In a period when scientists are discovering new species in New Guinea at a staggering rate, it has come as a shock this week to see that two “species” of large python from New Guinea have been completely exterminated.
The blame for the wipe-out is accepted by just one man. His name is Raymond Hoser.
Known generally as “Australia’s Snakeman”, Hoser noted that he didn’t actually kill any snakes to wipe out the species, nor did he destroy any habitat.
Late last year an amateur snake keeper, Wulf Schleip from Germany, published a so-called “scientific paper” on the D’Albert’s python (Leiopython albertisi), splitting it into several species and naming three new ones. At the time his paper was published he said he had mtDNA evidence to support his position.
In the absence of this evidence, doubts were raised as to whether or not these “species” actually existed. After all, scientists have been studying New Guinea’s pythons for decades and several major studies have been published on them within the last decade. Surely it wouldn’t be possible to miss so many species of snakes?
However as shown by Hoser in a paper published this week in Australasian Journal of Herpetology, it turned out the key claims by Schleip were fraudulent.
The only mtDNA evidence Schleip had was that separating another well-known and totally different species, the Hoser’s Python (Leiopython hoserae) from southern New Guinea, which had been known as different for decades and been named long before Schleip started dabbling with the snakes. That snake is black in colour and from southern New Guinea, whereas all northern “white-lipped pythons” (Leiopython) are brown.
Three separate studies in the previous 8 years had already confirmed the differences between the black (south) and brown (north) white-lipped pythons, meaning that Schleip hadn’t actually produced anything new.
Hence the “species” named last year as Leiopython huonensis, Leiopython bennettorum and Leiopython fredparkeri are now again shown to be merely Leiopython albertisi, with all being stock-standard D’Albert’s Pythons.
Hoser said “in this age of wildlife wipeouts and the like, the last thing we need is the creation of alleged species that don’t exist”.
Hoser said “Schleip had effectively named species on the basis of differences as minor as hair colour in humans.”
So-called “taxonomic exaggeration” has been a problem for some years as wannabe scientists exaggerate the importance of differences in order to claim naming rights on new species. Taxonomic exaggeration was recently condemned in the prestigious science journal “Nature”.
Working with Schleip in the false creation of these new species was a convicted reptile smuggler by the name of David John Williams, recently fined $7,500 in the Cairns Magistrates Court for animal cruelty and smuggling offences. Last year, Williams was also disqualified from a competition run by Accor Holiday Inns Hotels for vote rigging in his favour to the tune of thousands of votes. In 2000 he was also shown to be guilty of another scientific fraud, in that case involving two species of snakes, including one from southern New Guinea.
Also involved with Schleip was a Welshman by the name of Wolfgang Wuster, recently shown to have committed plagiarisation several times over the previous decade.
In the scientific community the act of plagiarization is regarded as the greatest of sins. It is when a person bootlegs someone else’s earlier work and rehashes it as their own and without crediting the original source. It is effectively theft.
Hoser said that while in the case of Leiopython albertisi, several so-called species were found to be one, the reverse is more commonly the case. Other studies with proper DNA, morphological, biological and geological evidence have yielded several species of snakes where it had been previously thought there was only one or two. The same applies for other animals in New Guinea.
Hoser said “Notwithstanding the Leiopython debacle, the fact is that New Guinea represents one of the most exciting areas of biodiversity on earth and everyone should work towards it’s long-term preservation.”
The Hoser paper is online at:
High resolution images of D’Albert’s Python Leiopython albertisi (for publication) are downloadable from:
High resolution of Hoser’s Python Leiopython hoserae (for publication) are downloadable from: