Dear Anton – by Alex Lockwood

Painting by Linnea Ryshke


Dear Anton,

I need to introduce you again. Introduce again this practice of writing to you every day for 180 days, the industrial lifespan for your species, Sus scrofa domesticus. I do it to come closer to your life. To try, at least. I began the experiment after finishing my book about pigs in industrial farming. I didn’t know happens when you finish a book in which the subjects of your work are killed. I thought about getting a tattoo of you. I felt responsible. I knew I couldn’t just leave you in the machine, treated as a machine. I needed to stay close; I couldn’t just blow you out in my head like a candle.

So here we are. We’ve got an audience. To recap, I’ve told you already in these letters about: who you are, who I am; explained—as poor as those explanations were—what happens to you in the first three weeks of birthing; about my mother, your mother; then onto philosophy, Thomas Nagel, bats, nature, nature writing, how the media represents you (badly); how I am planning to get you out of there.

Today I’m writing about extinction. Specifically, the connection between where you are, in that factory farm in Iowa, or the warehouse-like hangar in China, and the global crisis of species extinction. Extinction, Anton, is the process by which a species, animal or vegetable (and mineral?) is completely wiped out. That it no longer exists, except in memory, fossils and books. Sometimes we humans say “extinct in the wild” to mean we still imprison other individuals of that species somewhere, usually in zoos, mostly so people can stare at them. I know… All of this is alien to you, as your species is caught in an endlessly renewed hell, a regeneration of billions of individuals every year, every half a year. It’s what the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, a friend to animals, especially cats, a philosophical Doolittle—(so much in that name, Doolittle, when it comes to animals)—calls a perverse cycle of anthropocentric power, a constant re-birthing of life so we can kill it, and eat it. Eat you. And at ever growing cost.

Extinction, Anton, is relevant to your existence. Relevant, not least because of the massive numbers in which your species takes up the space of the ever dwindling numbers of other species outside the animal agriculture industry. (This is not your fault.) The question is not whether there is a link between extinction and the industrial animal agriculture that imprisons you, but rather how to make the existing bondage clearer.

Through statistics? What, by simply telling people that slaughter—the violent killing of billions of individuals from a tiny number of unlucky species—is the largest single contributing industry to the greenhouse gases causing climate change? By telling them that it is the major contributor to deforestation (91% of the Amazon clear cut for grazing and soy for feedlots) and loss of wildlife habitat? That it is the industry most responsible for water use and water pollution? That the industrial animal agriculture complex is the way we choose to prop up our growing global population’s calorific needs, even though there are (much) more sensible and sustainable means? That industrial animal agriculture is our manifest sloth and greed: producing meat and dairy that no one needs? In fact, knowing what we know, that the consumption of animal products is slowly killing us through cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia…? The links are all there, Anton. But telling people doesn’t seem to work.

The species that is perhaps most surprisingly critically endangered by industrial animal agriculture, my friend, is us. We humans.

Not that that’s any comfort to you. Quicker, you say. Quicker.

I can hear the arguments against this, Anton. It’s all indirect. Industrial slaughter isn’t directly killing the white rhino. Animal agriculture isn’t directly responsible for the disappearance of the Asiatic cheetah, in the way that hunting was directly responsible for the disappearance of… oh, so many. Okay, no. Industrial animal agriculture is only directly responsible for the 80,000,000,000 (80 billion) land animals it slaughters per annum—one of whom is going to be you—and the 3,000,000,000,000 (three trillion) or so sea creatures. Mostly, they’re replaced. See you next year.

Remember your mother, Anton?

You don’t, I know. But I do.

This is where another concept may be useful: entanglement. That is, we are all entangled in mind–body­–world relations, and that what happens to each one of us can both cause and be caused by changes to the mind–body–world realities of others. Including the nonhuman other. The philosopher Lori Gruen talks about “entangled empathy” and that we need to give our “moral attention” to the other bodies with whom we are already entangled. Perhaps an example: a person who eats the body parts of another is entangled with that other, yes? Benefiting from that being’s energy? So the relation demands a moral attention, right? But when a human being eats the leg of a lamb these days, there is little moral attention given to the relation. Only economic attention. To convenience. Only the luxury of the taste. (I wrote this during #LoveLambWeek.)

