Extinct & Almost Extinct: Thylacine

This is a painting and text from my ongoing project Extinct and Almost Extinct: 50 paintings – extinct - thylacine - 2014-12-02 at 14-52-45

-Thylacine (extinct 1936)-

Often called the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf, the Thylacine was the largest carnivorous marsupial of modern times. It looked like a dog with stripes and short legs. However, despite its appearance it was not related to canines or felines. Fossil records show the modern Thylacine living at least 4 million years ago in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. Thylacine disappeared from Australia after dingos, a more efficient predator arrived about 4000 years ago. By the time of the white colonization, they were only found in Tasmania. Male Thylacines were the size of large dogs. The female were slightly smaller. Both had an abdominal pouch and a stiff tail similar to a kangaroo. They were not fast runners, but could hop like a kangaroo. The litters of two to three pups were carried in the mother’s pouch for three months.

The Thylacine was nocturnal and exclusively carnivorous, hunting mammals and birds. European settlers believing them to be responsible for the loss of sheep and poultry, called for a bounty to eliminate them. Evidence shows these beliefs were exaggerated and sometimes based on manufactured evidence. The increased bounty hunting along with the loss of prey and habitat due to the spread of agriculture lead to their extinction. While the last captive animal died in 1936 (ironically the same year they were granted protection) there were possible sightings of the animal in Tasmania for many years and the Thylacine was not officially declared extinct until 1986.


Extinct & Almost Extinct: Honshu Wolf —

This is a painting and text is from my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings —extinct - honshu wolf - 2015-05-23 at 15-45-07

Honshu Wolf —

extinct cira 1905 —

The Honshu wolf of Japan was the smallest of all wolves, measuring about three feet in length. It inhabited the mountainous areas of the islands of Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku.

Unlike the perception of wolves in the west, most Japanese villagers of the wolves’ territory did not see them as problem but as protectors. Stories abounded of the wolves protecting night travelers, the young and the helpless. Many farmers saw the wolf as their ally in that the wolves hunted boars, rabbits, and deer that could damage the farmer’s crops. There were cases of villagers hunting wolves they believed to had taken livestock, but the hunters risked great misfortune from the retribution of the wolf’s spirit.

The beginning of the end for the Honshu wolf was in the mid 18th century when rabies was introduced in Japan. The spread of the disease killed the majority of the wolves and deforestation and changes in agricultural practices reduced their habitat drastically.

The last known Honshu wolf was killed in 1905. Since then reports of sightings of the wolf have been continual up to the 21st century as is the case with many extinct species. But extensive searches and experiments to locate the wolf have all failed and experts are skeptical of any survivors. There has been talk of reintroducing wolves of other subspecies to the mountains of Japan but no action has been taken to do so.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Formosan Clouded Leopard

This is a painting and text is from my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings —extinct - formosan clouded leopard - 2015-04-15 at 15-47-32

Formosan Clouded Leopard —

extinct cira 2010 —

This beautiful sub-species of clouded leopard was three to five feet in length and weighed 35 to 50 pounds. Native to the island of Taiwan it lived mostly in forests of a thousand feet or more above sea level. Spending much of its time in the trees, it hunted monkeys, birds, squirells, and deer. Its average lifespan was about 11 years. It was a secretive animal, avoiding human contact. It had a keen sense of sight, smell and hearing. Little is known of their social systems but males and females probably only met for breeding. The females had an average of two kits who were weaned at 10 weeks and were independent in 10 months.

The beauty of the Formosan clouded leopard was a primary reason for its demise. Its gorgeous coat was sought by poachers for its value and the leopard’s bones were used in traditional Chinese medicine. The loss of habitat due to deforestation was also a factor. A 13 year search for the cat was mounted in 2000 and after the use of 1,500 infrared cameras, hundreds of catnip-bated hair traps and field hours beyond number, no cloud leopard was to be found in Taiwan.

Other subspecies of clouded leopard found in Southeast Asia to the eastern Himalayas are all at risk. Deforestation and poaching have the potential to drive them all to extinction.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Carolina Parakeet

Below is the painting and text of one of the creatures from my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct —Carolina Parakeet, 12" X 12" acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

Carolina Parakeet
extinct 1939 —

This beautiful bird was the only species of parrot native to the eastern part of North America. It was about 13 inches in length. Its range, for such a tropical looking bird, was expansive, running from New England to the Gulf Coast and from the Atlantic to eastern Colorado. It lived mostly in forests and wooded river bottoms. Experts estimate hundreds of thousands to millions of the Carolina Parakeets were living in flocks of 200 to 300 birds when America was first colonized. Their main food source was tree seeds, but they also munched on thistles and cockleburs.

In the early 19th century, women’s hats decorated with brightly-colored feathers became fashionable and the Carolina Parakeet was hunted extensively for their beautiful green and yellow feathers. At the same time, their population began a steep decline with the deforestation of the eastern United States. With the removal of wilderness forests, the birds began feeding in fruit orchards, corn fields and on other grain crops. Farmers saw them as pests and called for their wholesale slaughter. By 1860, the range for the Carolina Parakeet was reduced to the swampy lands of Florida and Georgia. After 1904, the birds were no longer seen in the wild. In addition to the population reductions by the continued hunting, there has been some speculation that the remaining healthy flocks were wiped out by a poultry disease caught from contact with domesticated fowl.

