Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Remember the quagga

Olivia Judson, Musings inspired by a quagga, The New York Times: The Wild Side blog (May 27, 2008)Olivia Judson

The hall is hushed, like a church. No one else is here. The only sound is the clicking of the heels of my shoes. I walk up and down, looking at the animals. They make no noise, for they are dead.

Franz Roubal, The Extermination of the Quagga. Oil on canvas, 1931
Many of them are also gone. Like the quagga, a kind of zebra from southern Africa, which was hunted to extinction in the 19th century. It stares at me from behind glass. I stare back. It has a zebra’s face and neck, but lacks stripes on its torso, which is a dusky gray. Zookeepers said that the quagga was more docile than other zebras; but even in zoos there are none today.

A few glass cases later, I come to the O’ahu O’o’, a small, pretty bird from the forests of the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. A living specimen has not been seen since 1837. I pause to wonder about its mating display. Further on, there’s the desert bandicoot, a tiny creature with huge ears and kangaroo feet that had vanished from Australia by 1907. And now I’m gazing at the dark flying fox, a fruit bat from the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Réunion. In the 1730s it was so abundant it was considered for commercial exploitation (the making of oil); by 1880 it had gone.

Grande Galerie de l'Évolution, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris
Here, at the natural history museum in Paris, in the hall of the endangered and the recently extinct, the vanishing and the vanished, it’s poignant to see these creatures. To put a few faces to the names, to visit a handful of representatives from the dreary and numbing statistics of forests felled and oceans over-fished. . . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The quagga was not a species but a subspecies, and it is not extinct. Nor is the Harpy Eagle endangered. The story (and sources) at >>

5/29/2008 5:42 PM  

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