces. He did include in his article several photographs, typical of the many roadside stalls selling aquaria and fish in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s.

Captioned: A fish vendor displaying his
wares in Mercer Street, Hong Kong

Captioned: A local inhabitant glazing outdoors in Hong Kong
Captioned: Catching Semi-banded Barbs in the New Territories

In the same issue it was reported that Mme. du Breuil had 'achieved a successful shipment of live newts by air to Dr G Myers (U.S.A.). It is believed that this species of newt...has rarely been imported alive into the United States. The newts for the special shipment were collected locally by Mr Romer...' Mr Romer was of course John Dudley Romer (1920-1982).

The newts were the Hong Kong Warty Newt Paramesotriton hongkongensis then known as Cynops chinensis (see my blog post on the species).

Finally in the June-July 1956 in her letter to other members of Aquarists' Internationale, she reported on a few of her fish and then:
     The Chinese fishermen's children brought me two sea turtles. They are leathery black, with white fringes round their flippers and a faint white pattern on the head and a longish tail. For the first few days they refused all food, but now go greedily after bits of lean meat. They live in a marine tank...

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Yellow-crested or Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. Part 6. Captive Breeding

This is the 6th and final  of a series of articles on this once common but now critically-endangered species from the islands of Indonesia and of Timor Leste.


The quaint behaviour of the Avicultural Society, an organisation founded in U.K. in 1894, allows us to find very easily when a species was first bred in U.K. The Society gave a medal for the first breeding of a species and often a subspecies. In these more enlightened times a medal might be deserved for breeding an endangered species for a number of generations while keeping inbreeding to a minimum but I suppose the idea of a medal appealed to the many super-rich members in the aristocracy as well as the nouveau-rich industrialists and retailers who often had enormous collections of birds in their stately homes and who competed with one another to obtain the rarest birds from all over the world.

The first record of the Yellow-crested Cockatoo breeding in captivity in U.K. was reported in Avicultural Magazine in 1924. The breeder was M.T. Allen and the medal was given for breeding the subspecies C. sulphurea sulphurea. I have not seen the article.

By chance I do have copies of the Avicultural Magazine reporting the breeding in 1955 and 1956 of two other subspecies, namely, the Citron-crested (C. s. citrinocristata) and what was named as the Timor Cockatoo, C. s. parvula. The breeder in both cases was S.B. Kendall.

Dr Stanley Brian Kendall PhD MRCVS ARCS FIBiol (1915-1999) was a veterinary parasitologist then working at the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey. Like many veterinary graduates of his day he worked in Africa as a Colonial Veterinary Officer for a time, in this case Tanganyika from 1943 to 1947. He lived in Chertsey, Surrey and joined the Avicultural Society in 1953.

By the 1950s the membership of the Avicultural Society was more mixed. There were still members of the aristocracy but the annual list shows zoo directors and curators, museum people, scientists and a great many private bird keepers and breeders. The tendency was for the latter not to be bird ‘fanciers’ who exhibit artificially selected birds competitively nor pet bird keepers. The Society was—and still is—a cut above those pursuits.

Kendall’s first article begins:

     The Citron-crested Cockatoo has always been a rare bird in captivity, presumably as a result of its limited distribution (Sumba Island), but during the temporary lifting of the ban [because of a risk of psittacosis to the public] on the importation of parrots in 1952-1953 a number reached this country. There are at present several odd males in different hands, but the hens are unfortunately very few.

He then went on to describe the simple outdoor aviary, the introduction of potential nest boxes, how the birds were fed and then the nesting and appearance of two young.

His second article is entitled, Breeding the Timor Cockatoo. And this is where I have trouble in knowing which of the currently recognised subspecies he actually bred. The candidates are, of course, parvula from Timor and occidentalis from the islands west of Timor, from Alor to Lombok.
The fact that they were clearly known in the early 1950s as Timor Cockatoos might suggest they were parvula. But this is what Kendall had to say:

     Timor Cockatoos are similar to the better-known Lesser Sulphur Cockatoo [sic]. from which they can be distinguished by the considerably less well developed areas of sulphur-yellow on the back of the head and cheek, and by the virtual absence of yellow on the chest and belly. In addition, they are markedly smaller; hens are often really tiny and must be the smallest cockatoo that exists.

I take this paragraph to indicate that C.s. sulphurea was sometimes imported from Sulawesi but again I have difficulty in deciding whether his birds were occidentalis or parvula, although the size might suggest parvula. But whether his birds really were parvula in the present definition I still doubt, especially since in another paragraph he wrote:

     As the popular name suggests, the main home of parvula is in Timor Island. Skins in the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, are labelled East Timor, South Flores, Pantar and Lombok…

In other words, the Museum was not recognising Hartert’s distinction between parvula and occidentalis.

I doubt we shall ever know the origin of Kendall’s birds that were imported into Britain in May 1952 unless, of course, somebody out there has records or photographs.

Kendall’s pair of cockatoos, treated in much the same way as his Citron-crested, produced two young.

As an example of coincidence I found while writing this article, Kendall’s medal from the Avicultural Society for breeding C. s. parvula for sale on eBay.