Where has moral attention disappeared to, Anton? Why did we stop feeling empathy for the infant sheep whose legs we eat? There is no moral attention given today, Anton, by 98% of the world’s population, to the desires of those of you trapped in that interminable hell, where there is no living, survival is all. There is no recognition of the already existing entanglements between mind–body–world beings. And that’s because no one wants to be re-minded that there was an entanglement with not only the leg but also the mind of a young lamb, skipping with delight, bleating for its mum. No one, that is, Anton (and this is the mess we’ve got ourselves into) who wants to take direct responsibility.

Anton, I feel that I’m failing. I feel like I’m not doing justice here to the issue of convincing people of the connection between animal agriculture’s slaughter of billions, land and sea, year upon year, and that other slaughter of life: extinction. Maybe that’s because we’re all failing, Anton. Failing you, failing the Asiatic Cheetah, failing all of the red-listed creatures. Do numbers work? They’ve been shown not to. But it’s all I’ve got. Today 225,000,000 (225 million) of your domesticated brethren will be slaughtered for food; and 225,000 new humans will be added to the earth to eat that food; and 80 species will become extinct to make way. Just today. Tomorrow, again. Life shoved out by death. The monoculture of a species: homo rapiens, as John Gray calls us.

So, okay. The connection between slaughter and extinction? Or rather, the connector? Imagine it this way. In the middle you have the Great Human Baby that needs feeding if it’s to keep growing (growth is all!), its two grasping hands seeking sustenance. On one side you have a big pile of slaughtered animal products. On the other side you have a pile of those lovely wooden toys in the shape of animals, a child’s Noah’s Ark and its exotic megafauna. But the Great Human Baby needs to eat, so it grabs at either pile, indiscriminately, and like all babies, it will thrust whatever it finds into its mouth. Burger or snow leopard. Pork chop or parakeet. Cutlet or cloud forest. They’re all being consumed by the same source. Consumption here as both literal and metaphor. The shameful thing, my friend, is that we, the parents, the adults, keep shovelling the animals onto the piles, keep loading them up, so the baby can eat and eat and eat. And aged two (remember: metaphor and literal!) it is already obese. Already has diabetes and chronic heart disease.

It’s too much for me, Anton. Too much. And what have I done for you today other than depress you? You in your metal cavern, in the ammonia reek of your middle-age, the waste-stinking runnels, your wretched Iowan life. How has any of this helped you understand the connection between the extinction of species and the death that is looming for you?

Agh. I can’t give in to this helplessness. I am still looking for a way to help you escape. I know this is also what drives those who are working so hard, in conservation for example, to save individual animals who are, unlike you, part of a species not endlessly reproduced for its economic value.

Who’s better off, though? Those endangered lemurs and frogs, or you pigs? And why do conservationists still smother apple sauce on your belly and legs?

It’s a misnomer, isn’t it, Anton, this word extinction? When all we really need to call it is killing. Then perhaps we can see a little more clearly the connection between the two: industrial slaughter and the wiping out of non-economic nonhuman animals and ecosystems. Because to quibble over directness or indirectness is to simply betray an anthropocentric comfort with the question.

Oh, humans are saying, you mean the connection is us?

Oh, too miserable, Anton! Where have I gone with this?

I’ll get you out of there. Ninety four days gone; I have eight six days left. You are over half-way through your industrial lifespan (not 1/40th of your natural life expectancy) but I will use these days well. I just need to persuade 6,500,000,000 (6.5 billion) more humans that they’re already entangled with you too…


Alex Lockwood is a writer living in Newcastle and senior lecturer in the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland. He completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University, exploring self-identity, psychoanalysis and affect. His book The Pig in Thin Air explores the place of the body in animal advocacy, and chronicles Alex’s journey around Canada and the United States in 2014, exploring animal advocacy and the animal rights movement there. 


