Global arbiter of names saved from extinction

Global arbiter of names saved from extinction
Vice President Daphine Fautin, Professor Peter Ng (NUS) and ICZN President Jan van Tol . Story is for Science and newsmaker will supply images of animals.

SINGAPORE- What's in a name? When it comes to the scientific names of animals, it can mean the difference between salvation and extinction for a giant tortoise, or can increase the price of a prawn.

It is also important that the same organism be called the same thing around the world.

But the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) - the global arbiter of animals' scientific names for more than a century - almost went extinct itself recently, when the British-based charitable trust that funded it ran out of cash.

But it has been saved in the nick of time by the National University of Singapore (NUS), which is keeping it afloat for the next three years as it decides on a new funding structure.

The organisation's 27 commissioners hail from around the world and do their work on a voluntary basis. Most of them, like NUS crab expert Peter Ng, are biology experts.

But the funds ran dry for the trust - set up with about £1,000 in 1947. Its expenses grew with its work, faster than income could trickle in from donations, grants, and sales of the ICZN journal, said commission president Jan van Tol of the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands.

About 150 copies of the journal, the commission's main source of income, are sold mainly to research and educational organisations each year.

Fortunately, NUS has announced that it will host the ICZN secretariat for three years to the tune of up to $100,000 a year, funding one full-time staff member and providing office space to coordinate the commission's activities worldwide.

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