Thursday, May 5, 2011


Arctodus known as the short-faced bear or bulldog bear is an extinct genus of bear endemic to North America during the Pleistocene 3.0 Ma. 11,000 years ago, existing for approximately 2.989 million years. Arctodus simus may have once been Earth's largest mammalian, terrestrial carnivore. It was the most common of early North American bears, being most abundant in California.

Source: Wikipedia

American Mastodon

The American mastodon, Mammut americanum, is an extinct North American proboscidean that lived from about 3.7 million years ago until about 10,000 BC. It was the last surviving member of the mastodon family. It is known from fossils found ranging from present-day Alaska and New England in the north, to Florida, southern California, and as far south as Honduras and El Salvador. Its main habitat was cold spruce woodlands, and it is believed to have browsed in herds.

The American mastodon resembled a woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius in appearance, with a thick coat of shaggy hair. A few skeletons have been found with the fur still attached; examination of the hair suggests that mastodons lacked the undercoat characteristic of mammoths. It was about 3 metres 9.8 ft in height at the shoulder, also similar to woolly mammoths.

Source: Wikipedia

American Cheetah

American cheetahs is an extinct genus of the family Felidae, endemic to North America during the Pleistocene epoch 1.8 million years ago 11,000 years ago, existing for approximately 1.8 million years.

There were at least two species of feline morphologically similar to the modern cheetah. Living from three million to ten or twenty thousand years ago in North America, these cats are known only from fragments of skeletons. The two species commonly identified are Miracinonyx inexpectatus and M. trumani. Sometimes a third species, M. studeri, is added to the list, but it is more often listed as a junior synonym of M. trumani. Both species are similar to the modern cheetah, with faces shortened and nasal cavities expanded for increased oxygen capacity, and legs proportioned for swift running. However, these similarities are not inherited from a common ancestor, but result from either parallel or convergent evolution.

Source: Wikipedia

American Lion

The American lion also known as the North American lion or American cave lion, is an extinct feline of the family Felidae, endemic to North America during the Pleistocene epoch 1.8 mya to 11,000 years ago, existing for approximately 1.79 million years.This subspecies is closely related to the Eurasian cave lion.

The American lion was one of the largest types of cat ever to have existed, and the largest lion in history, slightly larger than the Early Middle Pleistocene primitive cave lion, Panthera leo fossilis, and about twenty-five percent larger than the modern African lion.

Source: Wikipedia


One of Europe's most famous extinct animals, the aurochs or urus (Bos primigenius) were a very large type of cattle. Aurochs evolved in India some two million years ago, migrated into the Middle East and further into Asia, and reached Europe about 250,000 years ago.

By the 13th century A.D., the aurochs' range was restricted to Poland, Lithuania, Moldavia, Transylvania and East Prussia. The right to hunt large animals on any land was restricted to nobles and gradually to the royal household. As the population of aurochs declined, hunting ceased but the royal court still required gamekeepers to provide open fields for the aurochs to graze in. The gamekeepers were exempted from local taxes in exchange for their service and a decree made poaching an aurochs punishable by death. In 1564, the gamekeepers knew of only 38 animals, according to the royal survey. The last recorded live aurochs, a female, died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland. The skull was later taken by the Swedish Army and is now the property of Livrustkammaren in Stockholm.

In the 1920s two German zookeepers, the brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck, attempted to breed the aurochs back into existence (see breeding back) from the domestic cattle that were their descendants. Their plan was based on the conception that a species is not extinct as long as all its genes are still present in a living population. The result is the breed called Heck Cattle, 'Recreated Aurochs', or 'Heck Aurochs', which bears an incomplete resemblance to what is known about the physiology of the wild aurochs

Source: Wikipedia

Baiji River Dolphin

The inevitable appears to have arrived for the Baiji River Dolphin, a peaceful, majestic dolphin which had inhabited China’s Yangtze River for at least the last 20 million years. The dolphin was declared functionally extinct after an expedition late in 2006 failed to record a single individual after an extensive search of the animal’s entire range.

