Since 2011, groups in the UK and internationally have met on the last day of November to hold memorials for extinct species. The Lost Species Day project has evolved over time, with its advocates hoping for it to serve as an opportunity to learn about and respond to structural oppression and inequity, as well as being a recurring space for contemplating biodiversity loss and emotions arising from this.
Each year from 2011-2021 the organisers suggested a theme or key extinct species as an optional focus for events:
RDLS 2011 saw ceremonies for the Great Auk (d.1844) and vigils for missing butterflies
RDLS 2012: Artists in Brighton held a procession for the Caribbean Monk Seal
RDLS 2013: Some organisers focused on threatened and extinct amphibians
RDLS 2014 saw a number of centenary memorials to the Passenger Pigeon (extinct 1914)
RDLS 2015: Organisers and participants were invited to toll bells for extinct species
RDLS 2016 marked the 80th anniversary of the extinction of the thylacine in 1936
RDLS 2017 delved into the newly-documented insect population collapses across Europe with a theme of lost and disappearing pollinators.
RDLS 2018’s focal species was Steller’s sea cow, with events marking the extinction and endangerment of marine mammals and/or the ongoing threats to seas and their communities. ONCA hosted an artist residency leading to an exhibition, Some of Us Did Not Die.
RDLS 2019: Original Names – this theme invited people to celebrate the ways that humans have named, loved and lived with their human and non-human kin. An aim of Lost Species Day 2019 is to highlight the histories and current importance of indigenous people and traditional cultures as ecological stewards. The recorded names of now-extinct and endangered species were often given to them as part of the extractive colonial processes that are responsible for ecological crises worldwide. Many of these animals and plants would have had local names already, but what are they? Lost Species Day 2019 hoped to offer participants paths to restorative knowledge and place-based practice through exploration of the local names, stories and knowledge of extinct and endangered species.
RDLS 2020: Black Lives Matter invited organisers, if they wished, to use RDLS as an opportunity to explore the ways in which white supremacy has shaped their organising spaces and thinking, and to consider how their work can or does contribute to and strengthen the growth of the intersectional environmental movement.
RDLS 2021: To mark ten years of RDLS, the theme for 2021 was interdependence. Focusing on single species as a tool for conservation has proven flawed (as discussed in this brilliant conversation between Sadiah Qureshi, Suzanne Dhaliwal and Audra Mitchell for RDLS 2020), arguably contributing to harms to places and ecological communities and driving human communities from their homes. This theme invited RDLS participants and organisers to consider and celebrate: specific relationships and lives; particular ecological / bio-cultural collectives and webs; examples of care, commitment and solidarity.
RDLS 2022 and beyond: Since 2022, there’s been no overarching theme for the Day – organisers/ participants are invited to explore whatever stories they prefer. We offer these ethical guidelines.
Burial at sea for the great auk, Brighton 2011
Feral Theatre’s Thylacine Tribute Cabaret, September 2016. Photo: Mari Opmeer
Children remember the Western Black Rhino, Carmarthenshire, 2012
Tree climb for lost lemurs, Glasgow 2016
Ore & Ingot’s mobile foundry. O&R cast the Bell for Lost Species, 2015
Procession for the Rodrigues Solitaire in Brighton 2012. Photo: Ben Ellsworth
Martha’s Flock, Carmarthen, 2014. Artist Emily Laurens. Photo: Keely Clarke