The photo above was taken by J. G. Hubbard in 1898.
Many people know the story of the passenger pigeon: the massive flocks where a single migration blocked out the sun for days, the shooting contests where a single gunshot could kill as many as 61 birds, the 7.5 million birds killed over five months in Petoskey, Michigan in 1878: 7.5 million birds were killed in a five month period.
We'd be wrong.
Extinction is complex. Hunting was certainly a significant factor, but it's hard to eradicate a species through hunting alone. At the same time people were blasting away at the sky, we were also stripping away forests, eliminating their food and shelter. All of these activities together split the large flock into many smaller ones. This matters because the passenger pigeon was a highly social bird and, without large numbers in the colony, they simply couldn't sustain the population. Passenger pigeons became extinct many years before the death of its last member.
The last passenger pigeon died, in the Cincinnati Zoo, one hundred years ago today. It survived in captivity only fourteen years after it went extinct in the wild. Not all animals are like that. Père David's deer once ranged across all of China and was sufficiently well known to feature in their mythology. The species has, however, been extinct in the wild for a very long time, surviving for centuries in a private zoo owned by the Emperor of China. Today, it lives on in various zoos throughout the world. The scimitar oryx once roamed North Africa. It was known in both ancient Egypt and Rome. In 1936, there were at least ten thousand. Just over 50 years later, only a handful remained. Today, like the deer, it lives on only in zoos.