International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature’ behind pocket gopher hoax

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Melissa GensonFourth in a series on a new ESA list­ing. Part Five will be pub­lished on Octo­ber 29, 2014.snipped-zoo-bank-no-pocket-gophers

Lar­ry Weaver wants his gopher blood back.

Larry Weaver at his gopher "subspecies" habitat. Photo by Steve Genson

Lar­ry Weaver at his gopher “sub­species” habi­tat. Pho­to by Steve Genson

That smidgen of gopher blood means the world to both Weaver and many in his Rochester com­mu­ni­ty in south­west Thurston Coun­ty, Washington.

Weaver, a real­tor and small devel­op­er, allowed the Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife to trap a maza­ma pock­et gopher on his Rochester prop­er­ty, to col­lect DNA.  The DNA blood sam­ple was sup­posed to be test­ed to find out whether his gopher was indeed a mem­ber of an Endan­gered Species Act fed­er­al­ly list­ed “sub­species.”

To date, there has nev­er been proof that any maza­ma pock­et gopher “sub­species” even exists.  That didn’t stop their ESA list­ing, or the state and local pro­tec­tion that pre­ced­ed it.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature

In their April 2014 fed­er­al list­ing of four sub­species of the maza­ma pock­et gopher, U.S. Fish and Wildlife defend­ed their lack of DNA proof or oth­er evi­dence.  USFW stat­ed that these sub­species were rec­og­nized by the “Inter­na­tion­al Com­mis­sion on Zoo­log­i­cal Nomen­cla­ture,” stat­ing on page 5:

It is pos­si­ble that ongo­ing genet­ic work will clar­i­fy the rela­tion­ship between the sub­species in the future, and if the Inter­na­tion­al Com­mis­sion on Zoo­log­i­cal Nomen­cla­ture receives and accepts a revised tax­on­o­my for the Maza­ma pock­et gopher that is at odds with the tax­on­o­my used here, we can revis­it the list­ing at that time.

To date, how­ev­er, there has been no pub­li­ca­tion of any data that could lead to a for­mal sub­mis­sion for a revi­sion of the tax­on­o­my of the Maza­ma pock­et gopher to the Inter­na­tion­al Com­mis­sion on Zoo­log­i­cal Nomen­cla­ture, nor is there any record indi­cat­ing that they have received any peti­tion to con­sid­er a revision.

There­fore, con­sis­tent with the direc­tion from the Act (i.e., based on the best sci­en­tif­ic and com­mer­cial data avail­able at the time of our find­ing), we are using the estab­lished tax­on­o­my for the Maza­ma pock­et gopher, which rec­og­nizes the Olympia, Roy Prairie, Teni­no, and Yelm pock­et gopher as sep­a­rate subspecies.

So who is the Inter­na­tion­al Com­mis­sion on Zoo­log­i­cal Nomen­cla­ture, and what do they have to say about our maza­ma pock­et gopher?

It turns out, the ICZM is a lit­tle group who has pub­lished a bul­letin out of London’s Nat­ur­al His­to­ry Muse­um.  They appear to have no author­i­ty or legit­i­mate sci­en­tif­ic recog­ni­tion.  They don’t work with genet­ics or DNA.

They were nev­er rec­og­nized as a non-prof­it cor­po­ra­tion in the Unit­ed King­dom.  They were nev­er even legal­ly allowed to have a bank account.

For a while they made mon­ey by sell­ing their pub­li­ca­tions, but that mon­ey start­ed to dry up 20 years ago.

The ICZM is now offi­cial­ly broke and is being cut loose from the Lon­don Muse­um.  They are hop­ing to get picked up by a group in Singapore.

To top it all off, the ICZM appar­ent­ly has noth­ing to say about any kind of gopher—pocket, maza­ma or oth­er­wise.  Noth­ing gopher-relat­ed shows up on their website’s own search.  ICZM also has a web­site called called, where appar­ent­ly any­one can join and sub­mit articles

Brazil’s Mazama Red Brocket Deer. Photo from Univ. of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology

Brazil’s Maza­ma Red Brock­et Deer. Pho­to from Univ. of Michigan’s Muse­um of Zoology

In ICZM’s “Zoo Bank,” there is no men­tion of any kind of gopher, with or with­out pock­ets.  There is one men­tion of “maza­ma,” but that was for a small red deer in Brazil.

Zoo Bank’s only men­tion of gopher had to do with a land tor­toise and a rockfish–both with the word “gopher” in their name.  No men­tion of actu­al gophers who tun­nel in the ground.

So USFW got an ESA list­ing with no proof of any kind.  Their only ref­er­ence was ICZM—a tiny British group cur­rent­ly look­ing for a home in Singapore—with no bank account, no author­i­ty, and no gophers.

No proof behind ESA listing 

The recent fed­er­al list­ing of four “sub­species” of the maza­ma pock­et gopher was based on two main premis­es. First, that there were dis­tinct sub­species of the maza­ma pock­et gopher, and sec­ond, that these sub­species had dwin­dling pop­u­la­tions through­out their habi­tat area, as assert­ed by a Decem­ber 2011 WDFW report.

That 2011 WDFW report about dwin­dling pop­u­la­tions was based on a 2006 mod­el by New Zealand sci­en­tist Dar­ryl Macken­zie, a respect­ed bio­me­tri­cian, known par­tic­u­lar­ly for his work on the devel­op­ment and appli­ca­tion of species occur­rence models .

The very next month after the WDFW report, Dar­ryl Macken­zie pub­lished a detailed report about the WDFW study, clear­ly refut­ing and dis­cred­it­ing WDFW’s report that sup­pos­ed­ly had been based on his model.

With the “dwin­dling habi­tat” the­o­ry now lying in the dust, that left only one asser­tion to legit­i­mate­ly sup­port a fed­er­al ESA list­ing.  The premise was that there were four dis­tinct gopher “sub­species” in Thurston Coun­ty that need­ed pro­tec­tion, even though the over­all species was plen­ti­ful through­out the West.  The Rochester sub­species was sup­posed to be pro­tect­ed because the males alleged­ly had super-sized penises.

No gov­ern­ment agency has ever offered any actu­al proof or evi­dence of this trait–or any proof, such as DNA, of any pock­et gopher sub­species of any kind.

Pocket gopher DNA information still on lock-down

WDFW is still sit­ting on untouched gopher blood sam­ples.  The sam­ples haven’t been DNA-test­ed, and WDFW has no cur­rent plans to test them.

Cit­i­zens like Lar­ry Weaver want the gopher DNA inde­pen­dent­ly test­ed by rep­utable sci­en­tists.  Those blood sam­ples could reveal an enor­mous hoax inflict­ed on the peo­ple of Thurston Coun­ty by local, state, and fed­er­al officials.

WDFW Region­al Wildlife Pro­gram Man­ag­er Mick Cope says that, by law, Weaver and oth­er cit­i­zens can’t have the gopher blood, even though the sam­ple came from gophers found on their own property.

Nor are landown­ers allowed to col­lect their own gopher DNA sam­ples for inde­pen­dent test­ing.  Mess­ing with Rochester pock­et gophers is against the law, and can result in crim­i­nal charges.

Like much of south­west Thurston Coun­ty, Weaver’s prop­er­ty is now worth­less because of the alleged gopher subspecies.

This is Part 4 of a series about a new ESA micro-list­ing, and its impact on a rur­al com­mu­ni­ty.  The series will con­tin­ue with Part 5, about secret doc­u­men­ta­tion of species on pri­vate property.

Fea­tured image from the Inter­na­tion­al Com­mis­sion on Zoo­log­i­cal Nomen­cla­ture “ZooBank” webpage.