Thursday, 19 July 2012

History of a confusion (and 4)

Read part 3


Frierich Wilhelm Hemprich met Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg in Berlin and they became friends. Both were students under Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein who  proposed them as naturalists for an expedition to Egypt in 1820. They travelled along the Nile, Palestine, Lebanon, Sinai, the Red Sea and Eritrea, gathering tens of thousands of specimens. In Massawa, Eritrea, in 1825, while organising their travel to the Highlands of Abyssinia, Hemprich died of fever and was buried on the island of Toalul.
Among the thousands of species collected they shot two birds of an unknown species that they called Ibis comatus ("hairy ibis"). In memory of his dead friend, Ehrenberg decided to change the name into Ibis hemprichi in 1832. He published the results of their expedition on the Symbolae physicae where he shared the authorship with Hemprich.Nevertheless, the description was unvalid, nomem nudus. Eduard Rüppell, who has also participated in an expedition in the same area during the same period published the species as Ibis comatus, Ehrenberg.
More or less at the same time,  Johann Georg Wagler in1832 described Geronticus calvus from South Africa, but nobody realished that both species were related. It was in 1849 that Ibis comatus entered into that genus, becoming Geronticus comatus, but the authorship was attributed to Rüppell. By this time, Heinrich Gottlieb Ludwig Reichenbach published, in 1847, Die vollständigste Naturgeschichte der Sumpfvögel and  created a new genus for the species, calling it Comatibis comata

North Africa

In 1874 J.H. Gurney published Rambles of a naturalist in Egypt & other countries where he talks about the evidence that Geronticus comatus once existed in Egypt but that now "retired further south".

Between 1839 and 1842 Alphose Guichenot participated in an expedition whose results were published in 1850 in the  Exploration Scientifique de l'Algerie: pendant les annees 1840, 1841, 1842. Gichenot main speciality was fish and reptiles, but a great ornithologist also participated in the trip, François Levaillant. The name given to this bird was Ibis calvus.

Engravure by Clerge after a drawing by Levaillant from Exploration Scientifique de l'Algérie: pendant les années 1840, 1841, 1842 by A. Guichenot (1850)

Leonard Howard Lloyd Irby includes in his Ornithology of the Straits of Gibraltar (1895) a reference to Ibis comatus on Tangier and Mogador, in Morocco.


The first record for science on a big Northern Bald Ibis colony in Bireçik, besides the Euphrates in Turkey was C.G. Danford who published a second report on his trip to Turkey in 1880: A further contribution to the ornithology of Asia Minor
Other travellers had recorded this before outside the scientific journals. This was the case of Josef Cernik, engineer who stayed at Birecik in 1873. Before that, in 1839, William Francis Ainsworth recorded the ibis from Bireçik and also from Yaylak, 70 km above Bireçik in the Euphrates valley. The colony counted thousands of birds during 19th century until, at least, the 1930s. In 1954, Cafer Turkmen took the first pictures of kelaynak at Bireçik.

Rothschild et al. 1897

Henry Eeles Dresser published his History of the Birds of Europe between 1871-1881 He describes Ibis comata, Redcheeked ibis, from Turkey and North Africa, but don’t even mention it from Europe. He quotes Tristam who saw the bird in Laghouat, Algeria. 

Somebody had to realise that the abundant material comming from Turkey and North Africa corresponded to the same species that was widely described for Europe. It was Lionel Walter RothschildErnst Hartert and Otto Kleinschmidt who first published the evidence, as we already mentioned, based on a specimen from Bireçik and the illustrations by Albin and others. 

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