1 ARCHAEOINDRIS FONTOYNONTII
- Archaeoindris fontoynontii is an extinct giant lemur and the largest primate known to have evolved on Madagascar, comparable in size to a male gorilla. It belonged to a family of extinct lemurs known as “sloth lemurs” (Palaeopropithecidae), and because of its extremely large size, it has been compared to the ground sloths that once roamed North and South America. It was most closely related to Palaeopropithecus, the second largest type of sloth lemur. Along with the other sloth lemurs, Archaeoindris was related to the living indri, sifakas, and woolly lemurs, as well as the recently extinct monkey lemurs (Archaeolemuridae). The genus, Archaeoindris, translates to “ancient indri-like lemur”, even though it probably became extinct recently, around 350 BCE.
Pelorovis (“prodigious/monstrous sheep”) is an extinct genus of African wild cattle, which first appeared in the very beginning of the Pleistocene, 2.5 million years ago, and became extinct at the end of the Late Pleistocene about 12,000 years ago or even during the Holocene, some 4,000 years ago.
The genus was first described by Hans Reck in 1928 to house his new species P. oldowayensis, which he described from bones originally found by him in Olduvai Gorge in northern German East Africa (Tanzania) in 1913, the first ever time this famous locality was explored by a palaeontologist. Hence, the type species is P. oldowayensis by monotypy. The holotype is a fossil skull and assorted bones kept in Berlin.
The quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is an extinct subspecies of the plains zebra that was endemic to South Africa until it was hunted to extinction in the late 19th century by European settler-colonists. It was long thought to be a distinct species, but early genetic studies have supported it being a subspecies of plains zebra. A more recent study suggested that it was the southernmost cline or ecotype of the species.
The quagga is believed to have been around 257 cm (8 ft 5 in) long and 125–135 cm (4 ft 1 in–4 ft 5 in) tall at the shoulder. It was distinguished from other zebras by its limited pattern of primarily brown and white stripes, mainly on the front part of the body. The rear was brown and without stripes, and appeared more horse-like. The distribution of stripes varied considerably between individuals. Little is known about the quagga’s behaviour, but it may have gathered into herds of 30–50. Quaggas were said to be wild and lively, yet were also considered more docile than the related Burchell’s zebra. They were once found in great numbers in the Karoo of Cape Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State in South Africa.
After the European settlement of South Africa began, the quagga was extensively hunted, as it competed with domesticated animals for forage. Some were taken to zoos in Europe, but breeding programmes were unsuccessful. The last wild population lived in the Orange Free State; the quagga was extinct in the wild by 1878. The last captive specimen died in Amsterdam on 12 August 1883. Only one quagga was ever photographed alive, and only 23 skins exist today. In 1984, the quagga was the first extinct animal whose DNA was analysed. The Quagga Project is trying to recreate the phenotype of hair coat pattern and related characteristics by selectively breeding the genetically closest subspecies, which is Burchell’s zebra.
The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The dodo’s closest genetic relative was the also-extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of pigeons and doves. The closest living relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon. A white dodo was once thought to have existed on the nearby island of Réunion, but this is now believed to have been confusion based on the also-extinct Réunion ibis and paintings of white dodos.
Subfossil remains show the dodo was about 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) tall and may have weighed 10.6–17.5 kg (23–39 lb) in the wild. The dodo’s appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings, and written accounts from the 17th century. As these vary considerably, and only some of the illustrations are known to have been drawn from live specimens, its exact appearance in life remains unresolved, and little is known about its behaviour. Though the dodo has historically been considered fat and clumsy, it is now thought to have been well-adapted for its ecosystem. It has been depicted with brownish-grey plumage, yellow feet, a tuft of tail feathers, a grey, naked head, and a black, yellow, and green beak. It used gizzard stones to help digest its food, which is thought to have included fruits, and its main habitat is believed to have been the woods in the drier coastal areas of Mauritius. One account states its clutch consisted of a single egg. It is presumed that the dodo became flightless because of the ready availability of abundant food sources and a relative absence of predators on Mauritius.
5. MAURITIUS OWL
The extinct Mauritius owl (Otus sauzieri), also known as Mauritius scops owl, Mauritius lizard owl, Commerson’s owl, Sauzier’s owl, or Newton’s owl, was endemic to the Mascarene island of Mauritius. It is known from a collection of subfossil bones from the Mare aux Songes swamp, a detailed sketch made by de Jossigny in 1770, a no less detailed description by Desjardins of a bird shot in 1836, and a number of brief reports about owls, the first being those of Van Westzanen in 1602 and Matelief in 1606.
No descriptions of owls were recorded between the mid-17th and the late 18th century. This led to considerable confusion, especially since the bones were referred to ear tuft-less Strix or barn owls, whereas the image and the description unequivocally show the presence of ear tufts. Thus, it was for a long time believed that 2 or even 3 species of owls occurred on the island.
The supposed “barn owl” Tyto newtoni was described from tarsometatarsus bones of what probably was a male individual of this species, whereas the Mauritius owl’s type specimen seems to be a bone of a larger female bird. But the bird was neither a Strix nor a barn owl. Instead, the Mascarene owls of the genus Mascarenotus were most probably members of the scops owl lineage. The Mauritius bird was the largest species of its genus, with a total length of approximately 60 cm. Its scientific name honors Théodore Sauzier, who made the first bones available for scientific study.