Wednesday, 6 December 2006

A gap in nature

I've just received the latest catalogue from Andrew Isles natural history bookshop in Melbourne. (Yes, they do mail order and they're very efficient.) Among the goodies on offer over Christmas are the original paintings from the book A Gap in Nature.

Written by Tim Flannery and illustrated by Peter Schouten, A gap in nature tells the sad tales of over a hundred species of mammals, birds and reptiles that have become extinct in historical times. The paintings, which were exhibited at several museums, depict their subjects at life size. At one end of the scale are tiny mice and hummingbirds. At the other, the giant Steller's sea cow, which is depicted on five panels. That's the one for you, if you've got plenty of dosh and enough wall space to accommodate the 2 m x 8.75 m artwork. Chuck out the dogs playing poker. This is a talking point.

There's even a grebe on this list. The Atitlan grebe (Podilymbus gigas) was described in 1929 and disappeared less than 60 years later. Restricted to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the small population declined as a result of competition with both introduced fish and the more widespread pied-billed grebe (P. podiceps). If I had the money, I'd buy the painting. It'd be the only decent grebe picture in this place!

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