Extinction is Forever: Endlings and a Look at Some Species We Unnecessarily Wiped Off the Planet

It’s rather sad when you look back at all the species that have gone extinction in the past 500 years. What’s even sadder is the fact that most of those species fates were sealed by human-impacted extinction. It is estimated that 99.9% of all species to ever exist are extinct, and that most species never were scientifically documented. In nature, species come and go, and naturally fizzle out. Species expire or otherwise evolve, it’s just nature, but it wasn’t until Homo sapiens walked the earth that several species life spans began to falter. Something very sad follows extinction, when there is very few left. Those very few soon become just a couple, then sadly there is only one. The last one known to exist. Being the very last of a species would be an unfathomable lonely and confusing existence. What now? Why can’t I find anyone else of my kind? It’s just unthinkable what that existence would be like.

The term for the last of it’s kind is called an endling.

The documented stories of endlings are quite depressing. The one’s in captivity lived the last of their years circling around in a cage on display. The one’s in the wild were killed on the spot for no reason whatsoever. It makes you wonder if these endlings knew their fate. If they knew that this was it. I feel for these creatures and hope people generally change their ways. This does not need to happen.

Here is a few species we unnecessarily wiped off the planet, along with the stories of some of these species endlings.

 


Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine)

Thylacines at The National Zoo in Washington D.C. 1906
Thylacines at The National Zoo in Washington D.C., 1906

The Tasmanian tiger or thylacine was a canine-like marsupial with stripes down it’s back, which is the origin of it’s tiger nickname. It became extinct after the Tasmanian government put out a bounty on the species because they were seen as a nuisance, as they were thought to be killing numerous farmer’s sheep. They became extremely rare in the wild during the 1920’s, and the last one known in the wild was killed by a farmer in the 1930’s.

Almost 200 thylacines were displayed in zoos worldwide from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. What is sad is that not a lot of the ecology and behavior of the animal is known; therefore, a lot of the known observations are anecdotal evidence. So, it isn’t surprising that the zoos were unsure about treatment of the creature. They were very fascinating creatures, and were made somewhat a novelty when they started getting shipped to zoos worldwide. The thylacine was only bred successfully in captivity once in 1899, which didn’t help with their conservation.

The very last thylacine died in Beaumaris Zoo on September 7, 1936. It was referred to as “Benjamin” although it’s sex was never known despite the fact that “it” lived there for 3 years. It died from neglect by getting locked out of its sleeping quarters in below freezing weather. Some people even claim to have heard it’s cries of distress the night of it’s death. It’s remains weren’t even kept for study regardless of it being the very last of it’s kind, they were thrown out.

We have failed the thylacine. Even though there was a conservation movement since 1901 to save the species, it wasn’t official to the Tasmanian government until 59 days before the last one in existence had died.

"Benjamin" displaying the Thylacines distinctive gape at Beaumaris Zoo in 1933
“Benjamin” with the thylacine’s distinctive gape shown at Beaumaris Zoo in 1933

 


Passenger Pigeon

Martha the last passenger pigeon in 1914
Martha the last passenger pigeon in 1914

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America. They migrated in enormous flocks which were so huge that they made the sky look black, and it took over half a day for them to pass through a town. It was described as horrifying; eerily similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film “The Birds”. There was once an estimate of several billions of passenger pigeons before their abundance started to decline in the 1800’s. Their decline started because they were easy to catch, and the large number of the species made them cheap food which was sold to markets and used as food for slaves in the 19th century. During the turn of the century we saw the very last flock.

Among that flock was “Martha”, the last passenger pigeon. She was actually named after my relative, Martha Washington (I’ll get more into that discovery later). She lived in the Cincinnati Zoo from 1902 to her death on September 1, 1914. After she died, she was frozen in a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian. She is still there, although no longer on display. She is currently in a cabinet in the Smithsonian’s storage with a styrofoam perch. She was put beside another taxiderbyed passenger pigeon she never knew in life.


Pinta Island Tortoise

Lonesome George
Lonesome George

The Pinta Island tortoise’s extinction wasn’t actually human-impacted that we know of, but it had a very famous endling. His name was “Lonesome George”. He was first discovered on the Island of Pinta in 1971, when they noticed the rarity of his species he was taken to Charles Darwin Research Station for his safety. He was mated with females of his subspecies but none of the eggs hatched. Searches for more Pinta Island Tortoises came up with nothing and his species was named functionally extinct. Lonesome George died on June 24, 2012, he was found by his caretaker of 40 years. It was estimated he was over 100 years old, and he died of old age.


Great Auk

Painting of the Great Auk
Painting of the Great Auk

The story of the great auk is among the saddest due to the brutality of its fate. The great auk was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus. Although it was the first to be called penguin, it is actually unrelated. By the mid-16th century they were nearly eliminated by humans killing them and using their feathers to make pillows. Another bird was also extinct for it’s use, the Carolina Parrot, which was the only known parrot native to the U.S. It was killed for its use of feathers in ladies hats, and the last one died in 1914, at the same zoo as Martha, the last passenger pigeon.The great auk had several protection acts, one starting as early as 1553, but individuals would violate them. Oddly enough, even though they had a protection act, hunting for the use of fishing bait was still permitted.

There are two stories of the killings of the last great auks; the first was in Scotland. It was captured in July of 1844, tied up and kept alive for 3 days. A huge storm passed by, and its captors believed it was a witch; being that, they believed it had caused the storm. They killed it by beating it with a stick. The other story, also in 1844, was near Iceland. It was July 3, 1844, the last pair was found incubating an egg when two men whose names aren’t worth mentioning killed them under the request from someone who wanted specimens. They strangled the two adults then squashed the egg with their foot. People can be so unspeakably cruel. What was the point in all that? Was that completely necessary? I can’t imagine the last moments of this species existence, an extremely tragic end.


Ishi (The last of his tribe)

Ishi in 1913
Ishi in 1913

When talking about endlings, you wonder how it would feel to be the very last of your kind. A lonely existence that would follow. The feeling of a complete end once you meet your fate. A feeling you felt was a long ways away for humans. In fact, there was a human who felt that sense of loneliness from being the last of his kind. His name was Ishi, and he was the very last of Yahi tribe. Ishi means “man” in the Yana language, an anthropologist named him this being that in the Yahi culture, tradition demanded he does not speak of himself or those who have died. When asked his name he replied “I have none, because there were no people to name me”.

In 1865, Ishi’s tribe was attacked and the surviving members and Ishi’s family went into hiding for the next 44 years, all while it was popularly believed the Yahi people had gone extinct. In 1908, Ishi, his younger sister, and elderly mother were found by a group of surveyors who then ransacked their campsite. Ishi fled and lived 3 years beyond the raid, being in fact the very last of his people. On August, 29, 1911, a starving 50 year old Ishi wandered into society, and was captured foraging for food in Oroville, California. Anthropology professors read about his discovery and took him in, housing him in an old law school building on the University of California, San Francisco campus. Ishi, being that he wasn’t born in society found himself ill quite often, because he had no immunity to the “diseases of civilization”. After revealing Yahi culture the remaining years of his life, Ishi died of tuberculosis on March, 25, 1916, and his friends at the university tried to prevent an autopsy because according to Yahi culture the body was to remain intact, but doctors performed one before it could be stopped. Ishi’s legacy lives on, and there are several books and movies about him and his life as the last of his tribe.

Sources:

Wikipedia.com

Naturalworlds.org

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