Animal programs

Photographer Reveals Animal Specimens Not on Public Display

Written by Kristen Rogers, CNN

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When photographer Marc Schlossman held an extinct dead bird in his hand, he had what he called a “moment of conversion.”

Standing in the bird division of the Field Museum in Chicago with his two young sons in 2008, he realized that the specimen drawer from which the bird had been recovered was the only place anyone could see the bird. avian species.

“It was like a punch in the stomach and I was like, ‘We’ve done a lot of damage. What kind of world do we want to live in? Enough is enough,'” said Schlossman, who is based in London.

The experience led Schlossman – who has a background in environmental and travel photography – to wonder why biodiversity loss was happening so quickly, if it was too late to do anything about it and, if not, what could -we do ? What he discovered became part of his new photography book, “Extinction: Our Fragile Relationship With Life on Earth.”

Pictured is the cover of ‘Extinction: Our fragile relationship with life on Earth’. Credit: Marc Schlossman

Through striking photos of specimens captured nearly 15 years after this transformative visit to the museum, “Extinction” serves as both a warning and a beacon of hope: it features extinct and endangered animals that have suffered losses due to habitat destruction, hunting, legal and illegal activities. wildlife trade, disease and other human-made threats. But Schlossman noted that it’s not too late for some of these at-risk species.

Pictured is a Field Museum specimen of a Carolina parakeet, an extinct species once coveted for its colorful feathers and wiped out by disease.

Pictured is a Field Museum specimen of a Carolina parakeet, an extinct species once coveted for its colorful feathers and wiped out by disease. Credit: Marc Schlossman

Of the 82 species in the book, 23 are extinct, Schlossman said. “The rest have been brought back from the brink of extinction as conservation successes, or they can be saved through robust conservation work and habitat preservation.”

“We’ve done a lot of damage as a species. But let’s move on to what we need to do, because we’re at a critical moment in history.”

A detail of a Floreana giant tortoise specimen from the collection of the Field Museum is shown.  The species was hunted to extinction in 1850.

A detail of a Floreana giant tortoise specimen from the collection of the Field Museum is shown. The species was hunted to extinction in 1850. Credit: Marc Schlossman

Schlossman’s call to action comes at a pivotal time as the accelerating loss of global biodiversity threatens the interconnectedness and future of all life forms, including humans.

Worldwide losses

Biodiversity loss means that although there are around 8.7 million species on Earth, 85-90% of which are yet to be discovered, scientists are in a race against time to understand how dwindling numbers, variety and genetic variability of species affect ecosystems. , according to Thomas Gillespie, a professor in the department of environmental sciences at Emory University in Atlanta.

“We are losing species potentially faster than we discover them,” he said, “and even before we realize what their roles are in the world’s ecosystems.”

Schlossman’s ability to document some of these lost species dates back to the 1970s when, as a teenager, he volunteered in the Field Museum’s mammal division for a few summers, he said. After visiting the museum with his sons, he asked Field Museum curator John Bates what he could do as a photographer to tell the story of some specimens in the museum’s collection and see where it was going.

Over the next decade, he photographed through specimens of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, mammals, insects and plants. “In any natural history museum, on average, 1% of the collection is on display. I had access to the 99% that you don’t see. … Every collection manager had to somehow give their agreement, so it took a while to get through,” Schlossman said. “I have this relationship with the Field Museum, and the culture at the Field Museum is very progressive.”

The philosophy behind Schlossman’s curation of his book is that every species matters — especially the pollinators involved in the process of bringing food to our tables — but even “uncharismatic” species, he said. declared.

The rusty-patched bumblebee, featured in “Extinction,” is one such crucial pollinator. It once thrived in the United States and Canada, but has suffered the most severe decline of any bee species in North America. Scientists have estimated that the critically endangered species has disappeared from 87% of its natural range, and in recent decades the population has declined by 95%, the book notes.

This critically endangered Rusty-patched Bumblebee specimen is from the collection of the Field Museum.