Who killed the Bramble Cay melomys? – by Michelle Nijhuis

Paper cut Bramble Cay melomys by Australian artist Rebecca Edwards

A brilliant article by Michelle Nijhuis for the Atlantic explains that to simply blame climate change for the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys misses the point:

This summer, the Bramble Cay melomys, a reddish-brown rodent that resembles a large mouse, made international news. In mid-June, The Guardian reported that the melomys, last seen in 2009, had been confirmed extinct in its only known habitat, a tiny, isolated coral outcrop in the narrow strait between Australia and New Guinea. “First mammal species wiped out by human-induced climate change,” the headline read. The story, and the declaration, were picked up by publications around the world.

Climate change certainly dealt a blow to the melomys, and very likely the fatal blow. In 1998, about ten acres of Bramble Cay lay above the high tide line; by 2014, only six acres remained above the tide, and rising seas had flooded the entire island several times, killing or damaging most of the succulent plants the species depended on for food. The melomys was last seen alive in 2009, and this past June, a report by three scientists to the Australia’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection concluded that there were no more melomys on Bramble Cay. The last remaining members of the species may have been simply washed away.But did climate change kill the melomys? Yes and no.
Two weeks after its initial story, The Guardian reported that Australian researchers had intended to bring a few melomys back to the mainland to start a captive breeding program. But when their surveys of Bramble Cay failed to turn up a single individual, their rescue mission ended with an obituary. “My colleagues and I were devastated,” the expedition leader told The Guardian.
That missed opportunity, says biologist John Woinarski, was the last act in a tragedy that had been unfolding for years, often in plain sight. In a new paper in Conservation Biology, Woinarski and three colleagues conduct what might be called an inquest into three recent Australian extinctions: the Christmas Island pipistrelle (a small bat), the Christmas Island forest skink (a plain brown lizard), and the melomys. These three extinctions, the authors conclude, “were predictable and most likely could have been prevented.”The pipistrelle was common on Christmas Island until the mid-1980s, but in the mid-1990s its numbers began to decline, and dropped quickly and steadily until the species went extinct in 2009. The skink started to decline at around the same time, and its last representative, nicknamed Gump, died in captivity in 2014. Both species are thought to have been done in by introduced predators, probably the giant centipede and the wolf snake. 
Woinarski argues that the centipede and the snake, much like the rising tides on Bramble Cay, were enabled for years by human neglect and inaction. Australia’s biodiversity conservation law makes no explicit commitment to preventing human-caused extinctions, so species threatened by diffuse or complex threats are often left unprotected, and the protection measures that do exist are frequently inadequate; though researchers began to document the skink’s decline in 1999, it was not officially recognized as critically endangered until 2014, four months before its extinction. The pipistrelle, like the melomys, suffered from a delayed rescue attempt: Its plight was recognized in the late 1990s, but by the time the government approved a captive breeding program, in 2009, there was only one bat left—and that bat, understandably, refused to be caught. These three species were also particularly easy to ignore: They’re small and unremarkable, and they live in some of the most remote places on the planet. They don’t play an obviously important role in their ecosystems, or occupy a unique place in evolutionary history; they’re not beloved by any particular human community or culture. Only their extinction makes them distinctive, and even that is less and less unusual: Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world, with 30 species, including the melomys, lost in the four centuries since European colonization.

Woinarski, who lived on Christmas Island just after the extinction of the pipistrelle and during the extinction of the skink, also worked on the recovery plan for the melomys. His assessment, he says, was motivated by personal grief, and by a desire to understand what could be done differently next time. For there will be a next time: Though recent policy reforms have strengthened its national conservation law, Australia and its outlying islands have more than a thousand threatened and endangered species. Those already close to extinction include theChristmas Island shrew, the only shrew in Australia; the Western ground parrot, a shy, bright-green bird that lives on the southwestern coast; and the bridled nailtail wallaby or flashjack, a favorite prey of cats, dogs, and foxes.To say that climate change killed the Bramble Cay melomys, says Woinarski, is “accurate but shallow.” It ignores the many other environmental factors that probably led to its extinction, and it obscures the fact that humans could have saved the species—not only by slowing climate change in the first place, but also by rescuing the species from its effects. People, he emphasizes, could have prevented the extinction of the melomys. They chose not to.


Behind black bird-masks – by Mikael Vogel & Brian Williams

Brian Williams is an artist living in Columbus, Ohio, USA, and Mikael Vogel is a poet living in Berlin, Germany. They frequently collaborate on creative projects focusing on extinct and endangered animals, and will release an illustrated book of poetry in spring 2017.

