Honolulu Lite


Is a dead bird in the hand
worth 8 years in the joint?

At a time when everyone is focused on terrorism and national security, Hawaii state wildlife agents came off looking like dodos for busting a Hawaiian antiquities dealer for possessing a bunch of old birds.

Like the dodo bird, many of the birds Don Medcalf is charged with owning not only are dead, but extinct. Or, as John Cleese of Monty Python fame might put it, they are "bleedin' demised, shuffled off (the) mortal coil and joined the choir invisible!" Not only that, like Cleese's renowned dead parrot, Medcalf's birds are stuffed.

Never mind. They may be late birds, and stuffed at that, but according to the state Department of Land & Natural Resources, they are contraband. As Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer Rob Perez recently revealed, the owner of Hawaiian Islands Stamp and Coin is facing criminal charges for possessing the birds for sale, even though the birds were dead and stuffed before they were even declared endangered. With SWAT team precision, the agents seized the stuffed birds, part of a famous collection belonging to a Molokai kamaaina family in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Medcalf is going to beat this rap, if he hasn't done so by the time this column is published. It's the kind of case that tells you that maybe the agents of the DLNR don't have enough to do and should be reassigned to airport security to look for shoe bombers.

Selling a 100-year-old stuffed Molokai oo bird is not going to encourage entrepreneurs to go out and kill more oos because the appropriately named oo (pronounced "oh oh!") has been extinct since 1904. Also extinct are the Oahu oo (1837) and the Hawaii oo (1934). In fact, you could say that in the big Global Superbowl of Survival, oo isn't just the creature's name, but its box scores. The oo joins other brilliantly plumed though ironically named extinct birds like the Madagascar oh my, the Jamaican uh oh and the Brazilian hey watch out there.

OK, I made those up. But there are plenty of beautiful birds that have really joined the cosmic choir invisible, including the Himalayan mountain quail and the Trinidad piping guan, also known as the "piping hot" guan since that is when it apparently was the most tasty.

Among the so-called "talking birds," the Seychelles parakeet became extinct in 1881 possibly because it had not mastered saying such things as "Hey, buddy, put down that musket."

What makes the Medcalf case even more ridiculous is that a California man recently was caught smuggling living endangered birds, among other things. Those other things were a couple of monkeys he had stuffed down his pants. Customs agents stopped Robert Cusack after he arrived in Los Angeles from Thailand. When they opened his suitcase, a bird of paradise flew out. They found other exotic birds hidden in nylon stockings. When asked if he had anything else, Cusack said, "Yes, I've got monkeys in my pants." And he did. Two endangered pygmy monkeys. (And you thought flying coach was uncomfortable. Try it with monkeys in your pants.)

For his offense against living endangered species, Cusack got only 57 days in jail. Medcalf, in theory, faces eight years for possessing birds as extinct as the dinosaurs. Hopefully, a judge will tell the DLNR to get stuffed.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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