“If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth.”
-- Chief Seattle
The images in this series, “Last of Its Kind,” are portraits of taxidermied animals on display in natural history museums. Most of these species were thriving when they were collected at the beginning of the last century, but have either disappeared completely from the face of the Earth or are now so few that they hover near extinction. Some animals have been miraculously brought back from the brink of extinction with the help of human intervention.
Nature shaped the climate of our planet when these animals roamed the earth. Now it is man’s choices that shape the climate and, subsequently, the health of every ecosystem on the planet. Climate change, habitat loss, over-hunting, over-fishing and an illegal wildlife trade are contributing to a modern mass extinction that scientists predict will result in the loss of 20-50% of all living species on Earth (both flora and fauna) by the end of the 21st century.
Images of animals that are either newly extinct or that have been brought back from the brink of extinction are important for us to see and consider because they represent the choices we have made in the past and the choices we will make in the future. When these animals were put on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum in Chicago, it was with the intention of educating the public and prompting the protection and conservation of critical natural habitats. We (human) animals are as critically dependent on our own natural habitats as our habitats are critically dependent on our current and future choices. As we progress into the 21st century we must keep in mind Sir David Attenborough’s warning: “If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves.”