Tonawanda News

May 5, 2014

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Extinction: It's forever?


The Tonawanda News

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.

The book is 256 pages long, and pays tribute to each of the chosen species with grainy and sometimes poor-quality photos. This makes me keep going back to the book to study the pictures more intensely as if by staring at them will bring them back to life. Many of the photos are black and white, with heavy equipment and absolute still subjects needed to accomplish what we take for granted every time we get out a smartphone and take a selfie.

The font is on the large side and the photographic record part of the book is as large as possible without compromising the aged photos. Many of the species covered are birds, with a few mammals referenced at the end. One species that is not covered in this book is the hallmark of extinction, the Dodo bird. The Dodo was never photographed, as it disappeared too early for such a record.

Many of the species have stories of the last known individuals, including their names, the location where they died and the caregivers who studied them and respected them. Some of the species covered only have pictures of one individual.

The quagga, a zebra relative named for the noise it made, has only five known photographs. All feature the same female, which lived at the London Zoo for 21 years. Quaggas were hunted to extinction during the 18th and 19th centuries because they competed with cattle and sheep for grazing. Humans sure make interesting decisions.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a certified professional bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.