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10 Extinct Animals Lost to Planet Earth but Preserved in Photographs [Excerpt & Photo Essay]

These 10 animals are just a few of the species to have been lost to extinction but still can be seen via old photographs

The story of the passenger pigeon is such a startling one that it is often told, and in all the annals of extinction there is no other tale quite like it. At the start of the 19th century this fast-flighted, streamlined pigeon was quite possibly the most numerous bird on earth; it existed in staggeringly vast numbers. By the century's end, the colossal population had dwindled almost to zero, and the last record of a wild bird is of one shot by an adolescent boy in Pike County, Ohio in March 1900. A few individuals are known to have survived for a little longer, however, living in captivity in Milwaukee, Chicago and Cincinnati.

At about 1 o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday September 1st 1914 the last of these captive birds, Martha, died in her cage, and a species that a mere hundred years earlier could be counted in the billions, was extinct.

These photos were taken during 1896 and are now the property of the Historical Society of Wisconsin. There is a certain amount of doubt over who actually took them. It may have been Whitman himself but it is more likely they were taken by someone named J. G. Hubbard. They were somehow acquired by the celebrated ornithologist Frank M. Chapman (1864-1945), who for many years was Curator of Birds at The American Museum of Natural History. At some point Chapman passed them on to the Wisconsin Historical Society.


This particular image shows a chick, or squab as the young of pigeons are sometimes called. There seems to be no record as to whether this individual survived to adulthood.

Photo credit: A remarkable series of photographs exist showing passenger pigeons in the aviairies of C. O. Whitman (1842-1910), once Professor of Zoology at the University of Chicago



Photo Credit: This photograph of a Caribbean Monk Seal taken at the New York Aquarium during 1910, is one of only two photographs in existence. Photographer is unknown.

The Caribbean monk seal is one of three closely related species, two of which still survive, although both of these are seriously threatened. They are the Mediterranean monk seal (Monarchus monarchus) and the Hawaiian monk seal (Monarchus schauinslandi). The 'monk' part of their name comes from their physical appearance. The smooth, round head with rolls of skin around the neck reminded their original scientific describer of a monk dressed in robes.

The last reliable sighting of the Caribbean Monk Seal in the wild seems to have occurred in 1952, when a small colony was seen on Serranilla Bank, approximately halfway between Jamaica and Honduras.

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