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Eat This Endangered Species

A partridge native to Yemen might go extinct. A rabbi is trying to save it, because he thinks it’s kosher.

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The Philby’s Partridge. (iStockphoto)

As Loike started his project to “save” the Philby’s Partridge, he discovered that information about the bird is scarce; the last study of Yemen’s bird population was done in 2000. An uncaptioned photo in a guide book on kosher birds in Yemen has a photo of religious man holding up a string of slaughtered birds that look like Philby’s Partridges. Loike had his own suspicions about the bird being kosher before: While he was breeding Chukar Partridges, a breeder had accidentally sent him a Philby’s, and the two birds mated and produced several eggs; if a bird can successfully mate with a species that is already known to be kosher, then that bird falls into the same halachic category as the kosher species. Loike was also interested in discovering whether Yemenite Jews had a specific mesorah, tradition, about the bird. “We don’t know of any other birds that the Yemenites ate,” Loike said. “It’s a link in the mesorah.”

Having worked with the Museum of Natural History in the past, Loike called for help. While the museum typically has 15 to 20 specimens of most birds, they only had one skin of a Philby’s Partridge.

Loike with the partridges in his garage

The donor paid the only Philby’s Partridge breeder in the United States to ship birds to Loike. These birds, Loike discovered, were descendants of a flock raised by the San Diego Zoo; the zoo, he said, had stopped housing them and the birds eventually made their way to the breeder.

“The San Diego Zoo said they were easy to breed but not particularly exciting, beautiful, or nice, so people aren’t interested in saving them,” Loike said. “You go to the zoo you want to see panda bears. You don’t want to see a bird that only exists because people dedicate their resources to it.”

Loike currently has eight pairs of Philby’s Partridges in two cages in his garage. His plan is to raise them full-cycle, from eggs to adulthood, and then determine once and for all if they are kosher. “I have to know everything about the bird,” Loike explained. “The reason I do that is because sometimes you get surprises. I don’t want to have a bird that’s vegetarian that suddenly goes predatory when it is pregnant.” He also hopes to find a Yemenite slaughterer who can identify the birds. Afterward, Loike wants to interest a zoo or a conservation outfit in keeping a stable population of the birds in the United States. He is the midst of a fundraising campaign in the hopes of raising $5,000 to help cover the cost of breeding. On the $5 level of donation he offers a “Feather in Your Cap” perk, a literal feather from the partridge. At the highest donation, $540, he will stuff a Philby’s Partridge on its natural death and send it to you (“It might take a few years, but you can’t get this anywhere else,” he writes).

It might seem strange for Loike to spend so much time and energy to save a bird that may not even be endangered in the first place. But, Loike explained, he’s not a bird conservationist. He’s far more interested in another endangered species: Yemenite Jews—especially those who can correctly identify the Philby’s Partridge as being kosher.

“The fact is that the mesorah is vanishing,” he said. “I believe that no one is paying attention to an entire mitzvah: identifying kosher birds. All this knowledge which has been saved in Europe, North Africa, in the Middle East for thousands—not hundreds, thousands—of years is going to be lost.”

Even though Loike has devoted himself to breeding Philby’s Partridges, and keeping alive a tradition of eating the kosher bird, he isn’t particularly interested in eating the bird himself.

“I don’t eat exotic birds,” Loike said. “I like chicken.”

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Judging by that picture, not an ugly bird at all.

So glad the rabbi didn’t eat the parrot!

My thought exactly. When I read the opening line of the article, I glanced back up at the photograph and scanned the caption to make sure it was in fact a picture of the Philby’s Partridge. Mr. Orbach, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, to be sure, but, wow, “ugly”? What gives?

sidney51 says:

This story reminds me of the attendant at executions by injection who cleans the
condemned’s arm with an alcohol swab before the injection.

chayar says:

Not only is the bird not ugly, it is gorgeous. An incredible hot-red beak with matching spectacles, tasteful smoky baby-blue, caramel, and rich brown patterned feathers and subtly shaded solid feathers, a sleek ebony collar (heart shaped!), and a cute (admittedly not sophisticated or awe-inspiring), round little body. What an incredible variety of creatures G-d has made which we can live with, benefit from, enjoy and even bond with, admire (and eat).

not ugly! jolie laide!