The last Carolina Parakeet died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918 and the species was declared extinct in 1939.

Carolina Parakeet, 12″ X 12″ acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

Extinct & Almost Extinct: California Golden Bear

This is the painting and text is from my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings —

California Golden Bear, 12' X 12", acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W.McGinnis

California Golden Bear
extinct cira 1930 —

This largest California land mammal, weighing up to 2300 pounds, once numbered 10,000 and ranged from the coast to the mountains. California Indian tribes revered and feared this great predator. The bear was an omnivore eating berries, roots, fish and small animals. They rarely hunted larger animals. Today its closest surviving relatives are the grizzly bears living on the southern coast of Alaska.

The decline of the California Golden Bear started with the arrival of Spanish settlers in 1769. The spread of ranchos and farms reduced food available to the bears and drove them into the foothills. Besides hunting the bears, the Spanish captured bears to provide the spectacle of bull/bears fights and the practice continued after Americans arrived.

As the bears’ range was reduced, they began attacking and killing livestock. The upsurge of people arriving for the Gold Rush brought more powerful guns, traps and poisons and the skill to rid the area of bears. While some bears were killed to protect people and their livestock, more were killed for sport and for bragging rights.

The last California Golden Bear was shot in 1922 and the last sighting in the Sierras was in 1924 but the bear has not been forgotten. The California flag and seal display the extinct animal in remembrance of the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 that led to California joining the United States. In 1953, the extinct bear was designated the state animal of California and it is the mascot of many California sports teams.

California Golden Bear, 12′ X 12″, acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W.McGinnis

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit

This is one of the paintings and text from my ongoing project Extinct and Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings —Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit, 12" X 12", acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit
— extinct with surviving hybrids —

The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is the smallest rabbit in North America. An adult pygmy rabbit weighing under a pound, can hop up to fifteen miles an hour. However, they rarely range more than 200 yards from their burrows. They do not hibernate and can withstand temperature from below zero to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Pygmy rabbits have evolved a large liver that enables them to digest sagebrush found in dry deserts. The decline in the sagebrush deserts due to the growth of agriculture, cattle grazing and wild fires is a major reason for the reduction in their populations. Pygmy rabbit sub-species, with characteristics distinct from the Columbia River Basin pygmy rabbits, live in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada.
Pygmy Rabbits breed from February to July, producing from one to three litters each year. For protection, the females bury their litters of kits in shallow burrows, returning once a day to dig them out, feed them, and cover them again. This practice stops after two weeks when the kits are ready to fend for themselves.
In 2001, a Washington State survey found only thirty surviving Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits. Sixteen of those were taken into a captive breeding program. In 2004, pygmy rabbits were brought in from Idaho to broaden the genetic pool. The last purebred Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit died in 2008. After failures in releasing captive animals into the wild, a ten-acre fenced reserve was established in 2011 and fifty rabbits were released in the enclosure resulting in the first kits being born into their natural habitat from captive-born animals. More sub-species of pygmy rabbits were brought in from Nevada, and Utah to strengthen the population. Even with concerted efforts of zoos, universities and wildlife organizations, the future of the pygmy rabbits in the Columbia Basin is uncertain. However, additional enclosures have been established in Washington and there is cautious optimism for the hybrid rabbit’s survival.

Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit, 12″ X 12″, acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

Extinct & Almost Extinct — Peregrine Falcon

The following is one of the paintings and text from my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings.

American Peregrine Falcon, 12" X 12", acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W. McGinnis
American Peregrine Falcon, 12″ X 12″, acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W. McGinnis

–American Peregrine Falcon —
–saved from extinction —

One of the fastest birds in the world, the Peregrine falcon can reach speeds of 200 miles an hour as it dives toward it’s flying prey, snatching it from the air. This spectacular hunting style has made it a favorite of falconers and biologists alike. Peregrines are one of the most widely ranging birds in the world inhabiting all the world’s continents but the Antarctica.

The crow-sized falcon mates for life and the females are about a third larger than the males. They do not build nests but lay their eggs in depressions called scrapes often on the ledges of cliffs.

There may have been as many as 4,000 nesting pairs of American peregrines until the 1940’s when the extensive use of DDT as a pesticide began in many countries. This chemical was used to eliminate insects in agriculture and also to control mosquitoes and lice that cause the spread of disease. As the chemical accumulated in the birds that the falcons ate, the egg shells of the peregrine became thin and nesting failure became endemic. By 1975 the American falcon had lost 90% of its population with only 324 known nesting pairs. Concerted conservation efforts including the ban of DDT and extensive captive breeding and reintroduction efforts in the U.S., Canada and Mexico has led to the increase in population to 2,000 to 3,000 nesting pairs in North America. The bird was removed from the U.S. endangered and threatened list in 1999. In their search for prey some peregrines have moved into cities to hunt pigeons. Artificial scrapes on high buildings have been created for the birds by welcoming city dwellers who encourage the falcons to lower pigeon populations.