Two months then passed in which none was reported. This explains the willingness of the Rare and Endangered Species unit to permit hunting of Arizona's rarest bird when the quail season opened on Oct. 1 (except, of course, within the original fenced and posted release areas). The decision not to give the masked bobwhite protection from hunters disturbed some fiercely protectionist, antihunting conservationists, but it makes a good deal of practical sense.
"We reasoned that it would take a very knowledgeable hunter to distinguish a masked bob in the air from one of the more common quail," Tomlinson said. "If a sportsman happened to knock one down outside the release areas, and if it were totally protected, he would be unlikely to send the band to us for fear of legal difficulties. Right now, the return of a band showing that the bird has at least survived, and indicating how it has moved, is more valuable than the bird itself."
Not that any great increase in hunting is anticipated if it turns out that the masked bobwhite is flourishing. There is no telling how many of the original 160 Maryland-hatched birds have managed to stay alive, or if any remain in Arizona. Even if they are alive, or if subsequently released bobs do survive (additional releases will be made in 1971 and 1972) it is doubtful that the re-introduced birds will ever be plentiful enough to add appreciably to hunting.
All of which brings up a question familiar to those involved in work with endangered species: Why bother? If, as could easily happen, the masked bob were suddenly wiped out, the loss would have very little practical effect on any other bird or animal, or even on any human being except for a few special individuals like Tomlinson. But the release of the 160 masked bobwhites represents the first field test of theories and techniques that federal scientists hope will improve the lot of many of our all-but-vanished wild species. Even if the recovery of one of these birds is accomplished with a shotgun it will indicate that the masked bobwhite has lived for eight months in Arizona, something that none of his kind has been able to do for three-quarters of a century. If a masked bob can make it in the dry hills south of Tucson, research will be encouraged on similar restoration efforts for the benefit of the whooping crane, the Everglade kite, the black-footed ferret and others of that mixed bag of creatures whose common characteristic is that mankind has pushed them to the brink of extinction.
"The bird is part of our natural heritage," says Tomlinson, summing up the rationale of the project. "I like the idea of keeping as much of that as we can. If some time, money and compassion will save some of the species that are left, I can't think of any good reason why not to make the effort."