This is their tribute to the extinct Hawaiian po’o-uli bird. 

Behind black bird-masks

The last three poʻo-uli
Within their three close home ranges (in ʻōhiʻa
Rain forest, on Maui), refusing to leave those, thus
Refusing to procreate in any way. Gone ex-
Tinct November 26, 2004


Hinter schwarzen Vogelmasken
Die drei letzten Poʻo-uli
In ihren drei nahen Revieren (in ʻŌhiʻa-
Regenwald, auf Maui), sich weigernd diese zu verlassen, so
Jede Fortzupflanzung verweigernd. Ausge-
Storben 26. November 2004


Poem by Mikael Vogel. Translated from German by Holden Silverfish


Some information on the po’o-uli

The po’o-uli was discovered in 1973 on the slopes of Haleakalā on the island of Maui. It was the first species of Hawaiian honeycreeper to be discovered since 1923. It was unlike other Hawaiian birds, belonging to an ancient lineage of Hawaiian honeycreepers. No other bird – living or fossil – has a structure similar to it.

By 1997, only three individuals were known to exist. In 2002, one of these, a female, was captured and taken to a male’s home range in an attempt to get them to breed. The female, however, had flown back to her own territory, which was 1.5 miles away, by the next day. There was also a ten-day expedition in 2004. The goal of this was to capture all three birds and bring them to a bird conservation centre on the island, in the hope they would produce offspring.

On September 9, 2004, one of the remaining birds, a male, was captured and taken to the Maui Bird Conservation Centre in Olinda, in an attempt to breed the bird in captivity. However, biologists could not find a mate for the male before it died on November 26, 2004.

The decline of the po’o-uli was due to habitat loss, mosquito-borne diseases, predation by pigsratscats, and small Asian mongooses, and a decline in the native tree snails that the po’o-uli relied on for food.


Bachman’s warbler – by Carrie Laben

Bachman’s warbler (Vermivora bachmanii)

Bachman’s warbler (Vermivora bachmanii), courtesy of the artist, Isabella Kirkland


Sometimes it seems as though the Bachman’s warbler was under a fairy-tale curse from the start. To become invisible, to disappear. John James Audubon never saw one alive, even though he described it for western science; his description and painting of the species were based on specimens shot and sent to him by his friend the Reverend John Bachman. So the bird was lumbered with the name of its killer. But this was not uncommon in those days.

And after that, what? It probably bred in canebrakes, dense stands of bamboo that crop up in damp southern forests, shooting skyward towards gaps in the canopy and dying off abruptly when the plants complete their life cycle. It’s not a habitat where you take one stand and preserve it in a diorama; canebrakes are wanderers, springing up in the wakes of hurricanes and collapses, dwindling when times are good for stately old trees. The Bachman’s warbler was probably a wanderer too. I’ll use the word probably a lot in this post, because the bird was never studied in depth – maybe it wasn’t so dependent on canebrakes, maybe it liked damp old-growth forests intact. At least once, in Mississippi, it nested in an upland forest. In the 1992 edition of Birds in Jeopardy, which gives the warbler a page despite acknowledging that it was possibly – probably? – extinct even then, there is the most poignant of sentences at the conclusion of the entry: “The species is so rare and poorly known that no [recovery] plans have been formulated or put into action.” Besides being sporadic, canebrakes are not friendly habitat for large clumsy mammals; tough to get through, laden with biting insects, a refuge not just for pretty birds but for snakes and pumas. A few plume hunters must have gotten in, because Birds in Jeopardy and other books that mention the warbler (always briefly, always with the caveat that not much is known) list plume hunting as a cause of the bird’s decline. Maybe a few specimens are still lurking on dusty hats in attics.

Was it always rare? That would make a good excuse for why we know so little, and maybe let us off the hook a bit; it was already in decline, it was a little Nell species just too good for this sinful earth. That’s the danger of believing in fairy-tale curses, becoming fatalistic. Except that maybe, as the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth, it was actually rather common. Birds in Jeopardy says “the seventh most common migrant along the lower Suwannee River”, an oddly precise canebrake of statistic in a swampy forest of probablies. Conjecture – logging, at that point not yet a wall-to-wall devastation, had opened up more patches of light for bamboo and the bird’s breeding and increased its range, that that was actually the best it would ever get for a yellow-and-green bird with a black chin. Or something else was going on entirely.

