Gone: A Search for What Remains of the World’s Extinct Creatures by Michael Blencowe
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Every child will probably have had an obsession with extinct creatures at some point. Most probably dinosaurs. Very likely they will also have been taught about the Dodo at school and maybe others.
Michael Blencowe’s obsession of species no longer with us, has transcended his childhood and in Gone he writes about a selection of these species that have held his imagination. Some, like the Dodo, will be familiar to the reader, others are less likely to be well known.
What stands out though is that in just about every case the reason, either directly or indirectly is the result of interaction by another species Homo sapiens.
This book is quite a short and quick read but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a powerful call to arms. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the authors knowledge of creatures no longer around or be struck by just how much humans have to answer for in our occupation of planet earth. Whilst the book focuses on just 11 lost (or probably lost) species ranging from mammals, to reptiles and birds it does also pick up on others and those who might well join the extinction list in the near future if our course remains uncorrected.
The book follows Blencowe’s journey in search of “what remains” of the 11 species and it is a search for remains. Those specimens that have been saved in museum collections and similar repositories around the world. In some cases whole specimens, in other cases just a bone or a feather. He journeys across the globe to museums large and small to view collections and “meet” with the creatures no longer with us. He also looks for those that are thought to be extinct but maybe hanging on.
It is well written and well researched with each lost species having it’s untimely demise catalogued. The author is at times self-deprecating in his approach but this belies what is an almost encyclopedic knowledge of many of these species.
There is humour, which helps to lift what might otherwise have been a quite dark set of stories, and the authors final foray in search of sea anemone is guaranteed to bring a smile to you face.
I wish that the book had been a little longer, it feels like some of the stories were a little brief but that might be to do with editorial constraints. The book is not explicitly a call to arms to prevent further species from meeting the same fate as those featured in it’s pages but I’d be surprised if you don’t come away from reading it thinking that you need to take a little personal action or accountability.
The whole book is wonderfully illustrated with linocuts produced by Jade They which bring those species that many of us will have never encountered before to life.
From the Publisher: Inspired by his childhood obsession with extinct species, Michael Blencowe takes us around the globe from the forests of New Zealand to the ferries of Finland, from the urban sprawl of San Francisco to an inflatable crocodile on Brighton’s Widewater lagoon. Spanning five centuries from the last sighting of New Zealand’s Upland Moa to the death of Lonesome George, the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise in 2012, his memoir is peppered with the accounts of the hunters and naturalists of the past as well as revealing conversations with the custodians of these totemic animals today.
With charm and insight he reveals what made these species unique; what their habits and habitats were; who discovered (or killed) them; what remains of them; and where we can view what survives of them today. He inspects the only known remains of a Huia egg at Te Papa, New Zealand; views hundreds of specimens of deceased Galapagos tortoises and Xerces Blue Butterflies in the California Academy of Sciences; and pays his respects to the only soft tissue remains of the Dodo in the world.
Warm, wry and thought-provoking, Gone shows that while each extinction story is different, all can inform how we live in the future.
About the Author: Michael Blencowe lives in West Sussex where he works and volunteers for a number of wildlife conservation charities, and writes for many local publications. He was co-author, with Neil Hulme, of The Butterflies of Sussex and has produced a factual insert on caterpillars for Julia Donaldson’s forthcoming children’s book, The Woolly Bear. During the first Lockdown he used the observations of nature in his own garden to produce the hugely popular 100 Day Wildlife Diary for the Sussex Wildlife Trust. He is a regular speaker at events.
His passion for wildlife began in his South Devon childhood where he first encountered tales of the last British Bird to be declared extinct, The Great Auk.
GONE: A Search for What Remains of the World’s Extinct Creatures by Michael Blencowe is published in hardback on 27th April 2021 by Leaping Hare Press at £18.99
[Disclaimer: The publishers very kindly sent me a proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]