Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals

Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals

by Tim Flannery, Peter Schouten
     
 


Since humans first wandered from their original habitat in Africa, over fifty millennia ago, they have radically altered the environment wherever they have gone, often at the cost of the animals who'd ruled the wild before mankind's arrival. Humanity's spread throughout the globe has begotten what paleontologist Richard Leakey has termed the "sixth age of…  See more details below

Overview


Since humans first wandered from their original habitat in Africa, over fifty millennia ago, they have radically altered the environment wherever they have gone, often at the cost of the animals who'd ruled the wild before mankind's arrival. Humanity's spread throughout the globe has begotten what paleontologist Richard Leakey has termed the "sixth age of extinction" -- the most deadly epoch the planet's fauna have seen since the demise of the dinosaurs. And in the last five hundred years, since the dawn of the age of exploration, this rate of extinction has accelerated ever more rapidly. In A Gap in Nature, scientist and historian Tim Flannery, in collaboration with internationally acclaimed wildlife artist Peter Schouten, catalogs 104 creatures that have vanished from the face of the earth since 1492. From the tiny Carolina parakeet to the majestic Steller's sea cow, which was over twenty-five feet long and weighed ten tons, all of these animals have become extinct as a direct result of the European expansion into every corner of the globe. Flannery evocatively tells the story of each animal: how it lived and how it succumbed to its terrible destiny. Accompanying each account is a beautiful color representation (life-size in the original painting) by Schouten, who has devoted years of his life to this extraordinary project. Animals from every continent are represented -- American passenger pigeons, Tasmanian wolves, and African blaauwboks -- in this homage to a lost Eden. This extraordinary book is at once a lament for the lost animals of the world and an ark to house them forever in human memory.

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Editorial Reviews

bn.com
This completely unique and stunning coffee-table book combines the prose of scientist and nature writer Tim Flannery with the meticulous and lovely artwork of wildlife illustrator Peter Schouten. As beautiful as it is heartrending, this book depicts species that have gone extinct in the past 500 years.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780871137975
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
09/28/2001
Edition description:
1 AMER ED
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
9.64(w) x 11.40(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

Dodo
(Raphus cucullatus)
Lost Record: about 1681. Distribution: Mauritius, Moscarenes.

Fossils reveal that many of the world's islands once supported bizarre birds. Almost all of the most outlandish species were exterminated by native peoples before any historic record could be made. Just one significant subtropical island archipelago retained its full fauna until after 1500-the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues). Their most peculiar inhabitant was doubtless the dodo of Mauritius. By the time of its discovery the bird was thus a strange relict-a reminder of lost worlds that the modern age missed seeing by a whisker of time.

Although it was known to Europeans as a living bird for fewer than ninety years, the dodo had an enormous impact upon their imagination and it became the stuff of stories and folk wisdom. 'As dead as a dodo' remains a byword for something that is truly defunct.

Just what dodos looked like is still debated; some writers describe them as being so fat that their swollen bodies wobbled like jellies as they were chased, their bottoms dragging along the ground; others recalled more slender birds. One observer opined that the dodo might:

for shape and rareness . . . antagonise the Phoenix of Arabia; her body is round and fat, few weigh less than 50 pounds . . . her visage darts forth melancholy, as sensible of nature's injurie in framing so great a body to be guided with complemental wings, so small and impotent, that they serve only to prove her bird . . . The half of her head is naked seeming covered with a fine vaile, her bill is crooked downwards, in midst is the trill, from which part to the end tis of a light green, mixt with pale yellow tincture; her eyes are small and like to diamonds, round and rowling; her clothing downy feathers, her traine three small plumes, short and improportionable, her legs suiting to her body, her pounces sharp, her appetite strong and greedy.
Scientists argued for centuries about what kind of bird the dodo might be, until anatomical studies decided the point: it was a member of the pigeon family. Indeed it was the largest pigeon species ever to have lived. Despite the sensation of its discovery, little was recorded of its habits in the wild. One writer said it laid a single, white egg in a nest of grass located deep in forest; another that it swallowed stones to aid digestion. Beyond that, its biology is a mystery.

The last complete dodo specimen was held by the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. In 1755, the ageing mounted skin was ordered out for destruction, but somebody had the foresight to cut off the head and right foot before consigning the rest to the flames, and these are the most substantial dodo remains we have today.

Dodos were ground-nesting birds, and the introduction of monkeys and pigs to Mauritius must have affected their ability to raise young. This, combined with hunting of adults by humans, was sufficient to precipitate their swift decline.

From A Gap in Nature. Text copyright © 2001 by Tim Flannery. All rights reserved. Illustrations copyright © 2001 by Peter Schouten. All rights reserved.

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