Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record by Errol Fuller

I just received this excellent book in the mail a few days ago and have taken some time to page through it.

Lost Animals by Errol Fuller takes a reminiscent, often evocative approach to telling the tales of some of the most famous, as well as some of the more lesser known species that have gone extinct since 1870. Contained within the 256 pages are the accounts of 28 species of birds and mammals that have been lost in the last 150 years.

Many of the photographs contained in this volume are familiar to readers, but some are truly obscure or have never been published before. There are some truly wonderful treasures included within the pages. They include a recently recovered stash of photos of Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, a series of photos of one of the last Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, photos of what is considered the very last Bachman's Warbler ever to be seen alive, the only known photographs of New Zealand's Laughing Owl ever taken in the wild, and a collection of photos of a mother Thylacine and her cubs which have only recently come to light, ninety years after they were taken. Collected together here for the first time, these photos provide a tangible link to animals that have now vanished forever, in a book that brings the past to life while delivering a warning for the future.

The photos, together with the well-written species accounts, including excerpts from writings of the day and reminiscings from firsthand experiences, the book is an excellent piece to have in your library or on your coffee table at home.

Lost Animals: Extinction and the Rhotographic Record
By Errol Fuller
ISBN: 9780691161372
Pub Date: Feb 26, 2014
On sale at Princeton Press for $29.95

In discussing the book via Facebook, I copied a couple excerpts from the book.
I thought it fitting to share them here as well.

This is from the Ivory-billed Woodpecker account:

""The world being full of mystery, there are those who would argue that it is possible-just possible- that the species still survives, but anyone wondering if it does might ask themselves the following series of questions: 

Why should a species plummeting to extinction for more than a century suddenly stop its dreadful downward spiral precisely as it reached the edge of oblivion? 

Why would the dismal pattern of decline stop during the late 1930s just because numbers had dwindled to no more than a few pairs? 

What force is there in nature that would apply a last-minute emergency brake to this headlong rush to disaster and dictate a fierce- yet entirely secretive- rearguard action? 

What conspiracy could there be that would motivate these last few individuals to collectively decide that the decline had gone far enough, and that they owed it to their forebears- and the world at large- to secrete themselves away and surreptitiously breed in small and unnoticeable numbers (all the time in silence) and thus perpetuate their race? 

Why should these last few pairs, and the pitifully few descendants they may have had, be able to withstand the pressures that decimated their fellows, and then linger on- more or less unnoticed- for upwards of half a century? 

What then is left of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? 
apart from stuffed specimens, there are some old photos. There is even a grainy piece of antique nitrose movie film (most of which combusted and was destroyed at Cornell University during the 1960s due to its highly flammable nature). There are a few recordings of the actual call. 

And there was also a race of the species that lived in Cuba and was last seen perhaps as recently as the 1990s, but that is another story."

From the Passenger Pigeon account, an excerpt written by J.J. Audubon in the 1830s:

"Suddenly there burst forth a general cry of "here they come!" 
The noise which they made, though yet distant, reminded me of a hard gale at sea ... The pigeons, arriving by thousands, alighted everywhere, one above another, until solid masses as large as hogsheads, were formed on the branches ... Here and there the perches gave way under the weight with a crash, and falling to the ground, destroyed hundreds of the birds beneath .... I found it quite useless to speak, or even to shout, to those persons ... nearest to me. The air was literally filled with pigeons, the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow ... pigeons were still passing un-diminished numbers and continued to do so for three days in succession."