Anyway, it declined. The last known sighting is as swampy as everything else: last specimen collected in 1949, last confirmed breeding pair in South Carolina that same year. Unlikely that they were really the last breeding pair, though, because the last photograph is from 1958 and the commonly-cited last report from a ‘reliable’ observer is also from South Carolina, in 1962, when a bird born in 1949 would have been the warbler equivalent of an Old Testament patriarch. In 1977, someone in Florida photographed what could well be an immature female Bachman’s warbler, though identification is notoriously tricky for immature warblers; in 1988 there was a report from Louisiana, the vast damp center of North American ornithological mysteries; in 2001, someone saw a bird in Congaree National Park that was convincing enough to set off an unsuccessful search by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. And always there was Cuba, known to be the bird’s wintering ground, hidden from North American birders behind a veil of Cold War politics and therefore capable of containing a few lingering survivors of just about anything.

As the years go on, it gets harder to hope, but seems more churlish to pick a date for the tombstone. Maybe the Bachman’s warbler will live on for many more decades in the realm where the ivory-billed woodpeckers and pink-headed ducks and Eskimo curlew live, popping their head back into our everyday world just often enough to keep environmentalists hoping. But that is more fairy-tale thinking. And while fairy-tales are lovely, it’s important to recognize that the real curse here was a practical one; we never could have hoped to preserve what we didn’t bother to understand.

Carrie Laben grew up in western New York and earned her MFA at the University of Montana. She now lives in Queens. She blogs at 10,000 Birds, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such venues as Birding, The Dark, Indiana Review, Okey-Panky, and the anthology Mixed Up! In 2015 she was selected for the Anne LaBastille Memorial Writer’s Residency.


Click to access bachmanswarbler.pdf

Cokinos, Christopher. Hope is the Thing With Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds. New York: Penguin, 2009. 27.

Ehrlich, Paul, David Dobkin & Darryl Wheye. Birds in Jeopardy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992. 32-33.

Weidensaul, Scott. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press, 2002. 17.

The Passenger’s Prayer – by Megan Hollingsworth


If I be anyone in this life

let me be a messenger

let me write beauty on the sky

let me write a love letter

so wide and deep and long

that it turns day to night

forcing men and women to look up.

Let me write a reminder of what is great and what is small

and if my being is not enough,

if my death is the only reminder of man’s power to take life

let me die; let this love letter

exist in memory, born of experience


Poem written by Megan Hollingsworth/ ex·tinc·tion wit·ness in 2014 and dedicated to the passenger pigeon on the centenary of its extinction. The image is a still from Martha’s Farewell,  a film tribute to Martha by Megan, also in 2014.

The tragedy of lost species – by Brian McKenzie

London-based artist and printmaker Brian McKenzie shares his latest project, specially completed in memory of the thylacine and for Lost Species Day:

Recently I have had the opportunity to make some new specimen artworks as part of a year long initiative commemorating the death of the last thylacine. The thylacine was a marsupial. Marsupials are wonderfully weird mammals whose young are born in a highly unformed embryo-like state.

Thylacine specimen joey, cloning trial 1 – 2 days old

The young emerge from their mothers, then grapple and clamber with overly large forelimbs to the distinctive marsupial pouch where they find sustenance and develop.


Thylacine trial 2 – 6 days old

The Thylacine became extinct 80 years ago when on September 7th 1936, ‘Benjamin’ died of neglect, locked out of his sheltered sleeping quarters in Hobart Zoo, Australia. I have speculated about what might happen should science try to reintroduce the long-lost beast using cloning technology.

thylacine-puggle-3Thylacine trial 7 – 14 days old

I have made several thylacine clone attempts. And because these malformed, ill-bred specimens are in jars, dead and preserved, we must presume that the scientists found the tasks beyond their means. The task has proved to be too complex and difficult and is way beyond them. They have failed.
 Two views of trial number 11, having survived for 21 days
The way I create these beastly specimens is by using rubber and carefully crafted, complicated inside-out moulds. One inherent factor with this process is that the final outcome (when the skin is reversed and rolled over itself) manifests unpredictable peculiarities and flaws giving the creature surprising, odd misshapen characteristics and features.
 Longest surviving creature; perished at 1 month and 1 day
I liken these errors and foibles to the struggles encountered when modern science, expecting to fully comprehend nature, finds that things do not always go according to plan. The message I’m wanting to project is that it is far better to preserve wondrousness than to expect to be able to pick up the pieces later.

