The Database

At present this website is under heavy construction. This means that REPAD itself, which contains all of the species and subspecies accounts, is spread between the old website and this one. The old old website can be accessed here.

Some taxon profiles are available already available on this new site, spanning each of the three kingdoms covered by REPAD:

 

Picturing Extinction

It is hard to fathom the proportion of large animals that we have lost over the last hundred thousand years. From a six-metre long goanna in outback Australia, to gorilla-sized lemurs in Madagascar, giant birds from Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar, elephants from Mediterranean islands, river dolphins from China, giant elk and woolly rhinos from Eurasia, several species of lions (none from Africa), a second species of giant panda, another koala, a giant flightless pigeon (the dodo), primitive crocodilians from Pacific islands, giant terrestrial horned turtles, the American cheetah, deer of all kinds, real life hobbits, a three tonne marsupial (Diprotodon), colossal carnivorous kangaroos, a primitive Matsoiid snake. The list goes on and on. And on. And on.

Smaller mammals have arguably fared much better, even though hundreds have been lost. Predominantly bats, rats and mice, with the odd marsupial or shrew-sized eutherian mammal. Some truly enigmatic like Nilopegamys, a single specimen the only tangible record to it's once living population. Or the recently described hypothetical Sonnerat's shrew (Diplomesodon sonnerati), a seemingly near melanistic animal known only from a single depiction in an unfinished manuscript from 1814. Or my favourite mystery species, the Lord Howe long-eared bat (Nyctophilus howensis), known only from a single relatively recent skull from tiny Lord Howe Island, 640km off the coast of New South Wales, Australia. 

Even more devastating is the loss of birds, whose extinction rate is sky high. It has been estimated that at least 2,000 avian species have been lost in the last several thousand years. The majority originating from Pacific islands, many of which were flightless, with a large sprinkling from other regions, particularly the Hawaiian Islands. Arguably the greatest tragedy that humans have wrought upon Mother Nature is the extinction of the Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), a bird once so numerous that huge flocks darkened the sky for hours as the continuous flapping of wings accompanied the spectactle. While the last known pair of the original penguins, the Greak auk (Pinguinus impennis), were clubbed to death on lonely Eldey island, off the coast of Iceland. The egg they were incubating was crushed, whether accidentally or purposefully, under a sailor's foot.

For the most part marine fish have virtually dodged extinction altogether. Only three species are believed to have become extinct (date refers to last record): Azurina eupalama (Galápagos damselfish) in 1982, Asterropteryx gubbina (no common name) in April 2008, and Scarus aff. guacamaia (no common name) in c.1985. The latter is, however, taxonomically dubious. On the other hand, given their relatively limited habitat, freshwater fishes have been devastated. In one of East Africa's rift lakes, ichthyological annihilation has taken place. The cichlid fishes of Lake Victoria were somewhat disturbed by the introduction of Nile perch (Lates niloticus) in the early-to-mid 1950's, but managed to co-exist for about two decades. Until the perch population paroxysm that has probably resulted in the loss of several hundred species, many as yet unnamed, and others unrecorded. While North and Central American freshwater fishes have succumbed to human alteration of their habitats through damming, introduced species, desiccation etc.

 

Most Recent Global Extinctions

Contrary to what one might expect, given our increasing awareness of the current biodiversity crisis and the rise of the environmental movement, species are still going extinct at an alarming rate. More than 200 species and subspecies are extinct in the wild, and almost seventy others are believed to have become extinct since the year 2000. And with several others to almost certainly end up the same way in the next decade. I have compiled a table of the most recent recognized extinctions across the plant and animal kingdoms.

 

Kept Its Stripes, But Lost Its Life

Arguably it is the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus), immortalised by the phrase "as dead as a dodo", that stands out as the preminent case of anthropic extinction. But it is the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) that fills me with both the greatest sense of loss, since we know so little about it even though there were innumerable opportunities to study it. And fills me with the greatest hope, since there have uniquely been thousands of reported sightings since 1936. It is also possibly the most preventable recent extinction, since although the Passenger pigeon should never have died out, the thylacines demise was the result of scapegoatism. We can, however, find some solace in the fact that the thylacine archive is both magnificent (and tragic) and truly fascinating. New research is still being done, and the thylacines story still throws up the odd welcome surprise. Like the photo of the mother and cubs that only recently came to light.

 

What Have We Done?

In the meantime, here is the first episode of the 1995-1996 television show "Lost Animals", co-written by Canadian author David Day and narrated by the Italian-Australian actress Greta Scacchi: