Caribbean Monk Seal – It Was Very Good

Caribbean Monk Seal
Caribbean Monk Seal as depicted in “The Fisheries and Fisheries Industries of the United States”, by George Brown Goode

Caribbean Monk Seal (Neomonachus tropicali)

The Caribbean monk seal, West Indian seal or sea wolf was a species of seal native to the warm temperate, subtropical and tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the west Atlantic Ocean. The seal had a relatively large, long, robust body, that could grow to be 8 ft in length and weigh between 375 to 600 lb. The Caribbean monk seal had a distinctive head and face. Their coloration was brownish and grayish with a lighter underside. They were also known to have algae growing on their fur, giving them a slight green tinge.

Caribbean Monk Seal
Two young Caribbean Monk Seals in New York Aquarium, 1910

The first historical mention of the Caribbean monk seal is recorded in the account of the second voyage of Christopher Columbus. Wherein the famous explorer killed eight of the animals while they rested on the beach. The animals were routinely slaughtered in large animals for their oil. By 1850 so many seals had been killed that there were no longer sufficient numbers for them to be commercially hunted.

The last confirmed sighting of the seal was in 1952 in the Caribbean Sea at Seranilla Bank, between Jamaica and the Yucatán Peninsula. After an extensive five-year study, the Monk seal was declared extinct in 2008.

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Cape Lion – It Was Very Good

Cape Lion
Only known photo of a live Cape Lion, in Jardin des Plantes, Paris, 1860

Cape Lion (Panthera leo melanochaitus)

The Cape Lion was native to the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent. It is believed the lion was the largest and heaviest of the sub-Saharan lions. The Cape Lion was recognizable by it thick black mane and black tipped ears. The species was especially noted for its “luxuriant and extensive manes.”

Cape Lion
Drawing of a Cape Lion by Rembrandt, 1650

The Cape Lion, unlike most other extinct big cats, was hunted to extinction. Unlike other species that slowly driven extinct by habitat loss or removal of their prey. The last known adult was killed in South Africa in 1858.  A juvenile was captured by an explorer a couple of decades later but died in captivity shortly thereafter.

In 2000, South African zoo director John Spence believed he had located a pair of the Lion in captivity. The putative Cape Lions were living at the Novosibirsk Zoo in Russia.  Spence announced plans to perform us genetic testing to determine if the lions truly were Cape Lions. If so, a captive breeding program would be implemented with the hopes of bringing the species back from extinction.

Unfortunately, Spence died in 2010 and the Novosibirsk Zoo closed a couple of years later.

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California Grizzly Bear – It Was Very Good

California Grizzly
Monarch, preserved specimen at the California Academy of Sciences

California Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos californicus)

The California Grizzly Bear, once considered its own species Ursus horribilis, was a subspecies of the North American Brown Bear or Grizzly Bear. The California Grizzly was very closely related to the Grizzly Bears of the southern coasts of Alaska. The bear was known, and lauded, for its size, strength, and beauty. The bear shared its physiology with the Kodiak Bear, though it appears to not have had the pronounced shoulder hump those bears do.

California Grizzly

Experts estimate that the California Grizzly population was approximately 10,000 at its peak, around the 1820s and 1830s. The bears were a common sight to the Indians, the Spaniards, and the flood of Americans arriving during and after the Gold Rush. The animal was endemic to the lowlands and foothills of the state from the Sierras down to the deserts in the south. The expansion of humans into California and Grizzly habitat after the Gold Rush lead to direct competition between the two species. California newspapers of the late nineteenth century were replete with accounts of grizzlies raiding livestock and occasionally killing humans. By the end of the 1800s, the animal could only be found in the Santa Ana Mountains, the Southern Sierra Nevada, the mountains of Santa Barbara County, and the San Gabriel Mountains.

It is believed the last California Grizzly was killed in 1922 in Tulare County.

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Bushwren – It Was Very Good

Bushwren, John Gerrard Keulemans, 1888

Bushwren (Xenicus longipes)

They are at least as active, however, on their legs as on their wings. The hop of the bush wren is a remarkable performance. During the first salutary movement the bush wren carries himself parallel to the earth; at the termination, however, of each leap he telescopes upwards on his toes, momentarily erecting himself in the oddest way to his full height. When the two movements are blended in rapid action, what with his whitish feet, short toes and long thin legs, and tightly folded body plumage, he resembles in no small degree a barefooted bairn running on sands with tucked-up garments firmly fastened around the waist. He passes through the darkling underscrub like a forest gnome, like a woodland brownie.

~Guthrie-Smith, Bird Life on Island and Shore, 1925

The New Zealand Bushwrens were a group of nearly flightless wrens, consisting of three subspecies, endemic to the three islands that make up New Zealand. The birds were small (about 3.5 inches in length and 16 grams.) with bodies that were mostly covered in yellow feathers with dark green to purple feathers covering their faces.


The Bushwren was driven to extinction due to the introduction of invasive species to New Zealand. Rats, Mustelids (ferrets and martens), and felines all decimated the population which had no history of mammalian predators. The last members of the species were died in the 1970s after a failed attempt to preserve them by moving them to a small island uninhabited by the invasive species.

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