Megascops Stangiae: New Species of Owl Named in Honor of Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Dorothy Stang

Image of Sister Dorothy Stang, Xingu Screech Owl, and Sister Dorothy Stang hugging a woman

Featured at Sophisticated Living Cincinnati May/June 2021

A newly-discovered species of owl living almost 4,000 miles from Dayton has just been named after a Dayton native.

Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Dorothy Stang, assassinated in 2005 by henchmen of Brazilian cattle ranches, fought to protect the rainforest and families practicing subsistence and sustainable farming. Now, in that same rainforest, scientists have discovered a new owl - the Xingu Screech Owl, the scientific name for which will be Megascops stangiae.

The designation was proposed by biologists involved in the discovery, several of whom were familiar with Sister Dorothy's work and her lasting legacy of environmental preservation. The designation is meant both to honor Sister Dorothy and to highlight continued resistance to environmental degradation, especially as it accelerates under Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonary has dismissed officials responsible for protection of the Amazon and for the land rights of people who live there, including in the Anapu area where Sister Dorothy worked.

The common name for the newly-discovered owl - the Xingu Screech Owl - derives from the area between the Tapajos and Xingu rivers, where the owl was found. The area also includes the dirt road where assassins lay in wait for Sister Dorothy, and where they shot her six times.

According to reports in the Zootaxa scientific journal, the Xingu Screech Own is dark brown and up to six inches in length. It's usually found near the edge of forests, where at night it can be the most abundant nocturnal bird in the areas where the species resides. By day, it roots in the holes or in fallen leaves.

Sister's Dorothy's death served as the impetus for the creation of a protective "extractive reserve' including nearly 2.5 million acres of land devoted to sustainable use of rainforest resources by the local population. During her 40 years in Brazil, Sister Dorothy implemented programs creating and supporting self-sufficient communities, including 39 community schools, many of which featured sustainable agriculture in their curriculums. She established a women's center and programs to reduce infant mortality, promoted literacy, and began a factory to produce and market banana flour. She established 35 Base Christian Communities to study scripture ad its relevance to social justice, which in conjunction with her other ministries drew people together many of whom had been distrustful of all but their nearest neighbors. These Base Christian Communities, today numbering 85 and including 1,200 families, stand as a powerful counterweight to wealthy landowners laying claim to the forest, including habitat of the Xingu Screech Owl. 

"Sister Dorothy's voice resonated with the voices of the farmers whose land was illegally snatched and stolen from them," says Sister Teresita Weind, Congregatioal Leader of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namu. "Sister Dorothy's voice was loud and clear as she warned that 'the death of the forest is the end of our lives."

While newly discovered, the Xingu Screech Owl is already considered critically endangered.

As published by the Sophisticated Giving Magazine, May / June 2021