A Day to Mark Fallen Species

Extinction gets a sad holiday with Remembrance Day for Lost Species.
A pair of Tasmanian tigers, male and female, in captivity, circa 1902. Tasmanian tigers are believed to have become extinct in the early 20th century. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Nov 29, 2016· 2 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

Eighty years ago, the world’s last Tasmanian tiger, also known as the thylacine, died in Hobart Zoo in Australia.

This year, animal lovers and conservationists around the world will mark the extinction of the thylacine and other vanished creatures on the sixth annual Remembrance Day for Lost Species. The gloomy holiday will be “celebrated” with art installations, public talks, memorials, and other events in more than a dozen countries on Nov. 30.

Founder Persephone Pearl, an artist and the codirector of the ONCA art gallery in Bristol, England, said the event aims to show that “learning to grieve is part of the process of healing our broken culture.”

Pearl came up with the idea for Lost Species Day in 2010 after creating a mock extinction funeral as “part of an all-night climate vigil” meant to hold the incoming U.K. government to the commitments it made earlier that year at an international climate conference. Other people got involved, and a full-scale theater piece called Funeral for Lost Species was held in spring 2011.

The first official Remembrance Day for Lost Species was held later that year, and things have snowballed since then. This year there are so many events that “I can’t keep track of them anymore,” Pearl said.

Although most of the events are scheduled for Nov. 30, a few have taken place, including one at a park in South London, this past weekend. Organizers handed out leaflets that looked like “lost pet” signs but were about recently extinct species. “Then we read out a list of 125 extinct species and the years in which they were declared extinct,” said organizer Daniela Othieno, who has created Lost Species Day art projects for the past three years. “For me, getting involved in Lost Species Day is as much about raising awareness as about processing my own thoughts and feelings about what is happening and giving others an opportunity and space to do the same.”

RELATED: The Biggest Marine Animals Risk Extinction

Othieno said that event produced a lot of emotion and some confusion among the people in the park. “Many people told us that they were glad we were doing it, but quite a few expressed total surprise at the rate of extinction,” she said. “Some confessed they had never really thought about it.”

In the United States, tattoo artist J. Trip, cofounder of an endangered species awareness effort called the Holocene Project, will be creating extinction-themed hourglass tattoos in Englewood, Colorado. “You can put one anywhere on your body you want and start spreading knowledge as soon as someone asks you about it,” he said.

Other scheduled events include an expedition in New Orleans in memory of the ivory-billed woodpecker; an extinction vigil in Washington, D.C.; a musical procession for lost species in New York City; and a ceremony for the thylacine in Brisbane, Australia.

Pearl said she hopes to continue Lost Species Day for many years to come and praised what other artists have brought to the message. “I love the interdisciplinary action of artists, biologists, and conservationists working together,” she said.

Pearl also noted that many of this year’s events will mention two recently extinct species, the Bramble Cay melomys and the Rabbs’ tree frog, both of which were lost earlier this year.

“This is a time of grief,” she said. It’s also one of remembrance.