Thylacine Ghosts – by Gabbee Stolp

Australia-based artist Gabbee Stolp on her Thylacine Ghosts project (2016):

My work is a study of the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), as a symbol for repairing the relationship between human beings and the natural world. This carnivorous marsupial was led to extinction by human hands, the last of its kind dying in captivity 80 years ago. Presently we find ourselves witnessing the era of the Anthropocene, whereby human actions are driving continued environmental degradation and mass extinction; the thylacine has come to represent both a sense of regret for species loss in general and the loss of something wild or animal in ourselves. Precious objects created from natural materials mimic the thylacine; they stand as icons of what has been lost and become monuments for confrontation, veneration and reflection. Through the practice of object-making – carving, stitching and piecing together – an opportunity is created for hope, atonement and reparation of the human relationship with nature.

thylacine-ghost-i-protectionThylacine Ghost I: Protection

thylacine-ghost-ii-destructionjpgThylacine Ghost II: Destruction

thylacine-ghost-iii-womanThylacine Ghost III: Woman

thylacine-ghost-iv-mythThylacine Ghost IV: Myth

thylacine-ghost-v-burdenThylacine Ghost V: Burden

thylacine-ghost-vii-skeleton-1Thylacine Ghost VII: Skeleton

thylacine-ghost-viii-mendingThylacine Ghost VIII: Mending

thylacine-ghosts-i-viii-1Thylacine Ghosts I – VIII

Photos 1-5 by Isaac Panaretos, 6-9 by Tim Panaretos

Tribute to Toughie – by Matthew Stanfield

When considering the ever-growing list of species driven to extinction by human activity, certain creatures inevitably tend to stand out in the mind. Dodos are the most obvious example, having come to symbolise the Sixth Mass Extinction; the Passenger pigeon is another, plummeting from millions to none over a single human lifespan; the Thylacine would be a third, living on as a spectral icon of Tasmania’s threatened wildernesses.

Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog seems an unlikely candidate for the pantheon of iconic human-induced extinctions. It was neither large, averaging no more than four inches long, nor particularly colourful, being primarily mottled-brown. To human eyes, it might seem small, slimy and strange.

Despite this, it would be entirely wrong to adopt a dismissive attitude towards this now vanished species. It bears repeating that few treated Dodos, Passenger pigeons or Thylacines with any respect whilst they still lived. Even more importantly, an anthropocentric approach to assessing the worth of species is at the root of today’s extinction crisis.

Here then will be written a tribute to Economiohyla rabborum, the Rabbs’ fringed-limbed tree frog.

A mere eleven years separate the species’ discovery and its extinction. This bleak fact was not lost on Joseph R. Mendelson III of the Department of Herpetology at Zoo Atlanta. Mendelson was part of the expedition to central Panama which first bought Rabbs’ tree frog to the attention of science. He has described himself as a “Forensic Taxonomist”, since the amphibians which he works on describing are dying off almost as fast as he can name them. Reading his reflections upon the morbid aspect which his scientific career has taken on, Mendelson’s sense of loss can be acutely felt.

The Panama expedition was launched as a direct response to extinction, specifically to the ongoing spread of chytridiomycosis amongst amphibian populations. This fungal infection can inflict a one-hundred per cent mortality rate amongst infected amphibians, letting it destroy entire species. Its origins, at least in its most virulent form, remain unclear. The introduction of fungus-infected African clawed frogs to the Americas, in combination with climate change, is currently the prime suspect.

In 2004, the chytrid pathogen was confirmed present in central Panama. The following year, Mendelson and other scientists headed to the region to find amphibians and take them into captive safe-keeping before chytridiomycosis could eradicate them.

