Lost Animals – Extinction and the Photographic Record

Lost Animals – Extinction and the Photographic Record is the disheartening yet absolutely amazing work of Errol Fuller. This masterfully written book captures 28 extinct (or most-likely extinct) birds and mammals with highly researched text. But this is not merely another book bemoaning the loss of species. Included in the text are the photographic records of these missing animals, a haunting visual experience.

Lost Animals - Extinction and the Photographic Record

Historical records of the Passenger Pigeon are hardly believable. Birds that numbered in the billions (yes, with a “B”) quickly dwindled to the final member of the species, Martha. This is a story that many birders are familiar with. But seeing black and white photos of this famous bird makes the whole terrible destruction more real. It actually happened and should never have happened.

Campephilus principalis, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, gets the most coverage in Lost Animals and rightly so. This is largely due to the incredible work of James Tanner and the numerous photos he obtained. Taken in the 1930s, these photos include a young bird called “Sonny Boy” that Tanner banded (ringed). He returned the bird to its nest and it later fledged. But the photos are intense. The bird is huge and almost cartoonish, with a massive bill that can do some serious damage. Some of the photos have this Lord God bird sitting on Tanner’s head!

Unsubstantiated “sightings” of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers have been alleged since 1944, including a big hullabaloo in 2004-2005. When I heard reports of this, I was instantly skeptical and hopeful at the same time. These reports were from respected members of the birding community and the mere thought of an Ivory-Billed still living felt magical.

Alas, this was not to be. Of all the birds, this is one I always stop and stare at when I see a picture or drawing of. The mere mention of this bird grabs my attention and imagination. How could we let such a bird go extinct? If there was one remaining would we want to find it? Would I want to see it? As rhetorical questions go, these are borderline nonsensical. But it is still a bird that will always remain a “what if” and one that guides me in my efforts as a conservationist.

Lost Animals also includes a handful of Hawaiian birds, a list that is sadly probably going to grow. Island species are often in peril because of their susceptibility to habitat loss and alteration, invasive species and simply their smaller population sizes. Other notable birds, especially for North American birders are the Carolina Parakeet, Eskimo Curlew, Heath Hen, and Bachman’s Warbler to name a few.

The mammals included in Lost Animals include two marine mammals, the Caribbean Monk Seal and Yangtze River Dolphin. Then there are some bizarre animals I’ve never heard of before. Thylacines (Thylacinus cynocephalus) despite a dog-like appearance, were “marsupials related to kangaroos and koalas. They are often called Tasmanian Tigers and their photographic records come largely from zoos. Quagga (Equus quagga quagga) was most likely a subspecies of the still living Plains Zebra.

Finishing out the book are Schomburgk’s Deer (Cervus schomburgki) and Bubal Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus).

Lost Animals – Extinction and the Photographic Record is an important addition to any conservationist’s library. It provides historical and graphical information on species that were lost not that long ago. It provides an ongoing reminder of the work that needs to be done to protect and preserve the wonderful diversity we have on this planet. It is a book even my nine-year old has picked up numerous times, filling him with wonder and questions.

Check out our review of The Travails of Two Woodpeckers for even more about Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and more.

We received a review copy of Lost Animals – Extinction and the Photographic Record from the publisher, Princeton University Press

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