Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gallery of Extincted Animals no. 2 - MAMMALS

Part 2 of an ongoing menagerie of animals that are gone forever... due to human causes.

Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica)

The Bali Tiger, a subspecies of Tiger, was last seen on Bali in 1937. As with many island animals, increasing development of their forest habitats and over hunting finally did them in. Although these pressures had existed for a long time. They became more intense after Dutch colonization, when big game hunting trips were popular. The closely related Javan Tiger is also extinct.

The Bali Tiger was the smallest of the Tiger sub-species. There was a cultural ambivalence towards the Tiger in Bali, as it was seen as both sacred and detrimental to live stock.

The black bars on the forehead were one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Bali Tiger.

Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

Not a tiger at all, but a predatory marsupial (like a kangaroo or wombat) the size of a Collie, the Tasmanian Tiger prowled the forests of the Australian island of Tasmania. The last individual spotted conclusively in the wild was in 1930, and the last know living specimen died in the Hobart Zoo in 1936. Seen as a threat to livestock, intensive hunting (encouraged by government bounties), introduced dogs, and disease finally conspired to end them.

Also called a Thylacine, they had gone extinct 1000s of years before on mainland Australia.

The gorgeous stripes that earned them the erroneous moniker, "tiger"

Although the last known living tiger died in a zoo in 1936, people continue to report sightings in the wilderness of Tasmania.

A famous picture of the last specimen, "Benjamin", yawning in 1933.

Although, this last specimen is referred to as "Benjamin", there is doubt that it was a male.

The topic of the Thylacine's impact on livestock is still debated, as many scientists contend that wild dogs took many of the sheep and chickens that Thylacines were said to have killed.

A pack of Thylacine cubs in an Australian zoo. This was one of only 2 species of marsupial in which the male possessed a pouch.

Some of the remaining mounted specimens don't do the Thylacine justice.

A museum mount and skeleton. There is actually work underway in some institutions to clone a Tasmanian Tiger from DNA on some of these specimens.

A view of the skull shows a tooth structure and arrangement unlike placental (non-marsupial, like cats, wolves, weasels) predators.

Quagga (Equus quagga)

The 1st species of Zebra scientifically described by Europeans, was also the only one to go extinct. By the 1870's they had been hunted out of existence in the wild of the arid Grasslands of South Africa, where they were found. The last known specimen died in a Dutch zoo in 1883.

The Quagga was named for the call it makes, which sounds very much like "quagga".

This museum specimen, one of only 23 in the world, of a Quagga foal shows the distinctive pattern of the Quagga... brown and white stripes that fade to solid brown.

The only known pictures are of a female, taken in 1870, at the London Zoo.

What an awful enclosure. Zoos have come a long way since 1870.

Quaggas were hunted for meat, pelt, and as competitors for the grazing plants upon which livestock feed.

For the longest time, the relationship between Quagga and other Zebra species was not well understood. After DNA from pelts and mounted specimens was analyzed, it was found to be very closely related to the common and widespread Plains Zebra. The 2 species split from each other around 200,000 years ago.

Stellar's Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas)

This 8 meter, 10 ton relative of the Manatee was once found throughout the North Pacific Ocean. By 1741, upon the first known sighting of the animals by Europeans, they were only found in the Asian coastal areas of the Bering Sea. Their numbers and range had been severely limited already by the activities of the first peoples to arrive in the area. The arrival of Europeans greatly accelerated their decline, and by 1768 they were all gone, forever.

The Sea Cow was a slow moving animal that could neither come ashore, nor submerge to escape danger. They ate various varieties of kelp, and were most often found around kelp forests. They proved easy prey for native peoples who hunted them for meat, fat, and their thick black gray skins, which they used to make boats.

The more efficient and less restrained hunting methods of Europeans (who hunted them for meat, skin and fat for cooking and heating oil) proved too great a challenge for the Stellar's.

27 years after discovery by Europeans, they were extinct.

A skeleton in the American Museum of Natural Science in NYC, next to that of a smaller West Indian Manatee

The massive frame of this animal made it difficult to escape hunters.

The Sea Cow did not have differentiated teeth as we do, but 2 large bony plates that ground their food to be swallowed. They were sloppy eaters... wherever sea cows were found, one could find the stems and floats of kelp littering the beach.

Caribbean Monk Seal or West Indian Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis)

This small brown seal was the only seal to live in the Caribbean Sea and The Gulf Of Mexico in human history, and the only known seal to have gone extinct from human causes. Though the last confirmed sighting of the animal was on a small coral atoll 210 miles of the coast of Nicaragua, the United States government finally declared them EXTINCT in 2008, after years of official searching.

Caribbean Monks were sluggish, unaggressive, and curious. This all aided in the ease of hunting the animals, who were over hunted for meat and fat for oil.

They were one of the animals killed and eaten by Christopher Columbus's expedition.

Found raising their young on sandy and rocky coasts throughout the region, the last one seen in the U.S. was in 1932 off the coast of Texas.

Sea Mink (Neovison macrodon)

Like the inland species of Mink, the Sea Mink was an aquatic predatory member of the weasel family. Unlike that variety, it was hunted to extinction for its pelt by the mid 1800's. It was also almost twice the length, with a  somewhat rougher muskier scented coat, and found in coastal waters off of New England and Atlantic Canada.

No photos of Sea Mink exist, just written accounts, a few artists renderings, and many bones found in Native American midden sites along its historic range.

The Sea Mink was hunted to extinction, most likely by 1860, by European fur hunters.