Although unconfirmed sightings have come out since then, it’s unlikely that any living individuals, should they still exist, would be able find each other and breed. This tragic demise makes the Baiji Dolphin the first recorded extinction of a cetacean in modern times.

The population had been declining rapidly in recent decades since the rise of Chinese industrialization, which has utilized the Yangtze River as one of its primary arteries. The river is now one of the worst polluted major waterways in the world, being heavily relied upon for transportation and hydroelectricity. Roughly 12% of the world’s human population lives and works within the river’s catchment zone.

Traditional Chinese tales refer to the Baiji as a symbol of peace and prosperity. However, that traditional veneration was denounced during China’s “Great Leap Forward”, which called for hunting the animal in the name of redefining Chinese prosperity.

Regrettably, the Chinese may have got what they called for. Now that the dolphin is extinct, it’s difficult to avoid drowning the kind of prosperity it once symbolized along with it.

Source: Wikipedia

Tecopa Pupfish

The Tecopa Pupfish has the unfortunate distinction of being the first species to be declared extinct under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The official de-listing of the animal came in 1981.

The fish were first discovered in the Tecopa Hot Springs in California in 1942, and their decline followed shortly thereafter, as the Hot Springs were canalized and replaced with bathhouses. The final nail in the coffin came when hotels and trailer parks were built nearby to allow for more comfortable recreation for tourists.

Source: Wikipedia

Bubal Hartebeest

The Bubal Hartebeest was a magnificent, tough beast which was once domesticated by the ancient Egyptians as a food source and for sacrificial purposes. The creature was even mentioned in the Old Testament.

Although it once roamed throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East, the deep-rooted mythology which surrounded the animal was not enough to save it from European hunters who began hunting them for recreation and meat. The last Bubal Hartebeest was probably a female which died in the Paris Zoo in 1923.

Source: Wikipedia

Pyrenean Ibex

The Pyrenean Ibex has one of the more interesting stories among extinct animals, since it was the first species to ever be brought back into existence via cloning, only to go extinct again just seven minutes after being born due to lung failure. Here at Ecoworldly, we reported on the event, which happened in January 2009.

The last naturally born Pyrenean Ibex died on January 6th, 2000, after being found dead under a fallen tree at the age of 13. That animal’s only companion had died just a year earlier due to old age. Although the recent effort to resurrect the Ibex was short-lived, the event does bring optimism, and raise serious debate, about whether extinct creatures should be given a second chance.

Source: Wikipedia

Golden Toad ( Bufo periglenes)

The disappearance of the golden toad was both mysterious and rapid. Only 25 years separate the species’ discovery by scientists in 1964 and the last sighting in 1989. Since its disappearance, this 5-cm-long toad has become an icon for the decline of amphibians the world over.

Unlike the majority of toad species, the male golden toad was brightly colored and shiny to the extent that it looked artifi  cial. The species was also unusual as the male and female were very diff  erent in appearance. The male, with his magnifi  cent golden orange skin, was in stark contrast to the larger female, who was black with scarlet blotches edged in yellow.

This toad was only known from a small area (around 10 km 2 ) of high-altitude cloud forest in Costa Rica that today is part of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. These forests Golden Toad The golden toad was restricted to the loud forest above the city of Monteverde in Costa Rica. It was last seen in 1989. (Renata Cunha)(also known as elfi  n forests) are characterized by cloud, epiphytic plants galore, and small trees, which all in all give them a very primeval feel. In this small area of perpetually moist forest, the golden toad could apparently be encountered commonly and in large numbers, but only during the breeding season. The breeding season extended from April to June, when the rainy season is usually at its most intense. These rains would fill the hollows around the bases of trees and other natural depressions with water—ideal toad breeding pools. The toads would collect around these pools in great numbers with the sole intention of breeding. Mating in any toad species is far from genteel, and golden toad breeding was a free for all. The males outnumbered the females by eight to one, and any female in the vicinity of a breeding pool soon found herself beneath a writhing mound of potential suitors. The males would get so excited and desperate that they would try to mate with anything that moved, including other males. Occasionally, between 4 and 10 feverish males would grab hold of each other to form a toad ball the signifi  cance of which is unknown—perhaps a female was in the middle of the ball but managed to give her suitors the slip. Once a male had struggled with his competitors and beaten them to get a good hold of a female in the breeding grasp known as amplexus, he could fertilize her eggs—or at least, this was his intention. Often, other males would come along and try to separate the mating couple so that they could get a chance at fertilizing the female’s eggs.

