Friday 13 January 2017

Philippine Eagles, Philippine Monkeys, the President of the U.S.A. and Poliomyelitis

In my article on visiting Manila Zoo in January 1967, I included a photograph I took of what is now know as the Philippine Eagle but more usually then as the Monkey-eating Eagle and occasionally as the Greater Philippine Eagle. The eagle, classified as critically endangered by IUCN, still carries the same scientific name that it started out with in 1897: Pithecophaga jefferyi. The generic name was coined to reflect its supposed diet by William Robert Ogilvie-Grant (1863-1924) of the Natural History Museum in London who received the first specimen to be collected from John Whitehead (1860-1899). Whitehead collected in the Philippines between 1893 and 1896—the heyday of professional (dead) bird collecting for the private displays and museums of rich patrons and the museums of public institutions. Ogilvie-Grant described Whitehead as ‘one of the best, perhaps the best, of the field naturalists of his time’*. The specific name of the eagle, jefferyi, was to honour John Whitehead’s father, Jeffery Whitehead.

Philippine Eagle, Manila Zoo, January 1967

I cannot remember now whether Manila Zoo had one or more of the eagles. It was not a species with which I was unfamiliar, however. London Zoo had a Monkey-eating Eagle that I had photographed in 1958 or 1959.

Philippine Eagle
London Zoo, 1958 or 1959

Recently I found in the history of this species in captivity that the London bird was a male, that it arrived on 30 September 1952 as an adult from a Mr Alex. E Lawrence and that it died on 21 October 1961 of ‘mycosis of lungs and thoracic air sacs’. Later, London Zoo had another male in which Vitamin A deficiency was suspected. It arrived from Antwerp Zoo in July 1963 and died in October 1966. Antwerp Zoo had received this bird from a John Eggeling of Cebu City in the Philippines.

At this point I digress to the current status of this forest eagle. Having suffered a major decline because of deforestation (i.e. human over-population) considerable efforts have been made to protect existing populations. It is now the ‘national bird’ of the Philippines. The population appears to be 200-300 breeding pairs. The Philippine Eagle Foundation supports conservation at all levels and its captive breeding programme is successful although attempts at reintroduction have been thwarted to some extent by such familiar problems as electricity cables and men with guns.

With that note of cautious optimism, I return to the Monkey-eating Eagle in zoos and how they came to be there. Richard Weigl of Frankfurt Zoo and Marvin L. Jones of San Diego Zoo looked at zoo records from around the world to produce their paper, The Philippine Eagle in captivity outside the Philippines, 1909-1988 (International Zoo News 47/8 (No 305), 2000). They found records of 50 birds obtained by world zoos over that period. They wrote:

…the bulk of the birds seen in captivity arrived from 1947 to 1965, a very brief period of time. The first three were collected by a recently discharged American Army lieutenant named Charles Wharton, who joined an expedition sent to the area by the Chicago Natural History Museum (today known as the Field Museum of Natural History). One of these birds died in 1950, one in 1952 and one in 1958. A gentleman named John Eggeling, of Cebu City, then began to send specimens to zoological collections around the world either himself, or via other dealers. He also supplied skins to some museums and ornithologists; just how many he trapped is unknown, but he does seem to have been the primary supplier. Some lived relatively short captive lives, but one sent out in 1964 lived to 1988, and was the last known captive bird living outside the Philippines. A few collections made attempts to breed the species, but none were successful.

Of the 50, 15 (and possibly more) were supplied by John Eggeling, including the one that arrived at London via Antwerp in 1963. Since reading the paper, I had the feeling that I had heard the name Eggeling in the past. I reasoned that if he could supply eagles then he could have dealt in other species as well. I then remembered that in the late 1950s and 60s, a number of Philippine macaques (the Philippine form of the Crab-eating or Long-tailed Macaque, Macaca fascicularis) were being sold in British pet shops and smaller animal collections open to the public. So I did a Google search including the name, ‘monkey’ and Philippines. One result was of key interest.

