Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals

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"Since humanity first wandered from its African birthplace over fifty millennia ago, it has radically altered the environment everywhere it has settled, often at the cost of the creatures that ruled the wild before its arrival. As our prehistoric ancestors spread throughout the globe, they began the most deadly epoch the planet's fauna have experienced since the demise of the dinosaurs. And following the dawn of the age of exploration five hundred years ago, the rate of extinction has accelerated ever more rapidly." In A Gap in Nature, scientist
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Overview

"Since humanity first wandered from its African birthplace over fifty millennia ago, it has radically altered the environment everywhere it has settled, often at the cost of the creatures that ruled the wild before its arrival. As our prehistoric ancestors spread throughout the globe, they began the most deadly epoch the planet's fauna have experienced since the demise of the dinosaurs. And following the dawn of the age of exploration five hundred years ago, the 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, catalogues 103 creatures that have vanished from the face of the earth since Columbus first set foot in the New World. From the colorful Carolina parakeet to the gigantic Steller's sea cow, Flannery evocatively tells the story of each animal and its habitat, how it lived and how it succumbed to its terrible destiny. Accompanying every entry is a beautifully rendered color representation by Schouten, who has devoted years of his life to this project. His portraits - life size in their original form - are exquisitely reproduced in this extraordinary book and include animals from every continent: American passenger pigeons, Tasmanian thylacines, Mauritian dodos, African bluebucks, and dozens more.
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Editorial Reviews

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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.
Library Journal
This work offers a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of 103 mammals, reptiles, and birds that have become extinct since 1492. For each animal, Flannery (The Eternal Frontier) describes what is known of its habitat, behavior, and probable cause of extinction. These accounts are beautifully written, often anecdotal, and almost always poignant. Whitney Award-winning wildlife painter Schouten produced the accompanying illustrations, which are stunning, full-color, and sometimes spread across two pages. In some cases, these illustrations may be the most accurate renderings anyone has ever produced of these creatures. Flannery and Schouten did extensive research into the literature and reviewed, in person, skeletal and other remains located in museums; numerous species were excluded owing to insufficient materials upon which to base an accurate drawing. A little more in the way of factual data, such as probable size, would have been appreciated in some of the descriptions. For example, the Kawekaweau, a lizard that once inhabited New Zealand, is described as "giant," but no estimated length or weight is given, even though the authors viewed the skin of one of these geckos. Nevertheless, this book, which includes the "big names" such as the dodo and passenger pigeon as well as many lesser-known but fascinating animals, is highly recommended for all academic and large public libraries. (Map not seen.) Lynn C. Badger, Univ. of Florida Lib., Gainesville Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Flannery, Director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, provides an account of the lives of 103 mammals, reptiles, and birds that have become extinct since 1492. In each case, the author describes what is known of the creature's habitat and behavior and offers intriguing thoughts on what we are missing and, in most cases, why it became extinct. Finely illustrated in color by renowned wildlife artist Peter Schouten. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871137975
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2002

    A Close Look at Man-Made Extinctions Since 1492

    There¿s an old saying: It¿s what you don¿t know you don¿t know that can hurt you. This book really makes that point very well by describing the spate of animal extinctions that have followed the migrations of human beings around the globe since the time we first left Africa. Scientists estimate the number of species eliminated by humans exceeds the number lost when the dinosaurs disappeared. A Gap in Nature helps to make that explicit by first describing the general process by which animals become extinct. Typically, isolated populations of animals are quickly wiped out when new predators (including humans) are introduced into their environment. For example, the Dodo bird (a type of large pigeon) could be attracted in large numbers by simply drumming on a tree, and then carried off to be slaughtered without resistance. In other cases, vermin from ships would perform the same function. Having set the stage, A Gap in Nature devotes 1-3 pages to each of 103 species that have either vanished or are almost gone. Working from drawings, scarce specimens, and written journals, wildlife artist Peter Shouten created life-size paintings of each animal which are reproduced in nice detail in the book. Scientist and historian Tim Flannery takes a look at what the animals were like, where they lived, and how they became extinct. Almost unbelievably, many of these species often existed in populations numbering in the millions at one time. What is remarkable is how attractive and appealing many of these animals are. One would think that someone would have tried to save these species, just out of aesthetic interests. It also made me wonder which animals that are common now will not be known to my great grandchildren, because they will be extinct. Here are some of the animals that I found particularly interesting (with the year of extinction in parentheses): Dodo (1681); Steller¿s Sea Cow (1768); Small Mauritian Flying-fox (1880s); Great Auk (1844); Brace¿s Emerald (1877); Choiseul Crested-pigeon (1904); Laughing Owl (1914); Passenger Pigeon (1914); Carolina Parakeet (1918); Red-moustached Fruit-dove (1920s); Paradise Parrot (1927); and Toolache Wallaby (1939). Finishing this book, I found myself wondering why we don¿t value rarity among plants and animals as highly as we do rarity in artifacts, gems, and other crafted items. What does that say about our values as a civilization? Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise

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