What with all this wrestling and bad sportsmanship, it’s quite surprising that the golden toad managed to breed at all, but breed they did, and the female would eventually lay 200–400 3-mm eggs in a long string in the breeding pool. Compared with many species of toad, the golden toad laid relatively few big, yolk-packed eggs, rather than lots of small ones, and it is thought this breeding strategy evolved because of the small size of the pools on which the toad depended. These pools didn’t last very long, and so after the tadpole hatched, the race was on to change into a toadlet as quickly as possible. The abundant yolk in the eggs was the fuel for this rapid development.

After hatching, the tadpoles would spend around fi  ve weeks in the ephemeral pools before they lost their tadpole features and sprouted limbs, enabling them to begin their life on land. What the toads did outside of the breeding season is unknown. We don’t know what food they ate and how they went about catching it. The adults of the majority of other toad species are pretty unfussy when it comes to food, and they go for just about any creature that will fi  t inside their capacious mouth. There is no reason to believe the golden toad was any diff  erent, but its small size restricted it to small animals like insects and other invertebrates.

Like much of the golden toad’s biology, we also have a poor understanding of why it disappeared. We know that when it was fi  rst discovered by Western scientists in 1964, it was found in large numbers, but in a very small area. In 1987, 1,500 adults were seen, but then in both 1988 and 1989, only one adult was seen. What happened to cause such a massive population crash? We don’t know for sure, but there are three main theories. It has been suggested that as the toad had such special breeding requirements—short-lived pools and a narrow window of opportunity—one erratic year of weather conditions would have completely scuppered their chance of a successful breeding season. Species like the golden toad have very specific habitat requirements, occupying very small ranges. This predisposes them to extinction as one little change in their environment can leave them with nowhere to go. Other scientists have suggested increasing amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetrating the atmosphere could have harmed the toads, but as they lived in dense forest shrouded in cloud during the breeding season, this is unlikely to be the cause of their demise. The last theory concerns the spread of chytrid fungi, which appear to make short work of amphibian populations wherever they become established. Drier conditions could have forced the toads into fewer and fewer ponds, increasing the transmission of this disease. With this said, it is possible that the golden toad still clings to existence in some remote corner of Central America.

Source: Wikipedia

Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis)


Few animals have fascinated humanity for as long as the parrots and their relatives. Indigenous people in the tropics and people from Western societies alike covet these birds, not only for their beautiful appearance, but also for their playfulness and the ability of some species to mimic the human voice. The inherent beauty and charm of these birds makes it hard to understand why humans would willingly seek to wipe them out, but this is exactly what has happened on a number of occasions.

One of the most tragic examples of how humans have actively exterminated one of these interesting birds is the tale of the Carolina parakeet, a beautiful bird and the only native parrot of the United States. Around 30 cm long and 250 g in weight, this colorful bird was very common in the eastern deciduous forests of the United States, and especially in the dense woodland skirting the many great rivers of this region. The birds normally lived in small groups, although larger flocks would gather in the presence of abundant food, and it was not unusual to see 200 to 300 birds in a brilliant, raucous gathering. Like so many other parrots, the Carolina parakeet was a monogamous, long-lived species that brooded two white eggs in the cavities of deciduous trees. During most of the day, the Carolina parakeet would roost in the highest branches, and it was only in the morning and evening that the small flocks would take to the wing in search of food and water. Like other parrots, it could use its strong bill to crack open seeds and nuts to get at their nutritious contents.

