Scientists hold auction for new monkey's name

It’s the dream of all naturalists: immortalising themselves by naming a new animal or plant species they have discovered.

But scientists Robert Wallace and Humberto Gomez of the United States Wildlife Conservation Society have relinquished the right to name a new species for the sake of conservation.

Together with Bolivian authorities, the scientists decided to carry out an internet sale to auction off the rights to name a monkey species the two men recently discovered in Bolivia.

The auction, the first of its kind, will run until March 3 on Charityfolks.com, a non-profit auction venue.

Wallace and Gomez said that instead of worrying about the species’ name, they are more concerned with the monkey’s habitat, the Madidi National Park in Bolivia. They want to ensure that it and all the other species at the habitat have a chance to continue living in communion with nature.

Bolivia, South America’s poorest nation, is urgently in need of funds to maintain the Madidi, said Wallace in an interview.

“The Madidi is considered to be one of the most bio-diverse, if not the most bio-diverse, park in the world,” he said, adding that 885 bird species live there.

“It is a super special and spectacular park, and we wanted to use the finding of the monkey ... to call attention to the park, tell people how important it is and try to raise funds for its maintenance,” Wallace said.

He said he first caught sight of the monkey—a small brown-and-orange creature weighing about 1kg and measuring 40cm not including the tail—in February 2000.

It took several return trips to film, photograph and tape the sounds made by the monkey to get recognition from international scientific magazines and taxonomy experts that it was indeed a new species.

Then Wallace and Gomez turned to Bolivian park authorities with their proposal—to set up an exclusive trust fund for the Madidi.

The park, which covers 1,9-million hectares, needs about $2-million per year for its maintenance.
To generate $2-million a year, a fund of $30-million would have to be set up. Wallace said he had no idea how much money could be raised in the auction but expressed the hope that it would go a ways toward the $30-million goal.

“I’m not saying by any means that through this initiative that that amount could be reached. Who knows? But the truth is that it would be incredible,” he said.

Wallace explained international codes that have to be followed to name a new species. The name cannot be offensive and has to be partially in Latin because of scientific norms.

The monkey auction has sparked a flurry of interest.

“We have had numerous e-mails with suggestions for names from all over the world,” said Kelly Fiore, director of business development at Charity Folks, in a telephone interview from New York.

Fiore said the ideas range from endearing ones by children, asking for the monkey to be named after their best friend, to names emerging from the scientific community befitting the new species.

Suggestions include Ninja monkey, by someone who claimed to have T-shirts ready for the launch.

There have been several suggestions to name the animal Rob’s monkey because Wallace, even though he is deserving of it, “gave up the right to immortality”, Fiore said.

Another suggestion is Rhesus pisces, a play on the famous Reese’s Pieces candy. The note on that proposal was that “science is too serious”.

Someone else wrote that the monkeys should be called Ashley Simpson, after the American pop singer, “because their calls remind me of some of her songs”, Fiore recounted.

Suggestions have come in from both wealthy individuals and large organisations, and a number of Fortune 500 companies and international conglomerates have shown interest in the auction.

Fiore could not reveal any amounts of offers made because of privacy concerns. Information will only be available on the site once the auction begins.

Gomez described the monkeys as hairy animals that like physical contact.

“They’re always close to each other, touching, hugging, cleaning each other,” he said. “Normally when they’re together, what they do is embrace each other or their tails, which hang low, [or] wrap around each other.”—Sapa-DPA