Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: The Missing Lynx

2019 is almost over! I hope that everyone had an amazing Christmas and let me wish you all the best for 2020! Despite the festivities I managed to find the time to finish off one final book before the year is out. What book did I decide to finish up you ask? If you haven’t already guessed by the title of this blog, it’s The Missing Lynx by Ross Barnett. I’ve been following Ross on Twitter for quite a while (@DeepFriedDNA) and I was lucky enough to meet him at TetZooCon 2019. Whilst there I purchased the book from Ross and he was kind enough to sign it for me. I’ve been meaning to read it since then and I only got around to starting it in mid-December so I’m glad I was able to finish it before the year was out.

So what is the book all about and why would a herpetologist be interested in an assemblage of extinct mammals? The book uses each chapter to explore a single species of mammalian megafauna that has gone extinct in the UK since the Pleistocene from Irish elk (also known as shelk) to cave lions. Throughout each example as the reader we explore the research behind each species and their extinction (including lot’s of Ross’ own research). What is clear is that the world’s megafauna payed the ultimate price for our species’ success. We hunted them to extinction and in the process changed ecosystems forever. Ross does a great job of bringing these extinct species back to life as well as exploring their disappearance in ecological terms. Everything is written in a very accessible tone so that anyone can enjoy the wonders of this truly eye-opening book.

So why is the book eye-opening I hear you ask? As someone that laughs in the face of extinction, The Missing Lynx is very inspirational and offers a lot of optimism. As you’re probably aware, I love amphibians but unfortunately over 41% of them are threatened with extinction. Barnett uses the past inform the future, clever eh? This is in terms of the three R’s: Reintroduction, Rewilding and Resurrection. It makes sense now but I was completely obvious that beavers were the only successfully reintroduced mammal species in the UK. Could lynxes be next? I hope so and I know that Barnett does too. The book also highlights just how many sites in the UK have yielded mammal fossils, maybe it’s time to go digging myself!

Resurrection science (also known as de-extinction) is currently working on being back mammoths and other extinct species. It is a long way off yet but raises all sorts of ethical questions. I’m sure you’ve all seen Jurassic Park so the concept should be familiar with you. I’m all for the resurrection of extinct species if they meet a number of tight criteria. Did the species go extinct due to our direct actions? Does the habitat the species once inhabit still exist? Is there enough genetic diversity in preserves tissue samples to allow for a self-sustaining population? The list goes on. I’m sure one day we will be able to bring these species back, but if they’re only going to sit in a zoo, should we?

At the moment, rewilding is starting to take a foothold in conservation. It’s important to try to recreate habitats we’ve once lost and let wildlife colonise them (or give them a helping hand if you’re on an island). A number of unsuccessful rewildling projects are well known (in the case of invasive species) such as cane toads in Australia. We need to look at potential candidate species carefully and also involve the local community, imagine reintroducing wolves to parts of the UK without telling anyone about it or consulting them first! We’re a long way off of this, but I believe we’re on the right path.

Finally, Barnett brings up a very important point. Remembrance. I am stunned at how many mammal species have gone extinct in the UK within an geological blink of an eye, due to our own species. The remembrance of extinct species should fuel us to save what we still have, no matter how depressing things get. This is the exact viewpoint I have towards amphibian conservation. Yes things are tough for the little guys but with the right help and actions, they can bounce back. If you work in any field conservation of conservation, I can guarantee that you will find this book truly inspirational despite the fact most of the species mentioned within are long gone.


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