The productive lands of North America suited the Carolina parakeet, and for hundreds of thousands of years, this bird brought a riot of color to the deciduous forests of this continent. Even when the fi  rst humans to colonize North America encroached on the woodlands of the Carolina parakeet, it continued to thrive. The turning point in the survival of this species came with the arrival of Europeans. The ways of the Europeans were very different to the ways of the American Indians, and they cleared large areas of forest to make way for agriculture. for roosting and nesting places, but also for food. Initially, the loss of habitat did not aff  ect the parakeet too badly as it adapted to feed on the seeds of the European’s crops, including apple, peach, mulberry, pecan, grape, dogwood, and various grains. This adaptability brought the parakeet into conflict with farmers, who saw the colorful bird as no more than a troublesome pest. The slaughter of the Carolina parakeet began, and from that point on, it was doomed. Farmers would seek out the small flocks and kill one or two birds to trigger an interesting behavior that was to seal the parakeet’s fate: Hearing the gunshots, the birds would take to the wing but would quickly return to their fallen flock mates, hovering and swooping over the lifeless bodies. The significance of this behavior is unknown, but it was probably a way of intimidating and confusing predators in the hope that the downed bird was only injured, thus giving it time to escape. This was probably a very successful strategy against predatory mammals and birds, but a man armed with a gun was a very different opponent. As the rest of the flock attended the bodies of the fallen, the hunter was able to pick off   more of the unfortunate birds, and it was not unusual for an entire flock to be wiped out in this way.

The years passed, and the Carolina parakeet lost more and more habitat and suffered the continued persecution of ignorant humans. To make matters worse, thousands of the birds were captured for the pet trade, and thousands more were killed to supply the hat trade with colorful feathers for the latest in fashionable ladies’ head wear. The senseless slaughter and collection continued, and by the 1880s, it was very clear that the Carolina parakeet was very rare. In 1913, the last Carolina parakeet in the wild, a female, was collected near Orlando in Florida, and only four years later, the last captive individual, a male by the name of Inca, died in Cincinnati Zoo only six months after the death of his lifelong partner, Lady Jane. They had lived together in captivity for 32 years. The sad and needless extinction of this interesting bird mirrors the demise of the passenger pigeon, and ironically, both species met their end in a small cage in the same zoo, poignant reminders of human ignorance, greed, and disregard for the other species with which we share this planet.

Source: Wikipedia

Bachman’s Warblers

A recently extinct species, Bachman's warblers nested in the underbrush of forested swamps in the region bounded by Louisiana up to Kentucky and Maryland, and over to the Carolinas and Georgia, migrating to Cuba in winters. None have been seen since the early 1960s in North America and they were listed as endangered in 1967.

The last confirmed sightings were in 1988 and before that in 1961 in South Carolina. The Bachman's Warbler's last stronghold was in I'on Swamp, South Carolina. Habitat destruction was probably the main cause of its disappearance. Its extinction is not yet officially announced, because habitat remaining in Congaree National Park needs to be surveyed.

Furthermore, on January 14, 2002, a bird reminiscent of a female Bachman's Warbler was filmed at Guardalavaca, Cuba. As Vermivora warblers are not known to live more than about 7 years, if the identification is correct it would imply that a breeding population managed to survive undiscovered for decades. The female warbler incubates her eggs while father goes looking out for food.

Source: Wikipedia

Cave Bear

The cave bear lived in Europe during the Pleistocene (1.8 million years ago to 11,000 years ago) from 500,000 years ago until 10,000 years ago. Their remains have been found in caves where they lived and early humans left their drawings on cave walls.

Both the name Cave Bear and the scientific name spelaeus derive from the fact that fossils of this species were mostly found in caves, indicating that this species spent more time in caves than the Brown Bear, which only uses caves for hibernation. Consequently, in the course of time, whole layers of bones, almost entirely those of cave bears, were found in many caves.

Source: Wikipedia

Tasmanian Wolf

The Tasmanian wolf is not a wolf, but a carnivorous marsupial and a relative of wombats and kangaroos. It even has a pouch. Tasmanian officials promoting ranching paid bounties to hunters. Believed to be extinct for well over half a century, unconfirmed reported sightings persist.