This critically endangered Rusty-patched Bumblebee specimen is from the collection of the Field Museum. Credit: Marc Schlossman

Of some of the extinct species photographed by Schlossman, only one specimen remained – like a small Mexican ray-finned fish, the inclusion of which reflected the book’s most heartbreaking message.

“It was in a tributary that ran through Mexico City, and because of the urban development, it was under too much pressure,” Schlossman said.

Urbanization — the concentration of humans in areas converted for residential, commercial, industrial and transportation purposes — also caused the extinction of the Xerces blue butterfly, last seen in the wild in 1941. It was the first North American butterfly to become extinct due to human actions.
The last known thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, died in captivity in 1936. This specimen is from the collection of the Field Museum.

The last known thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, died in captivity in 1936. This specimen is from the collection of the Field Museum. Credit: Marc Schlossman

As Schlossman worked on his book, themes or patterns of human behaviors revealed themselves. “Why do we need to hunt these things to extinction? What is it that our species is not managing our resource use sustainably?” He asked.

“We are poisoning ourselves by acting recklessly in this way of overexploiting natural resources,” Schlossman said. “It’s really important that people understand that. I don’t know how we think we’re going to dodge this bullet that we’re creating for ourselves.”

The Chinese pangolin (specimen in the collection of the Field Museum) is critically endangered because humans hunt its scales, meat and blood.

The Chinese pangolin (specimen in the collection of the Field Museum) is critically endangered because humans hunt its scales, meat and blood. Credit: Marc Schlossman

A glimmer of hope

Schlossman hopes his images will inspire ideas and optimism for the conservation of remaining species. “Human activities can nurture, as well as harm,” said Jeremy Kerr, professor and chair of the biology department at the University of Ottawa in Ontario.

A good example is the success of the California Condor Recovery Program, which Schlossman included in “Extinction” as an example of how human intervention saved a species. Launched in 1975, the initiative is the result of cooperative efforts led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service involving a multitude of federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations.

“The population is down to 22, and they captured them all and they established this captive breeding program. And they encourage the birds to lay two eggs a year to increase the population quickly,” Schlossman said.

“The chicks in the incubator eggs were manipulated and raised using condor puppets so they wouldn’t imprint themselves on humans. So basically if the condor chick could see a human face, they would think that it was his mother,” he added. “They used condor puppets to raise them. … In 2020 there were over 500 condors.”

The New Zealand kākāpos (specimen from the collection of the Field Museum) have been preserved through a government-supported relocation and salvage programme, according to "Extinction."

The New Zealand kākāpos (specimen from the collection of the Field Museum) have been preserved by a government-backed relocation and recovery program, according to “Extinction”. Credit: Marc Schlossman

“Rise up and fight harder”

Deforestation for the production of beef, soy (produced in large quantities for livestock) and palm oil harms the biodiversity of tropical rainforests and coral reefs, Emory’s Gillespie said. Much of the burden of tackling biodiversity loss falls on big industries and businesses, such as agriculture, Schlossman said — but there are things you can do to help, including changing your diet to reduce demand for produce. of these systems.
With habitat preservation being the most crucial antidote to biodiversity loss, you could be promoting habitats for species such as monarch butterflies – which the International Union for Conservation of Nature has declared endangered. in July — by growing milkweed, a primary food source, Schlossman said.
Pictured are specimens of monarch butterflies from the collection of the Field Museum.

Pictured are specimens of monarch butterflies from the collection of the Field Museum. Credit: Marc Schlossman

For bee species, you can reduce pesticide use or plant a variety of flowers and shrubs in your garden to prevent habitat loss and provide bees with shelter from extreme elements.
If you feel helpless or overwhelmed by these environmental issues, know that it’s not too late to start making changes to build a better future, according to Schlossman. “Everything that happened yesterday or the previous days is gone,” he said. “Eco-anxiety doesn’t make things better; we just need to get up and fight harder.”

“Extinction” is available now in the UK and US.