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Phillip Hershkovitz - A Remembrance

        [From Neotropical Primates 5(3), September, 1997.]
        
        PHILIP HERSHKOVITZ: A REMEMBRANCE
        by Russell A. Mitterrneier
        
        My first personal encounter with Philip Hershkovitz came
        more hen 20 years ago when I was a graduate student at
        Harvard. I had written a term paper on marmoset tax-
        onomy based on some skull measurements of several spe-
        cies and a multivariate statistical analysis of the relation-
        ships among them. Like many term papers, it was largely
        inconclusive, but like many graduate students I had more
        confidence than good sense and decided to publish it. Phil's
        response was swift and merciless. He tore it to shreds, and
        suggested as a title for his response, "The Untaxonomy of
        Brazilian Marmosets". I was temporarily devastated, but,
        as was so often the case, Phil was right. He understood
        Neotropical mammals, and especially Neotropical pri-
        mates, better than anyone else and he had little patience
        for work that did not meet his high standards.
        
        When Phil died on February 15, 1997, it was a great loss
        for all of us working on Neotropical primates and it cre-
        ated a gap that is unlikely ever to be filled. He was a field
        mammalogist of the old school, with tireless energy and
        an understanding of the creatures on which he worked
        that only comes from decades of hands-on work in nature
        and in the museum. The many sophisticated biochemical
        techniques and the endless array of computer programs
        increasingly available today are extremely useful in sys-
        tematics, but they can never replace the deep, almost in-
        stinctual understanding of the relationships between ani-
        mals that comes from working intimately with them for
        so many years. Phil had this kind of knowledge, and it
        enabled him to sort through the nearly two centuries of
        mistakes and confusion in Neotropical primate taxonomy
        and create a framework upon which all of us today base
        our own work. He was able to take the marmosets and
        tamarins, for example, and turn their taxonomy from a
        chaotic mess into a clear and understable system that
        greatly clarified the relationships among these animals.
        His classic work, Living New World Monkeys (Platyrrhini,
        Vol. 1), is one of the truly great publications in the history
        of mammalogy, and many of us have built careers around
        updating and expanding upon it. Without the enormous
        amount of work done by Phil to provide this solid founda-
        tion, we would likely still be unclear as to what we were
        dealing with in terms of species and subspecies of the
        Callitrichidae and the other Neotropical genera on which
        he worked.
        
        Lest anyone doubt the significance of Phil's work for Neo-
        tropical primatology, he or she need only look at the cur-
        rent situation with Old World monkeys, where much con-
        fusion still exists as to the numbers of species and subspe-
        cies. Without the benefit of a Hershkovitz to sort out the
        200 years of names and descriptions, Old World prima-
        tology is simply not as advanced as its Neotropical coun-
        terpart. This is a barrier not just to scientific research, but
        also to conservation, since it is very difficult to put effec-
        tive conservation plans into effect when one is not certain
        what organisms one is dealing with.
        
        Unfortunately, Phil never completed his overview of the
        Neotropical monkeys, and never did publish volume 2 of
        Living New World Monkeys, although he did revise six
        other genera (Aotus, Saimiri, Callicebus, Pithecia,
        Chiropotes and Cacajao) in addition to the five covered
        in the callitrichid volume. For some reason, he shifted
        attention to non-primate mammals in the last few years of
        his life, a gain for those working on rodents and marsupi-
        als but a major loss for those of us working on monkeys.
        He never completed the five prehensile-tailed genera,
        Cebus, Alouatta, Ateles, Lagothrix and Brachyteles, and
        predictably, with the exception of Brachyteles, which has
        only two taxa, these remain the most poorly understood
        Neotropical genera in taxonomic terms.
        
        Despite his reputation for being ornery and combative and
        the fact that he was basically a loner (very few of his pa-
        pers are co-authored), he was very responsive to anyone
        interested in his work. He would reply immediately to cor-
        respondence, and if you were fortunate enough to visit his
        office in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago,
        he would pull out as many specimens as you might want
        to see and give you hours of detailed explanation on the
        taxonomy of whatever genus or species might be of inter-
        est. He was as charming and delightful as he was ornery,
        and I for one always left a meeting with him with that
        unusual, uplifting feeling that one gets on those very rare
        occasions when one has the chance to be in the presence
        of a truly great man.
        
        Phil's enormous career output included some 160 scien-
        tific papers and 100 non-technical publications spanning
        50 years, and, in my opinion, he must be considered the
        greatest Neotropical mammalogist of our century. All of
        us working on Neotropical primates owe him a great deal,
        and there is no doubt that he will be sorely missed.
        
        Russell A. Mittermeier, Chairman IUCN/SSC Primate
        Specialist Group, c/o Conservation International, 2501 M
        Street N. W., Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20037, USA.