Death comes to the best of us, so here are the sad and bizarre tales of some of the best that it already did come to.
Jamaican Giant Galliwasp
Just look at this guy, having an evil chuckle to himself! Well it turns out the joke was on him. The last anybody saw of him was in 1840. As you might guess from the name, him and his pals lived in Jamaica. It’s hard to tell what they even were from this picture, but apparently they were lizards that lived in swamps, and each was about 2 foot long. If they bit a man, so legend said, both the Galliwasp and the man would head for water, and the first to reach it would live, whilst the other would die. When not scaring the shit out of folk, they lived on diet of fish, and fruit, whilst promising themselves they would go fully vegetarian one of these days.
These colourful lunatics lived all over America at one time, until they were replaced by hippies in tie dyed ponchos in the 1960s. There was a bit of a gap before the replacements arrived though, because the parakeets were all gone by about 1918. They were apparently gregarious and even raucous, and gathered in flocks (or ‘happenings’) of 200-300 birds. However, they had a melancholic side too, and it was this that led to their downfall. After the death of one of their number they would gather to mourn, to remember the good times, and pretend the bad ones never happened. Unfortunately though, this made them very easy for hunters to slaughter. Which is of course, what they did.
That’s a big bird! That’s a very big bird! Argentavis Magnificens! Magnificent Silver Bird! Magnificent Bird from Argentina! Sadly though, it wasn’t magnificent enough to even make it into the last five million years. Even Shane McGowan’s done considerably better than that. However, Shane McGowan is not a bird with a 23ft wingspan, and is not able to eat small animals whole, whilst in mid flight. Except perhaps in his mind, after a particularly long week down the boozer.
These chaps were having megalolz in New Zealand right up until about 1914. You can just see in their faces they couldn’t resist a good viral vid, and they were in fact named for the repeated laughing noise they made, which was described as ‘precisely the same as two men cooeying each other from a distance.’ Now that two men no longer need to cooey each other only from a distance, we can merely speculate whether the analogy is an apt one. Either way, they all died, apparently just because there wasn’t enough food for them.
The Atlas Bear was the only bear native to Africa. It was almost black in colour and lived in the Atlas mountains, from Morocco to Libya. The Romans used to capture them in their hundreds, and then starve and torture them, in order to use the bears for their favourite games, such as Bear vs Gladiator, Bear vs Lion, Bear vs Tiger, and Bear vs pretty much whatever else they could think of to entertain their twisted minds. However, the Atlas Bear population actually survived this, and was still around in small numbers until about 1850, but then succumbed to the invention of modern firearms, which wiped them out almost immediately. Ahh, that warm feeling of being human
Stephens Island Wren
The Stephens Island Wren was one of the few flightless songbirds ever to exist, and lived, as its name suggests, on Stephens Island in New Zealand. The species was first discovered by a Mr Lyall, who was the lighthouse keeper on Stephens Island, when his cat Tibbles brought home a dead one. This was sent off by Mr Lyall to a biologist to be classified, but by the time biologists and other interested parties came to the island to try and spot the new species, Tibbles had gone off and eaten the rest of the birds. And sadly for all concerned, that was the end of the story
Dusky Seaside Sparrow
These little fellas were doing alright, living around the Florida marshes, until 1963. It was then that NASA decided to flood the area, to try and get rid of the mosquitoes that were hanging about the Kennedy space centre. Unfortunately, this area was also the last breeding ground of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, and the population soon died out completely. Five birds were still alive in 1979, but, like the last tragic punters shuffling round the dancefloor of a nightclub, they were all males, and therefore didn’t stand a chance of success as far as mating was concerned.
These neon beauties lived in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, and when renowned toad fancier (or Herpetologist, to give him his correct title) Jay Savage first saw one, he thought it had been dipped in enamel paint, although where he thought a toad could get enamel paint from in the middle of a forest, I don’t know. His fellow toad fancier Martha Crump was one of the few people to witness the toads’ mating rituals, and described it as one of the most incredible things she had ever seen, though it sounds more like an unpleasantly violent threesome to me. Either way, she was the last person to see one of the toads alive, in 1989.
The Great Auk, like many famous birds which became extinct, couldn’t fly, suggesting that, for a bird, being able to fly is quite important. The Great Auk lived around rocky coasts of the north Atlantic, from Northern Spain to Greenland, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland. Looking like a cross between a penguin, a puffin and a dodo, it was quite a charming character, and its last known breeding ground was on Funk Island in about 1840, 130 years before James Brown was pretending that he was the one that invented Funk. Like anything Funky, it didn’t last very long on this side of the Atlantic, and had already been hunted to extinction here for its feathers, about 300 years before that.
West African Black Rhinoceros
These melancholy beasts used to live mostly in Cameroon and other savanna areas of West Africa, but hunting had killed them off by 2011. Their horns were used for many purposes in traditional Chinese medicine, including as an aphrodisiac. Thus China now has an enormous population, and there are no Black Rhinos. Swings and roundabouts I suppose.