During a conservation lecture earlier today, I mentioned the unfortunate situation in which laws against biopiracy had been used to penalise biodiversity researchers. Some over-enthusiastic bureaucrats had even thrown scientists out of a country, effectively terminating research activity at a time when much is needed.
For sure mischief by bio-prospectors has gone unpunished in the past in many countries – but non-profitable scientific research seems to attract the heaviest hand of the law. Which is otherwise unenforced against the very same mischief makers. I had mentioned a partial example from Asia from the late 90’s but had not elaborated.
During a late lunch at 4pm, was surprised to read of this ongoing case out of Brazil in my copy of Wired. Marc van Roosmalen’s story extends even further and right now he has fled for his life. It now sounds like he’s heading down the path of Bruno Manser. Let’s hope he too doesn’t disappear in similarly dark circumstances.
“Why Does This Prominent Amazon Researcher Face 14 Years in Prison for Biopiracy?” By Evan Ratliff. Wired Magazine, 16.06; 19 May 2008.
Excerpt – “No one disputes that Van Roosmalen is a talented researcher, or suggests that he is any sort of common criminal. When he ran afoul of Brazil’s own paranoia over the theft of natural resources, important science lost out to bureaucracy, xenophobia, and cynicism. But Marc van Roosmalen is a polarizing figure here. Some see him as an environmental hero; others believe he is the nations’s biggest biopirate. The same monomania and hubris that made him a great researcher also helped bring about his own demise. He could have become one of the most innovative conservationists of his generation. Now he may end up nothing more than a cautionary tale — or, if his worst fears come to pass, a martyr.”
- “Trials of a Primatologist,” by Joshua Hammer with photographs by Claudio Edinger. Smithsonian magazine, February 2008.
- “As Brazil Defends Its Bounty, Rules Ensnare Scientists,” by Larry Rohter. The New York Times, 28 Aug 2007.
- “Marc van Roosmalen: A Rain-Forest Odyssey,” by Tim McGirk. Time.com: Heroes for the planet, 06 Mar 2000.