I found what may have been a syndicated article by Mason Rossiter Smith in the St. Lawrence Plaindealer, published in Canton, New York State on 26 April 1956, entitled, ‘Business, With Pleasure’ which shows Eggeling’s role in the production of Salk vaccine for poliomyelitis. The article began:

CEBU, PHILIPPINES.—“TRY JOHN EGGELING” SOME-one suggested to the representative of the National Foundation of for Infantile Paralysis, “he knows all about Mindanao.” Searching for a dependable source to provide a steady, regular supply of monkeys for its anti-polio vaccine program, the Foundation’s man finally located this German-born Filipino citizen and outlined his problem: So many young male monkeys from Mindanao, all of such-and-such an age, delivered by air to Continental United States in perfect health, in regular quantities each month…
     …Much has happened since that important day. Requirements and the polio foundation have increased steadily and substantially, and many a would-be competitor has attempted unsuccessfully to get into this “monkey business”, but last year John Eggeling shipped 50,000 monkeys to the United States…
     …Yesterday John Eggeling was just another obscure proprietor of a frontier-land hotel in Surigao, a province of Mindanao. Today he is important to the polio foundation and its great hopes for the children of America and the world…

The article goes on to describe his whole enterprise and how the monkey catching business operated. Females and breeding males were released apart from those ordered by zoos. It also described his doves, parrots and parakeets, ‘not to mention a large monkey-eating eagle. And now, from what began initially as a hobby has grown a substantial international business in birds’.

Philippine Long-tailed Macaque
(from here)
Why were so many monkeys needed? Not for research but for the large-scale production of the vaccine. Jonas Salk who was supported by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes) which had been set up by President Roosevelt who had been partially paralysed by polio at the age if 39. Salk set out to make a vaccine using killed virus which he believed would be safer than an attenuated virus approach. Enders, Weller and Robbins had previously established that polio virus could be grown in non-nervous tissue culture (for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954). Salk set up a culture system to grow the three types of polio virus using monkey kidney cells and then killed the virus with formaldehyde. A huge controlled trial was begun in 1954 in the U.S.A. and it was, of course, for this trial and for subsequent large-scale production that monkey kidneys were needed—lots and lots of monkey kidneys for the primary cell cultures—and lots and lots of monkeys.

Franklin D Roosevelt

Jonas Salk, 1914-95
Polio, usually in Britain as well as in the U.S.A. called infantile paralysis, was a devastating disease and the effects are still apparent. One summer in the mid-1950s a number of children of my age and at my school were affected and in the immediate neighbourhood. One was kept alive in an ‘iron lung’ for months. Parents were, not surprisingly, extremely worried. Throughout the world the pressure was on to deliver a vaccine with a timescale of yesterday.

In Britain the Ministry of Health was cautious. A serious production problem had occurred with one manufacturer in the U.S.A: live and virulent virus was not only present in the vaccine but had infected those children vaccinated. Eventually, British parents were given a choice: immediate vaccination with imported Salk vaccine or a wait until sufficient had been produced (from a different strain of virus apparently) by a British manufacturer (reference here). It must have been 1958 when we lined up at school for the jab, amused greatly by tales of which tough rugby player had passed out at the sight of the needle, of the imported Salk vaccine.

Here is not the place to describe the warfare that raged between proponents of dead versus attenuated virus vaccines but the following shows what happened to the incidence of poliomyelitis in Britain after the introduction of Salk and then Sabin (attenuated) vaccines:

Incidence of poliomyelitis in Britain 1912-2006. From here

I read that the VERO immortalized kidney cell line derived from an African green monkey has been used for some time to produce the viruses for polio vaccine. But now knowing the early history of vaccine testing and production, I cannot help wonder if I still have a few antibodies in my circulation to a Philippine Long-tailed Macaque—one of the hundreds of thousands used to effect one of the triumphs of 20th Century medicine, and one which came from the same animal dealer as a number of the Philippine Eagles—reckoned to be the third largest in the world—which reached zoos of the world between 1952 and 1962.

*Mearns B & Mearns R. 1998. The Bird Collectors. London: Academic Press

Saturday 7 January 2017

Butterfly Hunting assisted of a V-1 flying bomb

In my article on Colonel Valentine Burkhardt and his entomological activities in the south of England during the 1940s, I referred to an article by the Reverend John Neville Marcon (1903-1906). Marcon was clearly a avid collector of ‘aberrant’ forms of British butterflies, spending hours and hours in the field. In an article, Reminiscences of a Butterfly Hunter, published in The Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation in 1975, he explained:

I began collecting enthusiastically in 1921. It soon became clear that the time was not available for butterflies and moths. If in 50 odd years I was fortunate in securing a fairish number of aberrations it must largely be attributed to the "luck of the game", an urge to explore adjacent territory and a determination to persist once a good butterfly had been spotted come what may—characteristics which are commonplace with every serious bug-hunter. On one occasion an insect (a melanic male Argynnis paphia L.[Silver-washed Fritillary]) took eight hours to catch—three of one day, five of the next. Another time it was 2 days of unremitting search after a prize had been sighted (a black forewing female adippe [High Brown Fritillary]) before it was safely inside a pill-box.