The Tasmanian Wolf is believed to have been extinct for nearly sixty-five years. Despite its appearance and its popular name, this animal was not in fact a species of wolf, nor was it a dog, which it also resembled. It was actually a marsupial -- the largest carnivorous marsupial in recent times -- and was closely related to the kangaroo and the wombat. (Its pouch is not visible in this mount.) Thus the Tasmanian Wolf's Latin name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, meaning "pouched dog with wolf head," reflects the animal's true nature as well as its similarity to the dog and the wolf.

The Tasmanian Wolf's resemblance to unrelated species is a result of what scientists call convergent evolution, in which similar features develop separately in different species. The Tasmanian Wolf evolved into a form comparable to members of the dog family because it filled much the same ecological niche in Australia as true dogs do in their environments.

The extinction of the Tasmanian Wolf is attributable solely to activities of human beings. In the nineteenth century, when Tasmania encouraged agriculture, the Tasmanian Wolf was considered a threat to livestock, and bounty hunters were paid twenty-five cents per scalp as part of a concerted, and successful, effort to eliminate the animal. It was soon hunted to extinction. Today, in the hopes that the Tasmanian Wolf is not truly extinct, the Australian Conservation Foundation offers $100 just for a sighting of the animal's tracks. So far, there has been none.

Source: Wikipedia

Caspian Tiger

Caspian Tigers lived in China, Tajikistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. They were hunted for their furs and to protect livestock. A ban on hunting the Caspian Tiger in the USSR in 1947 followed their greatest destruction in the 1930s. The last Caspian Tiger reported shot was in 1957.

Source: Wikipedia

Ivory-bill Woodpecker

This elusive woodpecker known to be extinct in 1940s was seen again. On February 11, 2004, a kayaker caught a glimpse of a huge and unusual woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge of Arkansas. The encounter spurred an extensive scientific search for a species that many feared had vanished forever, driven to extinction by the destruction of southern old-growth forests. Further evidence and search proved that at least one of these species is still alive.

Source: Wikipedia

Woolly Mammoth

If there is one animal most associated with the Ice Age, it has to be the woolly mammoth, that giant shaggy beast with long ivory tusks curling up from its massive trunk-like nose. The woolly mammoth was one of several species of mammoth, the earliest of which were probably small and amphibious creatures living in North Africa until about three million years ago.

Their descendants eventually dispersed throughout Eurasia and the woolly mammoth, one of the smaller mammoth species, migrated to North America across the Bering Land Bridge sometime during late Pleistocene. Alas, this enigmatic creature did not survive long in the New World. The last of the woolly mammoths died out at the end of the last ice age, about ten thousand years ago.

Source: Wikipedia

Dodo (Raphus Cucullatus)


“As dead as a dodo!” No phrase is more synonymous with extinction than this one. The dodo is the animal that springs to mind when we think of extinction. Often portrayed as a stupid, bumbling giant of a bird, the dodo was actually a very interesting animal that was perfectly adapted to its island habitat. Unfortunately, its evolutionary path had never counted on humans; thus, when we discovered these birds, they didn’t last very long.  

We don’t know exactly what the dodo looked like as no complete skin specimen exists, but we do know it was a large bird, about the same size as a large turkey, with a stout build, sturdy legs, thick neck, and large head. Fully grown specimens were probably around 25 kg in weight and as tall as 1 m. The dodo’s most characteristic feature was its very large beak (up to 23 cm long), complete with bulbous, hooked tip. The wings were stubby and eff  ectively useless as the dodo evolved on an island where there were no predators, and therefore flight was an expensive waste of energy; instead, it ambled about on the forest floor of its Mauritian home. The only information we have on what the dodo ate is from the accounts of seafaring people who stopped off   on the island of Mauritius and saw the bird going about its everyday business. The favored food of the dodo was probably the seeds of the various Mauritian forest trees, but when its normal source of food became scarce in the dry season, it may have resorted to eating anything it could find. A liking for seeds ties in with other observations of the dodo’s behavior, which report that it ate stones. These stones passed into the dodo’s crop, which is like a big, muscular bag, and there they assisted in grinding the hard-shelled seeds.  

