Great Auk – It Was Very Good

Great Auk
Great Auk, John Gerrard Keulemans, 1871-1896

Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis)

The Great Auk was a flightless bird endemic to the North Atlantic until the late 19th century. The animals range once extended from Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Ireland and Great Britain. With some records indicating that it traveled as far south as Spain in Euroasia and Florida in North America.

You might recognize the first word in the Auk’s Latin binomial, pinguinus, which is where we get our word penguin. The penguins we know today are named after the Great Auk, though the two birds are not closely related.

The Great Auk stood between two and three feet tall and weighed around 11 pounds. Its feathers were a glossy black and white, black on the upper and white on the lower, with a pattern of white feathers on both sides of the head between the beak eyes.  Their beaks were black with white grooves along it. Its feet and claws were black and webbed. Juveniles had less prominent grooves in their beaks and had mottled white and black necks.

Great Auks were excellent swimmers, using their wings to swim underwater. Their main food was fish.

Great Auk
Taxidermied Great Auk

The Great Auk went extinct around the mid-1850s. The bird was hunted for its down feathers, for food, and even as an alternative fuel. As the bird became increasingly rare it became more and more attractive to the wealthy of Europe as a collectible and museums for their specimen cabinets. The last Great Auk in Great Britain was reportedly beaten to death with a stick on the suspicion that it was a witch. The last North Atlantic colony was eliminated when the last two adults were strangled for their pelts and their lone egg crushed under bootheel.

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Goff’s Pocket Gopher – It Was Very Good

Goff's Pocket Gopher
Bott’s Pocket Gopher, a cousin of Goff’s

Goff’s Pocket Gopher  (Geomys pinetis goffi)

Goff’s Pocket Gopher was a true gopher endemic to Brevard County Florida in the United States. Like other pocket gophers, Goff’s created burrow systems and were ecologically important as prey and in influencing soil, plant and habitat diversity.

The last time Goff’s Pocket Gopher was seen in the wild was 1955. It is believed that human encroachment on its habitat the species is now extinct.

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Formosan Clouded Leopard – It Was Very Good

Formosan Clouded Leopard
Formosan Clouded Leopard, Joseph Wolf, 1862

Formosan Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura)

The Formosan Clouded Leopard was a subspecies of the cloud leopards native to southeast Asia. The Formosan clouded leopard was endemic to the island of Taiwan. Where it was revered by the aboriginal people.

The fur of the Formosan clouded leopard was a dark grey or earthy yellow-orange color, often largely obliterated by black and dark dusky-grey blotched pattern. The animals had spots on their heads with the blotches continuing down the spine. Hence the “clouds” that gave them their name.  The tail of the Formosan clouded leopard was noticeably shorter than clouded leopards on the mainland. Females are slightly smaller than males. 

Formosan Clouded Leopard
Clouded Leopard

The animal was hunted for its pelt as far back as the 13th century. Habitat loss due to logging and other human industries drove the animals into ever smaller wild areas. The last confirmed sitting by a human was in 1983 and the last known body, the pelt of a juvenile, was from 1989. The animal is assumed extinct.

Taiwanese conservation programs and the restoration of populations of predation species on the island has the some on the island considering the reintroduction of clouded leopards onto the island from the mainland.

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Falkland Islands Wolf – It Was Very Good

Falkland Islands Wolf
Falkland Islands Wolf, John Gerrard Keulemans, 1890

Falkland Islands Wolf (Dusicyon australis)

The Falkland Islands Wolf, also known as the Warrah, Falkland Islands Fox, Falkland Islands Dog, or Antarctic Wolf, was the only mammal native to the Falkland Islands off the eastern coast of the southern tip of South America. The animal was a medium-sized, fox-like canine, with a soft, thick coat, tawny on the upperparts with fine white speckling, and pale brown on the underparts. The head was relatively short and broad, with small ears, while the tail was short and bushy, with a distinctive white tip. The wolf’s habits and diet are unknown.

The wolf was first documented in 1690. Charles Darwin wrote of them when he visited the islands in 1833 he noted that while present on the two major Falklands the wolf was already rare. The animal was gone by 1880.

Falkland Islands Wolf
National Museum of Natural History Naturalis, Leiden

Encroachment by humans into the animals’ habitat and its fearlessness of humans all contributed to the Falkland Wolf’s extinction. The animal was also hunted for its valuable fur and its perceived threat to sheep herds.

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