But it was how he eventually caught his black forewing female adippe, that the eye is drawn to in the next sentence:

What revealed it was a doodle-bug exploding in the next field, which lifted me off the ground as I was lying flat: but the displacement of air had a satisfying effect, for within ten yards there was the treasure I had been searching for so long.

A doodle-bug was the German V-1 flying bomb. Although these were aimed to run out of fuel and explode on impact in London—and many did, with devastating effect, British intelligence was using double agents to fool the enemy into believing bombs that had landed on London had overshot the target. The range of the V1 was shortened and as a result many landed in the relatively uninhabited counties south of London. Was it one of these that lifted Marcon off the ground?

This specimen of the Marsh Fritillary collected by Marcon in 1937 is in the British Natural History Museum

Thursday 5 January 2017

Manila Zoo in January 1967 and the Critically-Endangered Tamaraw

Fifty years ago today I walked along Roxas Boulevard from the Manila Hotel to the Zoo. I had arrived along with other Hongkongers on New Year’s Day 1967, a Sunday like this year. The landing on a Garuda DC-8 was interesting in that the water buffalo grazing on the airfield cleared the runway as the plane landed. The short journey from the airport to the Manila Hotel seemed to take forever. It was New Year and a Sunday. The streets were packed with jeepneys, the brightly-painted jeeps then the main form of transport, and their drivers ignored all road signs and normal (to us) rules of the road. Eventually we reached the Manila Hotel where, to my amazement, I found I had been allocated a suite by the organisers of what was my first scientific conference of any kind. I was even more amazed to be told by the hotel staff that the last occupant of the suite had been the President of the U.S.A., Lyndon B. Johnson, in October 1966 when he attended a SEATO Summit*.

When I found the bathroom I checked that it was made of iron. The standard advice to Brits visiting Manila was to take shelter from stray bullets in the bath if the sound of gunfire (from criminal gangs) got close. I did hear gunfire on two nights but it was not sufficiently close for me to take to the bath.

The Zoo was interesting. It had only opened in 1959 and many of the enclosures and cages were, I realised many years later and not surprisingly, very similar to those in U.S. zoos. Some were dismal affairs; others looked very tired. I was shown around by the zoo’s vet, Dr Luis B. Caday**, who was clearly trying to do his best to keep the animals healthy and in suitable conditions. One of the objectives of the zoo was to let local people see their native animals and thus gain an interest in their conservation. The very low price for admission was aimed at attracting even the very poor like those I passed living in shacks along Roxas Boulevard.

I had read previously that the zoo had the only Tamaraw or Tamarao (Bubalus mindorensis) in captivity and was soon shown to the terrace overlooking its paddock. The vet said it was no trouble and did not look or do anything very interesting. Locals passed this incredibly rare animal by—to them it was just a small buffalo.

Manila Zoo's Tamaraw or Tamarao (Bubalus mindorensis). January 1967

The Tamaraw is and was then critically endangered. It occurs only on the island of Mindoro, where it now found only in the central highlands. Fifty years on, its prospects seem no better and possibly worse than they did then, and it is vulnerable to continuing human population pressure on the land and to illegal poaching. There is no backup captive population. A captive-breeding programme set up some years ago failed. The population is thought to be 350-400 individuals in three separate subpopulations.

Manila Zoo also had Monkey-eating or Philippine Eagle
(Pithecophaga jefferyi) also now Critically Endangered
because of habitat loss by deforestation

If you want to start 2017 on a low note and be reminded of the cause of loss of habitat, loss of species and the damage to all life on this planet, I should point out that the human population of the Philippines increased from 32 million in 1967 to over 100 million in 2017. But in 1967 it was fashionable and respectable to warn of the dangers of population growth. Now it is politically incorrect. Because that it is the real problem, perhaps the political phrase of the year should be: ’It’s the population, stupid’.

The Manila Hotel on the left from outside the US Embassy on Roxas
Boulevard. January 1967

*I just checked whether LBJ stayed at the Manila Hotel. He did.
**I have found his business card in an old file (Note added 8 March 2017)