The Brazilian dinosaur that was brought illegally to Germany can be renamed

The Brazilian dinosaur that was brought illegally to Germany can be renamed

Although Germany has yet to fulfill its promise to return a strange dinosaur fossil illegally taken from Brazil, Brazilian paleontologists are already planning what to do with the specimen, which is currently in an unusual academic predicament.

Due to the illicit origin of the material, the specialized journal Cretaceous Research decided not to publish the scientific article in which four foreign researchers described the species, then named it Obirajara Jubatos.

Without the article, the description of the new species officially ceases to exist for science. This means that the path is open for other paleontologists to publish a new description and even a new naming for the animal.

“I don’t remember seeing such a situation before in paleontology,” assesses the director of the National Museum, Alexander Kellner, a paleontologist with 78 vertebrate species in his approach.

The possibility of studying and renaming the species – the first non-avian dinosaur found with feathers preserved in Latin America – has already moved the Brazilian paleontological community. In an open manner or in behind-the-scenes negotiations, many scientists have already shown an interest in working with the animal.

In addition to its scientific value, the dinosaur also has the weight of being the greatest symbol of the struggle of Brazilian paleontologists against the international trade in fossils. The digital campaign #UbirajaraBelongstoBR has flooded social networks and gained notoriety in the international press.

According to several diplomats and paleontologists, the serious damage to the reputation of the Karlsruhe Natural History Museum and others involved in the case of illegal import of fossils opened a new era in discussions about the smuggling of Brazilian fossil heritage.

There is already a movement of colleagues interested in studying the species, said Paleontologist Alison Pinheiro, who was directly involved in the repatriation negotiations, director of the Plácido Cidade Nuvens Museum of Paleontology at Carrere Regional University (Ceará). He notes that the final process of renaming the dinosaur will still need to go beyond official issues.

“Ubirajara was described with all the formalities of the International Code of Zoological Terms. At first, there was no violation. The problem is that when the scientific article is not published, the species is forgotten, because it does not automatically cease to exist,” he explains.

“For the species to be formally invalidated, the case has yet to be presented and evaluated in a plenary session of the ICRC,” he adds.

Pinheiro also noted that there is a possibility that the research team that submitted the original work will be able to publish a new article describing the species, after the fossil has been deposited at a national institution.

The specialist says that there could still be cooperation between foreign authors and Brazilian palaeontologists. It is a situation that recognizes that it may cause discomfort to some members of the national community.

Brazilians resent the position of those involved, especially with Eberhard “Dino” Frey, former director of the Karlsruhe Museum, and David Martell, a professor at the University of Portsmouth, before Oberagara. The duo has a long history of publishing fossils that the national community disputes over leaving Brazil.

Alexander Kellner, director of the National Museum, believes there could be benefits in involving foreign researchers. “Brazil wants to recover the fossils, it doesn’t want to steal anyone’s research,” he says.

The paleontologist says he would like to study the animal, not necessarily in a new description. “It could be an analysis, a second article,” he explains in detail.

The director of the National Museum points out, however, that the entire process should take place in coordination with the entities in the area where the dinosaur lived.

“We have a decades-old relationship with the Musée de Santana do Carriere and the Provincial University do Carriere. We know each other and are friends. Any situation regarding this fossil or other fossils recovered will be discussed between the institutions.”

Alain Gilardi, a professor at UFRN (Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte), one of the main organizers of the repatriation campaign, says she is also part of the group interested in studying the dinosaur.

“I know many researchers here in Brazil who are interested in doing different kinds of studies with the fossil. Not just describing species, but in different fields, such as studies involving biochemistry, to get to know aspects of an organism’s biology,” he explains in detail.

In addition to the ethical issues, Gilardi also says that the foreign group’s original article also lacked “technical competence”.

“It has the look of palaeontology from the last century. We have many modern tools in palaeontology today, there’s even synchrotron light tomography. Many things that could have been applied, which are available in Europe, but have not been used,” he highlights. the light .

For the paleontologist, a possible change of the name of the species would also allow the use of a nomenclature more consistent with the region in which the animal lived, including the participation of the indigenous people of Kariri. “The guardian of their language was willing to help choose the name,” he says.

Despite the positive outlook, all researchers participating in the report were unanimous in saying that, above all else, it is necessary to ensure the return of the materials to Brazil. The decision to return the excavation was announced by the Council of Ministers for the German region of Baden-Württemberg on July 19.

“We still haven’t had any official contact after that,” says Allysson Pinheiro, director of the Plácido Cidade Clouds Museum of Paleontology.

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