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Extinct and Near-Extinct Animals
Nature Bulletin No. 248-A   Dece3mber 10, 1966
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

EXTINCT AND NEAR-EXTINCT ANIMALS
In the past 2000 years, more than a hundred kinds of birds and more than a hundred kinds of mammals have disappeared from the earth. The last one of each is dead. It also seems likely that, among the less conspicuous lower animals -- reptiles, fish, insects, etc. -- several times as many species are gone forever; but their passing was not often noticed or mentioned in histories. Of the known total of vanished- species, more than a third dropped out during the past 50 years, about another third in the 19th Century, and a little less than a third in the previous 1800 years. With few exceptions these were all wiped out, directly or indirectly, by man.

Not since he lived in caves and played hide and seek with saber-toothed tigers has any predatory animal challenged man for dominance of the earth. He has made short work of them, as well as many others that furnished a handy source of food or clothing, served as ornaments, or offered sport. Further, for each species or subspecies that has disappeared completely within the Christian Era, six times as many others are seriously threatened.

The word "dodo" is commonly used to signify someone or something very silly or very dead. The Dodo was a large heavy grotesque bird -- stupid, flightless and ground-nesting -- that lived on two islands in the Indian Ocean until 1681 when the last one vanished because of man and the hogs he imported. Another famous example is the Great Auk, a large swimming bird somewhat similar to the penguin -- alert and swift in water but helpless and unable to fly or to run on land. Two centuries ago there were millions of them on the rocky shores and islands of northern Europe and North America. The eggs were taken and the birds slaughtered by the sailors for food but the auks' doom was sealed and the last one clubbed to death in 1844, after it was found that there was a market for their feathers.

The story of the Passenger Pigeon and how countless millions of them lived in the hardwood forests east of the Great Plains is well known. The last one died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Less familiar is the fact that the only parrot native to this country, the brilliantly-colored little Carolina Parakeet which was common in Illinois in pioneer days, was last seen alive about 1920 in the backwoods of South Carolina and Florida. Word got around that it was "mischievous to orchards". That was enough. The Large Ivory-billed Woodpecker may now be extinct, because it lived only in swampy forests of big virgin timber which have virtually all been cut for lumber. The Heath Hen, an eastern relative of our prairie chicken, in spite of a century of special protection and pampering, made its last stand on Martha's Vineyard, an island on the Massachusetts coast. The last one, an old bachelor, died -- perhaps of boredom -- in 1933.

The American Bison or "Buffalo", which once ranged over a third of this continent in herds adding up to over sixty millions, was reduced by hunters to a scant thousand animals in the 1890's. Fortunately, its extinction was foreseen in time and, largely through the efforts of the American Bison Society organized in 1905, it was saved and there are now more than 40,000 of these big beasts living under close protection in this country and Canada. But the Eastern Bison, a subspecies that lived entirely east of the Mississippi, had been killed off completely by 1825. The Eastern Wapiti or Elk lingered on until about 1855. Its two upper canine teeth were highly prized for watch charms by members of a "benevolent and protective" fraternal order -- a fact which undoubtedly hastened its end.

The Duck-billed Platypus is not extinct.


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