I wondered about that too. ;)

ugly bird? really? birds are one of the most beautiful of all hashem’s creations. further, we should try and save all animals- not just kosher ones. tikkun olam and tzar baalei chayim should be enough of a reason.

sidney51 says:

The bird looks like a New York City pigeon going to the Gay Parade.

AbigailOK says:

The very fact that a species in endangered and that of all people although nothing surprises me anymore today given the hearts of stone lots of us seem to have in these times when this whole planet is great peril and all animals and nature without them being guilty of it nor capable of acting. Humans are asleep or too greedy and cruel. Like this absolute incompetent, egotistical if not outright amoral rabbi going against Torah. And no one says anything about it? Who cares how the bird looks? Keeping birds in a cage in a garage is enough to call HSUS or the police. But no, people just comment that the bird is beautiful or that it is good the parrot did not get eaten. You all keep shabat and learn your daf yomi? Apparently not mussar or the laws of tza’ar ba’alei chayim in case your own character does seem to lack any love or compassion. Good luck buying your next IPad, or Gucci bag.

Parrots are not kosher.

ivygar says:

I live in England, where the greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) is a native bird. I find it hard to consider the greenfinch kosher. Its diet includes insects.I can see it being used for sacrifice, but not for eating- it’s rather small, about the size of a sparrow. In addition, some may not be eager to eat a songbird or a bird often kept as a caged bird. I am against capturing and encaging wild birds. I don’t think keeping a captive born bird in a cage is cruel. I raise canaries and Gouldian finches. They’re well fed and looked after, and we allow the birds out of their cages several times a week for free flight. The Gouldian finch is endangered in its native North Australia, but several breeding programs have helped increase its numbers in the wild.

Chickens also eat insects, ducks eat fish. Both are widely accepted as kosher.

If you want to join the campaign feel free to visit http://www.indiegogo.com/shecht :)

All biodiversity has its place on this planet. We must strive to save all of it. The Philby’s partridge should be saved not because of kashrut, but because we would be destroying a creation of HaShem. The bird is not ugly it is beautiful, most galliforme game birds in Asia are.

The mention of the stork as chasidov is incorrect; it is from the Torah, not Russia. The stork is a chasidah, a “bird of chessed,” or lovingkindness; the Torah mistakenly believed that mother storks pecked at their own chests and fed their babies on their own blood (a strange conflation of Jewish mother and Oedipus to the max). Shakespeare agreed. For my part, the rabbi, well-meaning tho’ he be (and I am a YU alum myself, of several schools), ought to leave the bird uneaten, and rescue it in the cause of tsaar ba’alei chaim (preventing danger to living things).

rightcoaster says:

Not only do chickens eat insects given half a chance, but the eggs of “free-range” chickens are a wonderful golden orange. I thought “predator” meant only with respect to other birds or of mammals. Geese and turkeys also eat insects, at least from time to time. Fish that are kosher eat smaller fish, and probably small crustaceans and worms (which in turn eat smaller crustaceans and worms).

rightcoaster says:

Waitaminit — stop with the raving already about the beauty, or someone will wonder about your strange preferences for bonding (or is it bondage?).

Devarim 14:11

pierre says:

The bird is cleaver than it looks. It knows with all the fat it has human’s risk getting clogged arteries and get a heart attack. Birds revenge. Moral eat chicken.

Why “Philby’s” Partridge? In my mind this it yet another colonial moniker for a living creature that deserves better. Certainly this bird could be named in a manner more respectful of its long association with peoples who inhabited Yemen. Why not Yemenite Rock Partridge? Or anything that goes beyond a European announcing “I came, I saw, I named.”

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Eat This Endangered Species

A partridge native to Yemen might go extinct. A rabbi is trying to save it, because he thinks it’s kosher.

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