A Bestiary of Loss

The stories collected are informed by Wikipedia’s list of recently extinct animals, Julian P. Hume’s profoundly detailed Extinct Birds, and many other linked resources. We have also benefited from the Guardian’s Age of Extinction series, Scientific American’s Extinction Countdown, and the Remembrance Day for Lost Species project.

According to many ecologists, we are in the midst of a new mass extinction event. And unlike any other in the Earth's 4.54 billion year history, this one is caused by a single species of primate: humans. Of course, the death of species is a natural part of evolution, but fuzzy estimates put the current rate of loss at somewhere between 100 and 10,000 times higher than background rates. Our current extinction event is closer to the mass die offs caused by volcanic activity and asteroid impacts than any governing force of evolution. This is both old news and recent history. As early humans ventured from Africa to prosper across the globe, they seem to have left ecological devastation in their wake. Paleoindians, for example, are controversially hypothesized to have hunted various species of North American megafauna into extinction: saber tooth cats, giant beavers, and two tonne armadillos longer than a king-size bed.

Images and stories cannot bring back the dead. But we hope this post might help provide a resource for collective mourning, a means to visualize the scale of loss, and perhaps a spur to action. There are 3797 animals currently on IUCN's critically endangered list. We recommend this earth.org introduction on mitigating biodiversity loss; the ranging overview of threats and solutions to animal extinction published by The Solutions Journal, and The Royal Society's biodiversity hub.