Brazil has just gained a new prehistoric species. With a mane on its back and a pair of “sticks” on its shoulders, the different-looking animal called Ubirajara jubatus is the first non-avian dinosaur fossil whose feathers were preserved in Latin America.
However, Brazilian paleontologists are in no mood to celebrate, and neither are they
joined a campaign on social media to highlight possible irregularities in the removal of the fossil from Brazil by European researchers.
The discovery, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, has no Brazilian involvement and was signed by researchers affiliated with institutions in Germany, the UK, and Mexico.
In the article, they claim the material left Brazil in 1995 with a permit contested by the national paleontological community.
Under Brazilian law, fossils have been a national heritage since 1942. They are forbidden to sell and a permit is required to leave Brazil.
A presidential decree of 1990 regulating the collection of scientific material by foreign researchers provided for the participation of at least one Brazilian institution in field work on the collection of biological or mineral material.
In the same year, an ordinance from the MCTI (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation) deepened the details and strictly forbade leaving the so-called holotypes – examples that serve as reference for describing the species.
The case of the article now published, say dozens of Brazilian paleontologists, practically disregards all of this.
“The case of scientists from other countries who publish works on Brazilian fossils removed irregularly is nothing new, it happens in droves,” says Renan Bantim, professor at URCA (Regional University of Cariri) in Crato, Ceará. “What is striking is that they are practically signing a pledge of guilt when they assume that the fossil left Brazil in 1995. The most common claim is that the material came out before 1942 and the legislation on the subject,” he adds.
Renan Bantim, curator of the Cariri Museum, the region where the dinosaur lived 110 million years ago, laments that the fossil will remain in an institution in Germany.
“It’s a double feeling. We are delighted with this discovery for Brazilian science. On the other hand, there is a revolt to know that this could be studied by local students, ”he says.
To study the Brazilian Pteroussaurus species, paleontologist Taissa Rodrigues had to travel through a number of institutions in Europe and the United States. In Germany alone it took a year of commitment.
“I was very well received and was able to access everything for research. But if you stop by the store [do museu] and see that they sell Brazilian fossils for five euros, it’s very complicated. There are various situations like this that normalize there, ”says the professor at UFES (Federal University of Espírito Santo).
In the face of another case of Brazilian fossils abroad, paleontologists participated in the #UbirajaraBelongstoBR (Ubirajara is part of Brazil) virtual campaign that flooded the social networks of scientists connected to the region and the reports in the international press about the new dinosaur.
Spontaneously, several people – including many scientists – have published artistic reproductions of protests, with the image of the dinosaur and references to the importance of its return to Brazil.
The authors of the work further affirm that the fossil left Brazil with government approval and reject any irregularity in this process.
However, two of the researchers who signed the article are known to work with Brazilian fossils, the origin of which is controversial.
In an email response to Folha, paleontologist David Martill mocked the case and suggested that the Brazilians query back thousands of Brazilian fossils that are in the natural history museums of London and New York.
“But the UK is very good at turning down such requests. (…) The colonial attitude is still very powerful here. Take a look at the discussion on Brexit. We are still an empire. We own Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands [Malvinas]”, He explained.
Martill also lit the fire in the National Museum in 2018.
“I would be very happy if all the Brazilian fossils around the world returned to the country, as I have said many times. Fortunately, it didn’t happen two years ago because now they would all be turned to ashes after the tragic fire that destroyed the wonderful National Museum of Rio, ”he continued.
Eberhard “Dino” Frey, who was responsible for leaving behind fossils from Brazil, did not respond to the contact in the report. However, he publicly released the document that would authorize the departure of the fossils.
However, the document does not mention the export license, only the “transport” for “two boxes of limestone samples with fossils”.
Paleontologists contested the validity of the document, which generally reads “boxes of fossils” without specifying which ones. “That said, it can be used as an alibi for the rest of your life,” says Aline Ghillardi, a professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte.
Who has produced extensive material on the networks about the case.
The material was signed by a former extinct DNPM (National Department of Mineral Protection) who has already been convicted of signing fraudulent Emerald Reports.
The phrase speaks in collaboration with “a major fraud program in which the owners of the documents they issued irregularly presented themselves as the owners of precious stones of great value”.
The ANM (National Mining Agency), which replaced the DNPM in 2018, did not respond to the request for confirmation of approval for the fossil to leave Brazil.