The current rate of extinction is 100 to 1000 times higher than the average, or background rate, making our current period the 6th major mass extinction in the planet’s history.
Although fossil reconstructions or pictorial representations can sometimes be difficult to connect with, it’s impossible to ignore the experience of seeing a photograph of an animal on the brink of extinction.
Thus, what follows is a list of 11 extinct animals that were photographed while still alive.
The last Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, known to have existed died in the Hobart Zoo, in Tasmania, Australia, on September 7th, 1936. Despite being the last of its kind, the animal (named “Benjamin”) likely died due to neglect after being locked out of its sheltered quarters during extreme weather.
Although commonly referred to as ‘tigers’, and despite having the look of a canid, the Thylacine isn’t remotely related to cats or dogs. Rather, it was the largest carnivorous marsupial of modern times, meaning it carried its young in a pouch. Its closest living relative is the Tasmanian Devil.
>> Also see our latest post: 10 Animals on the Brink of Extinction
The biggest cause of their extinction in the wild was a massive hunting campaign instituted by the Tasmanian government from 1888 to 1909, justified because the Thylacines were believed to be a threat to sheep and hens. The last known wild Tasmanian Tiger was killed by a farmer named Wilf Batty in 1930, after spotting the animal around his hen house.
The Quagga was a unique variety of Plains Zebra, marked by having stripes only on the front of its body, with hair color transitioning toward a light brown or tan along its rear and underbelly, until becoming white along its legs. This picture represents the only Quagga ever to have been photographed alive, taken at the London Zoo in 1870.
Its unique hide made the Quagga a target for hunters and poachers, and the last known wild Quagga was probably killed in the late 1870′s. The species went extinct on August 12th, 1883, when the last specimen died at a zoo in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The story of the Passenger Pigeon is one of the most tragic extinction stories in modern times. As recently as around 200 years ago they weren’t anywhere near extinction. In fact, they were actually the most common bird in North America, and some reports counted single flocks numbering in the billions.
During some migrations, the flocks flying overhead would stretch for over a mile and could take several hours to pass. It would have been impossible to imagine a North American skyline without them. Yet somehow the species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world to extinction in only about 100 years. What happened?
Colonial hunters happened. The pigeon meat was commercialized and recognized as cheap food, especially for slaves and the poor, which led to a catastrophic hunting campaign on a massive scale. Furthermore, due to the large size of their flocks, the birds were seen as a threat to farmers. In fact, in 1703 the Catholic bishop of Quebec actually excommunicated the entire species.
The last known Passenger Pigeon, named “Martha”, died in captivity on September 1st, 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1896, the last flock of 250,000 birds were slaughtered by hunters despite the knowledge that it was the last flock of that size left.
The first recorded account of the Golden Toad was by herpetologist Jay Savage in 1966, and the last sighting of the species was made in 1989. The toad, showcased by its brilliant golden orange colorization, was native to the tropical cloud forests which surround Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Their extinction symbolizes a large scale decline in amphibian numbers worldwide over the last several decades, which has likely been caused by global warming and climate change. In fact, famed Australian biologist Tim Flannery has described the extinction of the Golden Toad to be the first demise of a species due primarily to global warming.