Our hearts are broken. We have had the unexpected news for a few days now: Phil Bishop, our ASG Co-chair, our larger-than-life amphibian conservation elder, was diagnosed with an inoperable aggressive brain cancer which has led to his rapid decline. As I write these lines, Phil lies in a hospital bed in Dunedin, New Zealand, surrounded by his incredible, loving wife, Debbie, and their two boys. There are many more of us who would do anything to be able to be with him again, but we know that we can’t, and never will be able to do so again.
Phil was due to be the Head of Department at the University of Otago starting January 2021, and because of this he has had to step back from amphibian conservation causes that he cared deeply about. This included stepping back from his roles with the Amphibian Specialist Group and the Amphibian Survival Alliance. Phil had been deeply involved with both groups for many years, and has been a foundation of their existence. These are tight-knit groups that are like family. This was already a difficult process, and we had started to prepare for this transition. However, we were completely unprepared for what came next.
Whether we are aware of it or not, when we are born our mortality is born with us. It is our own faithful companion, walking our days and nights with us. At times it may have touched us gently, a reminder that it is right there with us, or perhaps it may have already pulled us by the scruff of the neck in the crater of our lives, with all that this entails. One day it will put its loving and faithful hand firmly on your shoulder – yes, your shoulder – and whisper that it is time to go. Until then, I ask you to live deeply, with your feet firmly planted in your transient life. See your death ahead of you, and live like you know that you will die.
The extraordinary late Uruguayan writer, historian, elder and wise man Eduardo Galeano wrote that in the Ecuadorian rainforest the Shuar Indians were weeping for a dying grandmother. They were weeping at the shores of her agony. A witness, coming from other worlds, asked why they were crying in front of her, if she was still alive. The weepers said: so that she knows that we love her very much.
Phil Bishop, amphibian conservation giant, friend and ASG family member, please know that we love you so very much. May our heartache and tears help pave your way to your ancestors and family members who preceded you, to those who helped forge you and helped make you the incredible human being that we know and love.