The only member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) known to have gone extinct in human history.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Museum vouchers of Passenger Pigeon (top) and Carolina Parakeet (bottom)

Part 1 of an ongoing menagerie of animals that are gone forever. When we say EXTINCT, that does in fact mean that the entire species (or specific taxonomic group) has died out. One would not say that an individual or local population has become extinct. All that we now have of these creatures are old pictures, artistic renderings, collections specimens, and grainy footage. Lest we forget, let's have another look. (Yes i know extincted isn't a word, shut up!)

LAYSAN RAIL (Porzana palmeri)

The Layasan Rail went extinct on its home island of Laysan in 1923 (in the Hawaiian Islands) after introduced rabbits had obliterated all of the island's vegetation. The lack of nesting material and cover did them in. They went for really reals extinct, in 1944, after a U.S. naval vessel crashed into Midway Island (where they had been introduced) releasing rats onto the island. The rats' predation on the eggs and young finally did them in.

A print of the Rail with it's fuzz black young. Both parents cared for the eggs and young.

The Laysan Rail was flightless and only 6 in. from beak tip to tail tip.

The nests were made in grass tussocks surrounding the island's lagoon.

Foraging for food, and contemplating mortality.

Last, maybe only, film taken of the Laysan Rail

CAROLINA PARAKEET (Conuropsis carolinensis)

Hey! No seriously, HEY, did you know that the Eastern U.S. had its own parrot at one time? That's right, up until 1918, there was a native parrot roaming around much of the East. Eventually though, a complex web of circumstances (the trade in bird feathers for women's hats, destruction of Hardwood Forests, possibly the introduction of the European Honeybee, and destruction of nests by farmers) lead to their eradication.

One of the few specimens left, in a Museum in Weisbaden, Germany. Can you believe we lost (destroyed) something this beautiful?

Audubon's (kind of) famous illustration of the Carolina. They lived in old growth forests along rivers from the east coast into the midwest.

Mark Catesby's classic illustration. The parakeet fed on a wide variety of seeds, fruits, and grains (including human crops, MEOWCH!).

What? Oh yeah, I didn't think you said anything, sorry.

The last of the wild Carolinas were killed off in 1904 in Florida, while the last captive (and the last we know of at all) died at the Cincinatti Zoo in 1918.

ELEPHANT BIRDS (family Aepyornithidae)

The Elephant Birds were enormous flightless birds in the Genus
Aepyornis. They lived on Madagascar until, at least, the 1500's, when human settlers arrived. It's believed that the combination of over-collection of eggs for food and the introduction of dogs and rats lead to the bird's extinction. And so, the world's largest bird disappeared into imagination.

All drawings and renderings that we have are based on skeletons and folk tales, as no Westerner has ever seen one whole or alive.

A scale drawing of bird and human

Models are the only way to get a real perspective of their size now.

Museum specimen of Elephant Bird skeleton and egg

The color and distribution of the feathers... we have to guess at these characteristics.

There were possibly 4 species of Aepyornis, or it's possible that we have just found 4 different geographical and/or age variants of one species, the universally accepted Aepyornis maximus.

A model Elephant Bird egg (left), Ostrich egg (lower right and largest bird today), and Hummingbird egg (upper right)

"Could I ride one?"
"Sir, please step away form the enclosure... SIR!!!"

GREAT AUK (Pinguinis impennis)

This large relative of the Puffin swam the waters of the North Atlantic, until the last one was seen in New Foundland in 1852. It had previously been accepted that the last pair had been killed by hunters/sociopaths (seriously, read the account if you can find it), incubating their egg in 1844 on an island off the coast of Iceland. They had been hunted for centuries, but the intensity of hunting (for down, meat , and eggs) in the 1800's was too much for the Great Auk.

The Great Auk was actually the first bird referred to as a "Penguin".

Also called the Garefowl, form Old Norse for "Spear Bird" (referring to the beak).

As with many of the birds in this family (the Alcids - Puffins, Murres, Auks, etc.) they ate fish.

This Leipzig Museum specimen hasn't eaten in awhile.

This London Museum specimen is seriously not impressed with that sweater.

They stood up to 3 feet tall, and weighed up to ~11 lbs. Truly THE GREATEST AUK OF THEM ALL!!! Ahem, yeah.

Although quite quick and agile in the water, they were ungainly on land. This coupled with their lack of fear of humans/predators (they didn't have many on their breeding islands) made them easy targets for hunters (who just killed too many).

Another potential problem that lead to extinction was the low birth rate of the Great Auk, as they only laid one large egg per year. If the nest is destroyed, well... that's it! And so it was.

PASSENGER PIGEON (Ectopistes migratorius)

What was once, perhaps, the most numerous vertebrate land animal in the world, existing in the billions... is now extinct. AND IT'S YOUR FAULT!!! Okay maybe not, but it was humans that hunted them for meat and oil (from fat) to the point where they could no longer maintain their numbers.

Pretty pigeons don't get exceptions.

Their nesting colonies were miles long, and they existed in those colonies in the millions. When hunters had decimated their numbers below a size in which the Pigeons were comfortable nesting, they simply stopped reproducing in adequate numbers in the wild (as they some how needed GREAT numbers to fell protected from predators perhaps).

They were so numerous, that when they passed over in flocks, they could blacken the sky for hours. During migration, flocks a mile wide and almost 300 miles long could be seen.

Imagine the feces!

John James Audubon's print of the Passenger Pigeon.

They were of course considered a major pest by some farmers. Think of millions of birds descending on your wheat fields.

A print of the female (left), male (center), and juvenile male (right).

A specimen in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The last know live Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

The Passenger Pigeon nested in huge groups in forests through the Eastern U.S.

One of the last babies