Post-colonialist species names?

I was quickly perusing this story about the Horton Plains slender loris not being extinct after all – always nice to get some good news – when it struck me that if the article hadn’t told me the aforementioned loris was from Sri Lanka, I would have no idea where it was from. According to Wikipedia Horton was the British governor of colonial Ceylon, but why should his name be attached to a Sri Lankan mammal? In the past fifty years we’ve had a minor rash of re-naming places (countries and cities mainly), discarding the colonial names in favour of the indigenous. Sometimes that is just correcting a colonial error in transcription, such as Bombay to Mumbai, other times discarding an unwelcome colonialist assertion of authority by appellation – bye bye Rhodesia! So, I wondered, how long before we get the same exercise undertaken with all these quaintly English species names?

Our house guest queried the practicality of this because there is no clear authority. A country can decide for itself what it should be called, but a loris gets called whatever somebody else decides to call it. That one is easily solved, though; around here, if you are a wildlife researcher you have to get a permit to work in the country. It would be pretty easy for those people in charge of such permits to deny them to those people perpetuating the use of relics of imperialist hubris, and pretty soon anyone wanting to work on the real thing in the wild would have to tow the new line. Deciding the new name would be easy for endemics, but you can picture the odd academic tussle over the naming of cross border species. E.g. Denham’s bustard occurs in at least 6 different African counties according to the bird book nearest to hand, but maybe they could horse-trade a little bit, so that we get a Museveni bustard, a Kenyatta kestrel and a Nyerere nightjar?

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