There within the cloud forests of the mountains above El Valle de Antón, Rabbs’ tree frog was discovered. Unlike so many of the species which human activity has condemned to death, Rabbs’ tree frog was observed in the wild. As with other members of its genus, Rabb’s tree frog could use the webbing on its hands and limbs to glide through the air from the canopy down to the forest floor. Uniquely amongst known amphibians, it was the males who took the responsibility for feeding the young. Wild males were seen staying with the developing eggs and occasionally inserting themselves into the mass of growing tadpoles, letting their offspring feed off scraps of their skin.

Several dozen Rabbs’ tree frogs, adults and tadpoles alike, were loaded into crates and sent from Panama to US facilities in the hope of saving the species via captive breeding. Among the adult frogs was a young male, later known as ‘Toughie’. He was destined to become the very last of his kind.

Toughie spent most of his life at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, ensconced inside a converted shipping container known as the FrogPOD. This biosecure structure is strictly off-limits to visitors and was designed to serve as an ark for critically endangered amphibians, including Rabbs’ tree frogs.

At first he had company. The captured tadpoles were the first to die, failing to metamorphose in their new surroundings. They were followed by Toughie’s own offspring, born in captivity and dying as tadpoles. In 2008, Rabb’s tree frog was scientifically described. By the end of the following year, the species was functionally extinct. The last known female, one of Toughie’s FrogPOD companions, died taking any hope of the frogs’ survival with her. For the next seven years, Toughie would live alone. After three years, his loneliness became absolute, when the only other Rabbs’ tree frog known to exist was euthanized at another US zoo.

Around this time, Toughie came by his name. It was given him by the young son of the Garden’s Amphibian Conservation Co-ordinator. The boy’s explanation for the frog’s moniker was simple: ‘Because he’s the only one that made it!’

Unfortunately for Toughie and his carers, “making it” can seldom have been a more hollow triumph. Despite the best efforts of concerned scientists, all attempts to eke out a future for the Rabbs’ tree frog had ended with nothing more than an old male, sitting alone in a hollow log with nothing ahead of his species but oblivion.

Whilst comfortable, Toughie’s final home was not large enough for him to glide as he might have done in the Panamanian cloud forests. Judging by the accounts of those who knew him best, he was a wilful frog who disliked being handled, frequently pinching the hands of those who tried to hold him. Thus, apart from his weekly weighings, he was left largely undisturbed.

For most of his life, Toughie was very much the strong and silent type, living on grouchily as his species faded from existence around him. In the wild, male Rabbs’ tree frogs were heard calling, even after chytridiomycosis crept into their forest refuge. In captivity, Toughie fell mute. None of his kind would hear his voice again.

On December 15th 2014, something remarkable happened. The last Rabbs’ tree frog on Earth began to call out from his tank in the FrogPOD. His deep barking was recorded by the Amphibian Conservation Co-ordinator at the Botanical Garden. Once, such sounds might have been considered a mating call. From Toughie, they are the death rattle of a species.

Conservative current estimates suggest any given species of terrestrial vertebrate might expect to exist for one million years. How long Rabbs’ tree frog had lasted prior to September 2016 is as yet unknown. Had they managed merely one per cent of the aforementioned million years though, the frogs would still comfortably pre-date the entire written history of the species whose activities eradicated them.

More than seven thousand amphibian species share our planet. At least two thousand are in imminent danger of extinction. To get a sense of the scale of this crisis, consider that the last common ancestor of all of modern amphibians lived two-hundred-and-fifty million years ago. Staggeringly this means that the cumulative individual years of evolution which went into producing today’s IUCN Red List of amphibians runs well into the billions. This may seem unbelievable yet the great apes alone, with just seven living species, have well over thirty million years of individual evolution between us.

Should we lose all those amphibians which until so recently kept company with Toughie on the endangered list, we stand to lose a living record of evolutionary time greater than the age of the Earth itself. That is what mass extinction means.

Monolithic as the above figures are, they are arguably too big to effectively convey what species loss represents. For that, Toughie’s first and last recorded calls may serve far more eloquently.

