Last year I designed a set of commemorative plates honoring extinct animals. The most recent of the set is The Black African Rhino. Above the name I wrote Ext. 2011, the “Ext” for extinct is a play on historic plaques. That date is incorrect though. The Black African Rhino or Western Black Rhino actually went extinct in 2010, but was officially announced by the IUCN in 2011. Until I started this project, I didn’t know much about these animals or the circumstances of their extinction. I was really struck to find that in many instances, animals that were once abundant, were actually more likely to go extinct. For scientists, it seems that the specific details of each species and subspecies’ extinction are difficult to pin down (so to speak). After all, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker continues to exist in this weird limbo between critically endangered, mythical, and possibly extinct. Seems like we only hear about the extinct species with names like “Martha,” the last Passenger Pigeon, or “Lonesome George,” the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, or the stories that accompany their struggle for survival like the Pyrenean Ibex. Maybe because the “last” in the case of the Black African Rhinoceros was not named, it’s not surprising that the news of its extinction made the rounds across social media this week with the groundbreaking headline that it had just become extinct. I think this says less about how we are terrible fact-checking pseudo-journalists and more about our alienation from the natural world. Maybe the take away is that people are genuinely saddened by the erosion of biodiversity. That’s a hopeful thought—that’s something we can build on.
Shipping is going the way of the Dodo until December 1st. Excellent time to stock up on holiday gifts!
From The New York Times August 30th, 2014
On September 1, 1914, Martha, a passenger pigeon who lived in an aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo, was found dead in her cage. At the time, Martha was believed to be the sole passenger pigeon left on Earth, and, in the intervening century, no evidence has emerged to contradict this. The passenger pigeon was once the most numerous bird in North America, perhaps in the world; it’s estimated that when the first European settlers arrived, at least one of every four birds on the continent was a passenger pigeon. The early colonists were awed by the vastness of the flocks, which contained hundreds of millions—perhaps billions—of birds. As late as the eighteen-seventies, passenger pigeons still could be seen passing overhead in astonishing, sky-darkening numbers; then, over the course of just four decades, the species, Ectopistes migratorius, dwindled down to Martha and her companion, a male named George. Then it was just Martha. And then there were none. –Elizabeth Kolbert
To mark this auspicious day, The Last Menagerie is thrilled to launch its first Guest Writer Project post with a piece by San Francisco based writer and artist, LJ Moore about Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon here: Past Future Perfect
Illustration by LJ Moore
In the coming months, The Last Menagerie will feature a different writer, historian, or artist each month contributing a short piece of writing about one of the animals from the first plate series. Future contributors include: Laura Bliss on The Quagga, Amy Blount Lay on The Dodo and Erin Chapman on The Pyrenean Ibex and The Wooly Mammoth