Looking for Sydney Porter

Many thanks to my good friend and fellow zoological detective– Josef Harold Lindholm III— for sending me a treasure trove of vintage Sydney Porter articles on the Imperial amazon of Dominica, material which has not seen the light of day for almost 90 years now!


Searching for historical material about Dominica and its parrots, I had found a few Imperial articles listed in a musty bibliography– and of course Josef, being the world’s premier collector of avicultural desiderata, had the original old documents at hand. He also found additional materials to send along, including a 1930 article about Dominica’s other endemic amazon, then known as Bouquet’s parrot, now named the Red-necked amazon. Josef also happens to be the Curator of Birds at the Tulsa Zoo.

A sample of Sydney Porter’s thoughts on Dominica c. 1929:

A matter of between four and five thousand miles away and a three week’s journey from the shores of England lies the world’s most incredible island…There is a strange, sinister atmosphere about Dominica, which some say is an evil spirit which broods over the island. But leaving native superstitions aside, it is a strange fact that on this lovely island very few seem to succeed, something happens, and in time the jungle swallows up again the efforts made by man…After nearly three hundred years, while most of the other West Indian Islands seem to prosper, this island remains almost as wild and mysterious as ever. It certainly is the wildest and most impressive land I have ever seen, and its grandeur and beauty will remain a life-long impression. Dominica will ever be as a dream, one of those strange, mysterious, and lovely lands which we see only in our dreaming hours, and I shall always feel that there is nowhere else left to see, for in Dominica I have seen the world’s nearest approach to Paradise.

Born in 1900, Sydney Porter became a well-known and much-loved figure in avicultural circles in Britain until his untimely death in 1958. In bad health throughout his life, he fled England’s cold winters at every opportunity, venturing to the tropics in part as a remedy for his chronic, degenerative asthma. His passion for birds carried him to many far-flung corners of the globe, including trips to East Africa, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, South America, and the Caribbean. Of his arrival on Dominica in February 1929, Porter wrote:

When I had set sail at the beginning of February, after several months of indifferent health, in search of sunshine in Jamaica, I had not the slightest intention of ever setting foot on the lovely island of Dominica, but it was in this latter country that I did eventually arrive, and not in the former. I will explain. Our boat– which was bound for Barbados, the jumping off ground for passengers bound for the lesser-known West Indian islands– carried as passengers several residents of the Lesser Antilles, who were returning after a trip to Europe, and as I got to know them I questioned them about the rare parrots from the respective islands. But few of them knew anything about the birds except the Parrot from St. Vincent, which they regarded more or less as a myth; but two days before landing at Barbados, I was introduced to a charming lady who resided on Dominica, and who knew Amazona imperialis well. She said it had always been very scarce, but now was excessively rare…So upon this information I decided to alter all my arrangements, and come to the island and try my luck at securing a specimen– or at least seeing these magnificent birds in a state of freedom. Fortunately, I was able to do both.

Intrigued? Fear not: I will be sharing Porter’s articles in their entirety here in a series of future posts.

sydney porter

In Search of Paradise Lost

Trafalgar Falls
Trafalgar Falls, Dominica, Pre-Maria

Welcome to Eden Is Broken, a personal narrative devoted to the fate of Caribbean nature in the Age of the Superstorm. An exploration of island paradises past and present, this website places special emphasis on the step-by-step recovery of Dominica’s rainforest and wildlife in the wake of Hurricane Maria.


The site is named in honor of Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. The Prime Minister’s seventeen-minute address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2017, just five days after Cat 5 Maria made landfall on the once-pristine Nature Island of the Caribbean, was delivered as an appeal for immediate disaster aid– as well as a global wake-up call in the face of catastrophic climate change. Key points of the address are excerpted here:

With physical and emotional difficulty, I have left my bleeding nation to be with you here today because these are moments for which the United Nations exist…In the case of Dominica, it has been two years since we lost lives and endured substantial physical and infrastructural damage from the ravages of the floods and mud slides of Tropical Storm Ericka.

To deny climate change is to procrastinate while the earth sinks; it is to deny a truth we have just lived.

It is to mock thousands who in a few hours, without a roof over their heads, will watch the night descend on Dominica in fear of sudden mud slides and what the next hurricane may bring…

But what is our reality at this moment? Pure devastation, as Dominicans bear the brunt of climate change. We are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others. Actions that endanger our very existence and all for the enrichment of a few elsewhere…

We dug graves today in Dominica. We buried loved ones yesterday and I am sure that as I return home tomorrow, we shall discover additional fatalities, as a consequence of this encounter. Our homes are flattened. Our buildings roofless. Our water pipes smashed and road infrastructure destroyed. Our hospital is without power and schools have disappeared beneath the rubble. Our crops are uprooted. Where there was green there is now only dust and dirt.

The desolation is beyond imagination. Mr. President, fellow leaders– the stars have fallen. Eden is broken.

The nation of Dominica has come here to declare an international humanitarian emergency. One that is centered in Dominica, but also encompasses many of our neighbors, including our sister isle Antigua, which had to evacuate its citizens from Barbuda.

The time has come for the international community to make a stand and to decide whether it will be shoulder to shoulder with those suffering the ravages of climate change worldwide. Whether we can mitigate the consequences of unprecendented increases in sea temperatures and levels; whether to help us rebuild sustainable livelihoods; or whether the international community will merely show some pity now, and then flee, relieved to know that this time it was not you.

We will rebuild our Garden of Eden again for our children and for future generations.

Navy continues evacuations from Dominica
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina

Eden Is Broken is dedicated to everyone affected by Maria’s wrath, to the long road toward recovery of the livelihoods and ecology of the island– and to Dominica’s national bird: the Imperial amazon, a parrot species older than the island itself.

One of two parrots native to Dominica, the Imperial– known locally as the Sisserou– is the island jewel at the heart of this site, just as it comprises the center of Dominica’s national flag. The fate of the Sisserou and the ecological health of its only island home are inextricably woven with the future prosperity of Dominica’s people.

Dominica’s flag with Sisserou as National Emblem

Please join me in search of the Caribbean’s imperiled Edens, from the time before Columbus, to the aftermath of Maria– and beyond.

Continue reading “In Search of Paradise Lost”