I like nature as much as the next guy, but I’m not generally one to get all broken up about extinct animals because, you know, survival of the fittest and all. But I do always wonder what those extinct animals would have tasted like.
The subject of today’s From the Wikipedia was almost certainly delicious. In fact, it was partly our ancestors’ ravenous consumption of the species that led to its demise, because our forefathers lacked the foresight to leave even a few of them behind for us to breed and subsequently barbecue.
From the Wikipedia: The Great Auk.
The Great Auk was a species of flightless bird that lived on islands off eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Ireland, and Great Britain up until the 19th century. It stood about 30-33 inches high and vaguely resembled a penguin. Under its down, it had a thick layer of fat, which served the dual purpose of protecting it from the cold Northern air and preventing its meat from drying up when cooked over an open fire.
Besides its deliciousness, the Great Auk’s most notable characteristic, by far, was its naivete. For some stupid reason, it was not afraid of humans, even though it clearly should have been.
In fact, on a 1622 expedition to Funk Island — which is not nearly as awesome a place as it sounds — a British crew was able to drive the succulent poultry right up the gangplanks and onto their boat. Sir Richard Whitbourne described it, “as if God had made the innocency of so poore a creature to become such an admirable instrument for the sustenation of man.”
But man, being man, was obviously not an admirable instrument for the sustenation of so poore a creature.
Hint to animals: Fear humans or figure out how to make humans fear you. Otherwise, you’ll endure species-wide humiliations like the ones that eventually spelled the demise of the Great Auk.
As long ago as 2000 B.C., someone was buried in Newfoundland wearing a coat made of 200 Great Auk skins with the heads left on for decoration. The Great Auk jacket was the O.G. mink coat.
The Beothuk people of Newfoundland made pudding out of Great Auk eggs. (It should be noted, here, that the last surviving Beothuk died about 15 years before the last Great Auk, so the Great Auk had the last laugh in that storied rivalry.)
But more than anything, it is the treatment of the last few Great Auks that underscores humanity’s lack thereof.
By the turn of the 19th century, after centuries of being hunted for its meat, eggs and down feathers, the Great Auk was nearly extinct, and in 1794 it became illegal to kill Great Auks in England.
That didn’t stop the 75-year-old Scotsman who caught the last Great Auk ever seen in the British Isles, though. He tied the bird up for three days then beat it to death with a stick. Why? Because he thought it was a witch, obviously.
The last remaining colony of about 50 Great Auks lived on an island inaccessible to humans until 1830, when the island submerged and they were forced to move to another island that was barely accessible to humans.
Just accessible enough, it turned out, for preservationists — I kid you not — to kill the remaining birds for displaying their skins and eggs in museums.
In July, 1844, the last pair of Great Auks sat incubating an egg, still somehow not fearing humans even though humans had killed all the other Great Auks. Three humans approached and the two Great Auks just sat there on the egg, so two of the humans strangled the Great Auks while the third smashed their egg with his boot.
That was all for the Great Auk.
This makes me so sad.
I know the Great Auk as a series of high school quiz bowl contests. Second in the NYS RIGHT HERE, fall of 07
Ted, you’re truly an Auk-ward thinking person!
Ted, some one needs to beat the Mets with a stick, not just every team that will face them this season. Damn it man, 2011 and 2012 cannot come fast enough.