As the dodo couldn’t fly, it could only build its nest on the ground. Sailors described these nests as being a bed of grass, onto which a single egg was laid. The female incubated the egg herself and tended the youngster when it hatched. Sailors who saw the living birds said the young dodo made a call like a young goose. Apart from small pieces of information, we know very little about the behavior of the dodo. We have no idea if they lived in social groups or how the adults interacted during the breeding season. What we do know is that they were hopelessly ill adapted to deal with human disturbance.  

The dodo was first described in 1598, although Arab voyagers and Europeans had discovered Mauritius many years previously and had undoubtedly seen its unique animals. The large dodo excited hungry seafarers who had not eaten fresh meat for many months while out at sea; however, the flesh of the dodo was far from flavorsome. Even the unpleasant taste of the dodo’s tough flesh didn’t stop people from killing them for food, often in large numbers, and any birds that could not be eaten straight away were salted and stored on the ship for the rest of the voyage. Hunting the dodo was said to be a very easy exercise. It couldn’t fly or even run at any great speed, and it also had the great misfortune of being completely unafraid of humans. Dodos had never seen a human, and as a result, they had not learned to be afraid. It is said they would waddle up to a club-wielding sailor only to be dispatched with one quick swipe. In the rare situation in which they felt threatened, they would use their powerful beak to good eff  ect and deliver a painful nip.  

Hunting obviously hit the dodos hard—their size and small clutches suggests that they were long-lived, slow-breeding birds, which was not a problem in the absence of predators, but as soon as humans and their associated animals entered the equation, extinction was inevitable. Seafarers who visited Mauritius brought with them a menagerie of animals, including dogs, pigs, rats, cats, and even monkeys. These animals disturbed the nesting dodos and ate the lonesome eggs. With this combination of hunting, nest disturbance, and egg predation, the dodo was doomed. It has been suggested that flash flooding could have tipped the dodo population, already ravaged by hunting, nest disturbance, and egg predation, over the edge into extinction. Regardless of the causes, the enigmatic dodo was wiped out in a little over 100 years after it was fi  rst discovered by Europeans.

Source: Wikipedia


Plesiosaur, a large aquatic reptile that swam in the world's oceans during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. There are several different species of plesiosaur, but the most famous are the ones with a very long neck topped by a tiny head. Most of these animals were astonishingly large, sometimes reaching a whopping 65 feet in length.

Many people believe strongly in a connection between the plesiosaur and the Loch Ness Monster, a legendary creature that some say inhabits the waters of Loch Ness in Scotland. Indeed, some believe that the appearance of the Loch Ness Monster is evidence of a living plesiosaur. However, according to the fossil record, plesiosaurs disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous Period, about 65 million years ago. And contrary to popular belief, they were not dinosaurs, despite the fact that both groups lived and died off at the same time.

Source: Wikipedia

Saber-Toothed Cat

Of all the cute, cuddly animals found in the fossil record, the saber-toothed cat (also called the saber-toothed tiger) is one of the last you would want to meet in a dark alley. With their daggerlike canine teeth and powerful bodies, this animal was one of the most ferocious predators of the Cenozoic Period. It lived in North America and Europe and went extinct about 10,000 years ago. There have been several thousand saber-toothed cat specimens found at the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, Calif. – so many that it was named the state fossil of California.

So, what were these big beasts like in the wild? Evidence suggests that the saber-toothed cat had a social structure much like modern lions, living together and cooperating in order to bring down prey. Interestingly, researchers also believe that a certain amount of nurturing went on in a saber-toothed cat pack. Many individual fossils show signs of extensive regeneration and healing after disease and injury, suggesting an environment in which individuals could be cared for by other members of the group. Despite their terrifying appearance, it seems these animals had a soft side.

