Tonawanda News

Features

May 5, 2014

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Extinction: It's forever?

Tonawanda News — In early February of this year, artist and writer Errol Fuller, who is known for books on extinction, wrote “Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record.”

Covers do not sell books, but this cover sold me. The cover has the front half of a thylacine with her mouth wide open, showing the remarkable gape that these marsupial carnivores had. Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, once lived all over mainland Australia and New Guinea, but by the time Europeans settled on the continent, the thylacine was restricted to the southern island of Tasmania.

They are called “tigers’ because they have the markings of the large striped cat, but they look more like a large striped dog or wolf. This is really interesting, since they are more closely related to kangaroos and kolas. Fuller writes “To put this into context one might say that humans bear a closer relationship to whales than Thylacines do to dogs.”

When Tasmania was settled by Europeans, first the Tasmanian emu (didn’t know there was such a thing) became extinct. Then the original human inhabitants around 1876 were wiped out. During the 19th century, sadly, governmental and privately funded companies were paid to kill thylacines. Around 1936, most likely, the last thylacine died at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania.

I remember when Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, recorded an hour special in Tasmania looking for the “world’s most celebrated mystery animal.” Much like Geraldo Rivera coming up bupkis with Al Capone’s vault, so did Irwin finding the mysterious thylacine.

The book covers almost 30 species of animals from around the world that have been lost. Many of them are certainly extinct, but I imagine a world where someone could discover a once- thought-extinct animal in the thick, untouched rainforests of Indonesia or South America or in a squalid outskirt of a bustling city.

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