(The call of the last Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog, recorded by Mark Mandica, Amphibian Conservation Co-ordinator at Atlanta Botanical Garden)

Dedicated to the memory of Toughie and all his kind before him.

By Matthew Stanfield

Thylacines in the Bronx – by Madeleine Thompson

Between 1902 and 1919, the Bronx Zoo exhibited four thylacines. They were housed in the fox dens, which were near where the Dancing Crane is now.

In 1902, William Hornaday, first director of the Bronx Zoo, turned down a pregnant thylacine, which would have been the first to be shown in the United States. It went to the National Zoo and promptly gave birth. Henry Fairfield Osborn (paleontologist and president of the American Museum of Natural History) was unhappy about the missed opportunity, and Hornaday bought  the next available thylacine for $125. On December 17, 1902, the Bronx Zoo obtained this thylacine, a male, from the animal dealer Carl Hagenbeck. In doing so, it became one of seven zoos outside of Australia and the second in the US (behind the National Zoo) to hold the species. The thylacine died on August 15, 1908.

The Bronx Zoo received a second male on January 26, 1912. Conflicting reports suggest that it came from either the Beaumaris Zoo in Tasmania or from the London Zoo. According to that year’s Annual Report, “while it arrived in good health, it was so nervous and unreconciled to captivity that it lived only a few months,” and died on November 20.  A third, unsexed individual arrived at the Bronx Zoo on November 7, 1916 from Sydney dealer Ellis S. Joseph. It arrived in poor health and died seven days later. The fourth and final animal was a female who arrived on July 14, 1917. She had been purchased by Ellis from the Beaumaris Zoo and resold to the Bronx Zoo. She died on September 13, 1919.

Upon viewing a Bronx Zoo thylacine during a visit, the director of the Melbourne Zoo, W. H. LeSouef, told Hornaday: “I advise you to take excellent care of that specimen; for when it is gone, you never will get another. The species soon will be extinct.” Hornaday included this quote in his Our Vanishing Wildlife (1913) in a section on “Species of Large Mammals Almost Extinct.” In a later section of the book on the importance of wildlife preserves, Hornaday affirmed: “The extermination of the thylacine would be a zoological calamity; but it is impending.”



With many thanks to Madeleine Thompson at the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo (New York) for compiling this information. Thanks to the WCS for sharing with us these photographs taken of a thylacine at the Bronx Zoo in 1903.

All images © Wildlife Conservation Society. Shared by permission of the WCS Archives.

Extinction Symbol

Why create a symbol for extinction? An interview with the designer:

“As you may have already heard by now, a mass extinction of plant and animal species is currently underway which is being caused by human activity. It was felt that the realm of visual culture hadn’t yet responded adequately to this situation, and so the extinction symbol was created as a way to distill a complex concept into an easily recognisable graphic image which transcends language differences and can be quickly and easily replicated by anybody in a range of mediums and regardless of artistic ability. The circle represents the planet, and the hourglass indicates that time is rapidly running out for many species, including humans.

“This is a decentralised, strictly non-commercial participatory project that people can use to express their concerns about the extinction crisis. The aim is to raise awareness and act as a continual reminder to people who see it as they move around the city that their actions at any given moment could potentially have far-reaching effects. Thus it serves as a visual confrontation/admonishment to those who indulge in the hyper-consumerist lifestyle and who are presently estranged or insulated from the consequences of this, due to living in almost entirely artificial urban environments. The very presence of the symbol in public space promotes a cultural shift away from the current destructive paradigm, while also signalling an increasingly emergent resistance movement. Hopefully by having the message constantly reinforced, it becomes impossible to ignore.

“By autonomously creating a physical manifestation of the symbol, a person automatically becomes a member of the extinction symbol collective, and in the process states their refusal to remain a passive bystander. Curiosity is stimulated in those who randomly come across the symbol and might initially be unaware of the meaning behind it, potentially leading to further investigation and exploration of the issues involved. Examples of the symbol seen in public are shared via various social media channels, and a space for discourse opened up. On an individual level, people taking part in the project have reported that creating the symbol can help to lessen the feelings of powerlessness and alienation endemic to techno-industrial society.

“Your participation is welcomed and encouraged. Please create the symbol everywhere you can.”

The symbol can be downloaded freely from