Source: Wikipedia


Archaeopteryx, whose discovery in the mid-1800s turned the world of paleontology upside down. It looked like some sort of feathered dinosaur, but it also had a number of bird characteristics. Was it a bird, a dinosaur or some other beast entirely? Clues would come in time, but only after decades of contentious debate and close examination.

In order to fully understand the natural history of Archaeopteryx, one needs first to take a look at some of its unusual characteristics. Its dinosaur features include a full set of teeth, a flat breastbone, a bone tail and claws on the end of its wing. On the other hand, its feathers and wings also made it quite birdlike. However, details of Archaeopteryx anatomy indicated that it was not ideally built for flight and probably spent as much time running, leaping, climbing and gliding as it did flying.

So what was this enigmatic animal? It is now widely believed that Archaeopteryx is the most primitive known bird, with several specimens dating back about 150 million years to the Jurassic Period. It is also an evolutionary link between modern birds and a group of dinosaurs that roamed the earth 150 million years ago. Thus, it is one of the most important fossil species ever found.

Source: Wikipedia

Quagga (Equus quagga quagga)


The quagga, like the dodo, is one of the more familiar animals that has gone extinct in recent times. Amazingly, this horselike animal was wiped out before anyone had figured out what it truly was. In Victorian times, it was the trend among naturalists to describe new species wherever and whenever possible, and the zebra of Africa received a good degree of attention from these early taxonomists. Zebras vary widely in size, color, and patterning, and all of these subtle diff  erences were thought to represent subspecies and even distinct species. With the advent of molecular biology and DNA sequencing, it rapidly became clear that there was little validity in what the gentleman scholars of the previous age had proposed. Very recently, scientists managed to isolate some DNA from the mounted skins of the quagga that can be found in several museums around the world. It turned out that the quagga was very likely a subspecies of the plains zebra and not a distinct species at all.

Sometime between 120,000 and 290,000 years ago, the population of plains zebras in South Africa became isolated from the rest of their species and they started to take on a slightly diff  erent appearance. The major diff  erence between the quagga and the plains zebra is the animals’ coat. Live specimens of the quagga only had obvious stripes on their head and neck, but even the 23 specimens in the world’s museums exhibit a lot of variation, with some specimens having more stripes than others. The unusual name “quagga” comes from the Hottentot name for the animal, quahah, in imitation of the animal’s shrill cry. Aside from these details, quaggas lived like the plains zebras that can still be seen in sub-Saharan Africa today. They lived in great herds and could often be found grazing with wildebeest or hartebeest and ostriches. It has been suggested that grazing together afforded these animals greater protection from their principal enemy, the lion, thanks to a combination of their talents: the birds’ eyesight, the antelopes’ sense of smell, and the quaggas’ acute hearing. A lion would have been hard-pressed to surprise a group of animals cooperating in this way, and it is very likely that lions caught very few healthy adult quaggas.

This defense was very eff  ective against lions, but it was not so successful against the Boers, who were equipped with horses and guns. As the Boers moved inland, they exterminated these giant herds of ungulates, primarily for food but also for their high-quality skins. Quaggas were also captured live and put to various uses. By all accounts, the quagga was a very lively, highly strung animal, and the stallions were prone to fits of rage, so taming one of these animals must have been very interesting and practically impossible. In the early days of the Boers’ settlement of South Africa, the quagga was sometimes kept as a guard horse to protect domestic livestock. Any intruder, be it a lion or a rustler, was treated to the whinnying alarm of the quagga and most probably attacked by this tenacious horse. Some quaggas also found their way to Europe, where they ended up in the big zoos. The powers that be at London Zoo thought a quagga breeding program would be an excellent idea; however, this quickly came unstuck when the lone stallion lost its temper and bashed itself to death against the wall of its enclosure. Regardless of the quagga’s spirited nature, it seems there was a trend for quaggas as harness animals, and the cobbled streets of 1830s London rang out to the sounds of their cantering hooves. Just how they were coaxed into pulling a carriage full of genteel Londoners is unknown, but they were probably gelded beforehand.