One  of S.B. Kendall's Avicultural Society Medals
for sale on eBay in Fenruary 2017

It was established that C. sulphurea could be bred—and would breed pretty easily. In part 2 of this series I mentioned Lindholm’s survey of parrots bred in American zoos between 1959 and 1994; 20 Yellow-crested Cockatoos were bred in 5 zoos; 50 Citron-crested in 11 zoos.

However, with all cockatoos, a major problem emerged: incompatibility of potential breeding pairs. In seemingly compatible pairs the male would kill the female without warning. Amongst a number of recommendations were that a number of cockatoos of the same species should be brought up together so that pairs could form naturally. However, other problems seemed to be associated with hand-rearing. Some cockatoos were taken from the nest and hand-reared. They, along with many other animals treated in such a manner, became totally confused as to their identity, living in some warped social structure between human and cockatoo. That problem has been exacerbated by the virtually complete hand-rearing of cockatoos from hatching in order to produce ‘tame’ (for a while) birds for the pet trade. These birds, imprinted on their human rearer and weaned onto adult food too soon, are simply but sadly crazy.

The Baby Cockatoo Industry

The industry—and it is an industry particularly in the U.S.A.—of production line, hand-reared birds for people besotted by baby cockatoos is a dead end as far as proper aviculture or captive breeding for conservation is concerned, and a life of confused misery for the individual cockatoo. Rosemary Low who is a world expert on parrots in captivity writes on her website:

     Can there be anyone who reads parrot magazines who is not aware of the fact that white cockatoos are too demanding to make suitable pets? That is putting it mildly.  Many, perhaps even the majority, of these highly intelligent and (when young) irresistibly appealing birds, end up as unwanted or abused. They develop serious psychological problems that manifest themselves in problem behaviours such as biting, screaming and feather plucking…
     …I already asked the question is there really anyone in the parrot world who does not know what is in store for most hand-reared white cockatoos?  Even ten or 20 years ago real parrot lovers were misguidedly hand-rearing these birds. Now that the problem is so well known, and parrot rescue facilities with sad, plucked and demented socially-deprived cockatoos are even seen on TV programmes, only the commercial breeder who cares more for money than for birds, continues to hand-rear them…
     The misery will end only decades after white cockatoo breeders shut up the nest-boxes forever. Even if that happened tomorrow, the supply of sad and abused birds to refuges would not dry up for another 50 years. Some people are dedicating their lives to repairing the damage that breeders have done. Cockatoo breeders: please take your heads out of the sand where they have been buried for at least a decade. The blame lies firmly on your doorstep. If you really love cockatoos you will stop breeding them now. And parrot owners, if you love them you will stop buying them from breeders. Only if there is no demand will the market dry up and the misery end.

Conservation Breeding

There is one saving grace for those who began an interest by having a pet cockatoo or other parrot. They have realised that many species have become endangered. Together with private aviculturists and those in zoos who seek to perfect proper captive breeding (i.e. without hand rearing) they provide a useful lobby to campaign and to raise money for conservation in the wild as well as ex situ.

Collar & Butchart of Birdlife International, in an excellent paper in International Zoo Yearbook in 2014 on captive breeding of birds for conservation include C. sulphurea in the ‘precautionary’ category. 

European Zoos have an EEP (European Endangered Species Programme) for the Citron-crested subspecies (C. s citrinocristata) but that does not include any of the equaly endangered Yellow-crested subspecies.

The European Zoos have produced guidelines for the husbandry of ‘white’ cockatoos in the various breeding programmes. However, the guidelines seem to me to place too much emphasis on artificial incubation of the eggs and hand rearing. Successful captive breeding (‘the discipline and practice of nurturing animals successfully through the reproductive cycle in captivity’ as defined by Collar & Butchart) is not achieved if eggs have to be incubated and/or chicks have to be fed by human hands. Parental care is part of the reproductive cycle. If the parents do not perform that task then captive breeding has failed even though chicks have been produced; the fault lies with the keeper who has not provided the correct conditions and needs to do more research and perhaps needs to spend a lot more money to get them right. 

In conclusion, given the relative ease of breeding C. sulphurea, as exemplified by Kendall in the 1950s, I have no doubt that given sufficient resources a successful captive breeding/reintroduction programme could be successful—but only as a last resort and only if the remaining habitat could support a population.


Finally, it is worth reading Dr Siti Nuramaliati Prijono’s* case study on C. sulphurea in Indonesia written in 2008 showing the state of the various populations up to 2005 and the conservation measures that were needed. It would be informative to have a follow-up study to see what has happened on the ground in the last ten years.

*Dr. Siti Nuramaliati Prijono has been Principal Secretary of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences since 2014. We were once near neighbours when she was working at the Scottish Agricultural College at Auchincruive.

Collar NJ, Butchart SHM. 2014. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook 48, 7-28.

Kendall SB. 1955. Breeding the Citron-crested Cockatoo. Avicultural Magazine 61, 226-229.

Kendall SB. 1956. Breeding the Timor Cockatoo. Avicultural Magazine 62, 6-9.

Lindholm JH. 1999. An historical review of parrots bred in zoos in the USA. Avicultural Magazine 105, 145.

O’Brien J. 2007. EEP Husbandry Guidelines for Cacatua spp. 2nd edition.

Prijono, S. N. (2008). Case Study: Cacatua sulphurea. NDF Workshop. https://cites.org/sites/default/files/ndf_material/WG6-CS4.pdf