This is a book of photographs of extinct species, so it’s a bit like looking through a very old family album whose subjects you’ve never met but with whom you feel somehow linked through time. All the species are either mammals or birds. Some of the photographs are of poor quality, and many are unsurprisingly black-and-white rather than colour, but that’s hardly surprising given the circumstances under which many were taken. The photographs go back to at least 1864, and although some are of captive animals, many were taken in the wild. They are fascinating, and the less than brilliant quality of some of them just makes us (me at least) value them the more, and feel lucky to have them.
Quaggas, Yangtze River Dolphins and Caribbean Monk Seals feature among the mammals and a Passenger Pigeon named Martha, Eskimo Curlew and Paradise Parrot among the birds. There are some species that were new to me and some that were familiar but they each had a tale to tell and the photographs are important records of the species.
There aren’t many words in this book but they are well-chosen and tell us something about the animals featured, the causes of their extinction, some stories about people involved in studying them or killing them and some information abnout the circumstances of the photographing of the species.
This is the paperback version, just published, of a book origninally published in 2013 so if you have been saving up for a copy, now’s your chance.
And the cover? It’s a photograph of an unfamiliar animal. The animal, a Thylacine, is unfamiliar because it is extinct, and has not been since 1936 when the last captive representative died in a zoo. So the cover makes the point and it is rather striking in any case. 9/10.
Lost animals: extinction and the photographic record by Errol Fuller is published by Bloomsbury.