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Cahow’s rediscovery – records show 1951

Once thought to be extinct, the cahow was seen again in 1951

Dear Sir,

As much as I enjoyed Rebecca Zuill’s update on the status of our Bermuda Petrels (RG May 1, 2015) I felt a growing concern with regards to the time element of the cahow’s rediscovery.

Ms Zuill referred to “the early sixties” yet I have a copy of the Bermuda Sports Magazine, published in December 1955, that includes a page of four photographs, credited to the Bermuda News Bureau, which recorded the first-ever photographic contact of adult cahows with humans.

Dr Louis Mowbray, Curator of the Bermuda Aquarium, and Dr Robert Murphy, Curator of Birds at the American Museum of Natural History, are shown holding a bird to display its colours and size.

There are also pictures of a cahow nest with a single egg, and a hand-held cahow chick. Unfortunately these photographs were not dated but may be assumed to have been taken in the months prior to December 1955.

In order to satisfy my own curiosity as to the actual date of rediscovery, I googled Bermuda Petrel — Cahow and was rewarded by a screen of ten articles and countless photographs, none of the latter though being from the Bermuda News Bureau.

The first detailed article was by Wikipedia confirming that the cahow was “the native bird of Bermuda and a symbol of hope for nature conservation. For 330 years it was thought to be extinct. The dramatic rediscovery in 1951 of 18 nesting pairs made these a ‘Lazarus species’, that is, a species found to be alive after having been considered extinct”.

All the subsequent statements on this website gave the date of rediscovery as 1951, although the month was never shown. On this same site, it was also very pleasing to see and read that David Wingate’s involvement with the cahows, from age 15 throughout his lifetime, had been very well documented.

So, the century since rediscovery will occur in 2051. With Jeremy Madeiros and his colleagues at Conservation Services providing the most attentive care — and despite the ever-present threat of sea surges, storms and hurricanes — can we not hope that the principal objective of the Cahow Project might be achieved?

Meaning that, either before or during 2051, the cahows on Bermuda will have reached the critical mass that will allow them to become self independent. Now that would be genuine cause for a real celebration.