Lost animals: extinction and the photographic record.

Lost animals: extinction and the photographic record. Errol Fuller.
Lost animals: extinction and the photographic record.

London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013. Octavo, dustwrapper, colour and black and white photographs.

Flick through any book on extinct animals and the eye is immediately drawn to the handful of photographs that will appear, often tinted sepia or black and white (usually featuring the same small number of images, again and again). In some cases these show the very last individual of a species, in a zoo or wildlife park. There are some very well-known examples, such as Martha, the last Passenger pigeon, or one of the last Ivory-billed woodpeckers known, peering quizzically at the hat of its owner while chained forlornly by the leg. But for every Martha there are dozens less well-known extinct birds and mammals that were photographed prior to their demise. Most of these photographs are virtually unknown to the general readership, and many have never been published. For example, the yawning Thylacine is very well known indeed, but recently photographs of a mother Thylacine and her cubs came to light, some 90 years after they had been taken. The photographic record brings the history of species loss home more than a painting ever can, and it forms the focus of this remarkable book, written by the world's leading authority on extinct animals, Errol Fuller.

The book features photographs dating from around 1870 to as recently as 2004 (which saw the extinction of the Hawaiian Po'o-uli). After a brief introduction to the subject and a look at the earliest days of animal photography, Fuller tells the tale of each animal, why it became extinct, and discusses the circumstances surrounding the photograph itself, in a lavish book rich with images. The photographs are compelling. They provide a tangible link to dozens of species that have now vanished forever, in a book that brings the past to life while delivering a warning for the future.

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