The Boers, and the British before them, were quick in taming the verdant lands of South Africa, lands that abounded in game and opportunity. The native tribes of South Africa fought these invaders but were forced to abandon their prime territories. The Europeans mercilessly destroyed the abundant South African wildlife, not only for food and skins, but also for recreation and to make way for agriculture. The quagga was one of the casualties of this onslaught. In the 1840s, great herds of quaggas and other animals roamed South Africa, but only 30 years later, in 1878, the last wild quagga was shot dead. The last quagga, a female, died in Artis Magistra Zoo in Amsterdam in 1883. Today, the remnants of this South African wildlife can only be seen in national parks. 

Source: Wikipedia

Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)

In the late nineteenth century, anybody who suggested that the passenger pigeon was in danger of imminent extinction would have been branded a fool. The passenger pigeon existed in such colossal numbers that it is astonishing that it is no longer with us. The species as so numerous that there are many accounts of the bird itself and the enormous flocks in which it collected. Estimates for the total number of passenger pigeons in North America go as high as 9 billion individuals. If these estimates are anywhere near the true number, then the passenger pigeon was undoubtedly one of the most numerous bird species that has ever lived. This enormous population was not evenly spread, but was concentrated in gigantic flocks so large that observers could not see the end of them and so dense that they blocked out the sun. Some records report flocks more than 1.6 km wide and 500 km long—a fluttering expanse of hundreds of millions of passenger pigeons. We can only imagine what one of these flocks looked like, but we can be sure that it was quite a spectacle.

Apart from its propensity for forming huge flocks, the passenger pigeon was quite similar in appearance to a domestic pigeon, although it was considerably more graceful, with a slender body and long tail. Most pigeons are built for speed, but the passenger  pigeon was a real racer. Its tapering wings, powerful breast muscles, and slender body gave it a real turn of speed. There is anecdotal evidence that these birds could reach speeds of 160 km per hour, although they usually flew at 100 km per hour. The aerial abilities of the passenger pigeon came in very handy as it was a migratory species. As the summer arrived in the northern latitudes, the birds would leave their wintering grounds in southern North America and head for the lush forests of the United States and Canada, although their aggregations appeared to be particularly dense on the eastern seaboard. They came to these immense forests (only remnants of which remain today) to raise young on a diet of tree seeds (mast), forming huge nesting colonies in the tall trees. As with most pigeons, the nest of the passenger pigeon was a rudimentary aff  air of twigs that served as a platform for a single egg. The parent birds nourished their hatchling on crop milk, the cheeselike substance secreted from the animals’ crops that is unique to pigeons.

This cycle of migration had probably been going on for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years, but all was about to come to an end as Europeans fi  rst arrived in the Americas. Their arrival signaled the end for the passenger pigeon, and many more species besides. Europeans, in their attempts to settle these new lands, brought with them new ways and means of growing food. The forests were hacked down to make way for these crops, and the passenger pigeons were quick to exploit this new source of food. Settlers fi  rst killed the passenger pigeons to protect their crops, but they soon realized that these birds were a massive source of nutritious food, and the slaughter began in earnest. The adult birds were normally preyed on when they were nesting. Trappers equipped with nets constructed smoky fi  res beneath the nesting trees to force the adults into taking flight. Trees with lots of nests were cut down, enabling trappers to get their hands on the young pigeons. The slaughter was senseless and wasteful, with often only the feathers of the birds being taken to be used as stuffing. Of course, the birds were valued as cheap food, and millions of birds were taken by train to the big cities on the East Coast of the United States. It has been said that during the end of the eighteenth century and for much of the nineteenth century, servants and slaves in these big cities may have eaten precious little animal protein apart from passenger pigeon meat. For several decades, passenger pigeons ready for the oven could be bought for as little as three pennies.

By 1896, only 250,000 passenger pigeons remained, grouped together in a single flock, and in the spring of that year, a group of well-organized hunters set out to fi  nd them. Find them they did, and they killed all but 5,000 of them. Only three years later, the last birds in the wild were shot. Once the most numerous bird on the whole planet, the passenger pigeon had been wiped out in a little more than 100 years.

Source: Wikipedia