We set a challenge. We asked designers from all around the world to draw what they think 10 extinct animals look like. The goal of this challenge was to identify how well-recognised these now extinct animals remain, or if they have been completely erased from our knowledge. The attempts were variable, with many of the designers’ illustrations of better known animals such as the dodo and saber-toothed tiger looking close to the real deal, while
other attempts – particularly those of these lesser heard of moa and quagga – being wildly far off.
The outcome does leave us wondering what would happen if some of our much-loved and currently endangered animals – including tigers, orangutans and rhinos – were to go extinct. Would future generations remember what they looked like? Read on below to see how well-recognised some of history’s extinct animals are today.
The dodo was a flightless bird endemic to Madagascar. The first recorded reporting of the dodo was back in 1598, yet in spite of how long it has been since this species roamed our earth it remains a well-known animal, and is usually the first animal that comes to mind when speaking of extinct species. All of our designers of course knew that the dodo was a bird, but when it came to the specific appearance of the dodo our designers weren’t as accurate as they might have thought. It’s believed the dodo’s feathers were a brownish-grey, while its distinctive curved beak was black, yellow and green. Its head was grey and unfeathered, while its body had a distinctive round shape and was rather large at 3ft tall. While most of our designers made a valiant attempt at the dodo’s shape, the colours were off on many of them – with everything from white to pink to red appearing. None of our designers got the unusual colouring of the face and beak quite right. Dodos went extinct within 100 years of humanity’s discovery of the species, with human intervention believed to be the cause of extinction.
The moa were exceptionally tall flightless birds – in some cases reaching up to 12ft tall. The moa was endemic to New Zealand, and is believed to have become extinct in the 1300s. One thing which made moa’s particularly unique is that they didn’t have wings, making them the only ever wingless birds. Very few of our designers were aware of the fact that moas were wingless birds, with 20% not even aware it was a bird – with guesses resembling narwhals and snakes. While some of our designers knew moas were tall birds, and portrayed their long necks and legs, other attempts depicted the moa closer to a modern-day seagull or songbird. Moa became extinct in the 1300s, with the cause of extinction believed to be again down to hunting and other human interventions.
The Steller’s sea cow takes its name from Georg Wilhelm Steller who described the species in 1741. At that time the species was only present around the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea. The name ‘cow’ may create visions of a black and white cow print – as some of our designers thought, however it is more of a reference to the animal’s large size – reaching up to 30ft in length. The skin did have some level of patchiness, with the main colour being a brownish-black with some animals displaying white patches too. The Steller’s sea cow was again hunted to extinction, with humans hunting for its meat, fat and hide.
Similar to a modern-day elk, the Irish elk was a species of deer – also commonly known as the ‘giant deer’ or ‘Irish deer’. The Irish elk is one of the largest deer that ever lived, standing at around 6.9ft tall. In spite of its name the Irish elk was not just present in Ireland but could also be found in Siberia and China. The Irish elk was one of the better known species among our designers, with most getting the essential concept of a deer correct. However, many of our designers didn’t quite depict the magnitude of the elk’s size – or of its antlers, which were the largest known antlers of any cervid, measuring up to 12ft from tip to tip and weighing up to 40kg. One theory for the Irish elk’s extinction is in fact that its antlers continued to grow so large and unwieldy that they no longer allowed the species to survive effectively.
The quagga was a subspecies of the zebra, and also sported stripes – however unlike the zebra the quagga only sported partial stripes with a brown and white colouring, rather than black and white. The quagga lived in South Africa and became extinct in the late 19th century, following the Dutch settlement in South Africa which saw the species being hunted. Several of our designers knew the quagga was a subspecies of the zebra, but very few were aware of its colour differentiations. Many of our designers were not at all familiar with the quagga, guessing everything from birds to rhinos to mice. Funnily, two of our
designers confused the quagga with the also extinct golden toad.
The Pyrenean ibex was one of the four subspecies of the Iberian ibex, and was endemic to the Pyreneees. The Pyrenean ibex was one of the considerably more modern species we challenged our designers to draw, having only gone extinct in 2000. This animal was in fact more challenging for the designers than it may seem, as the Pyrenian ibex differed in appearance between male and female, and also changed throughout the seasons. The male ibex was a greyish brown with black shading, however the female lacked the black shading. The male also had larger, thicker horns than the female. Surprisingly, a fifth of our designers didnt even realise the Pyrenean ibex was a goat – rather shocking for a species which only became extinct 20 years ago.
The great auk had considerably mixed results from our designers, with over 25% getting the animal entirely incorrect – while those who did get the correct animal, portrayed it rather accurately. The great auk was another flightless bird; one which became extinct in the mid-19th century. The great auk was the only modern species of a group of animals known as pinguinus, yet in spite of the name – and their black and white appearance – the great auk actually bears no relation to the penguin. Penguins however are in fact named after the great auk, due to their similar appearance. The great auk again came to extinction due to human interference and hunting.
Aurochs are an extinct species of large wild cattle which existed across Europe, Asia and North Africa, up until the early 1600s. The auroch is not too dissimilar to cattle we are familiar with today, and in fact in 2017 scientific activity began to try and introduce a similar species of ‘wild supercow’ back into the wild. Many of our designers appeared to be familiar with the concept of the auroch, though over 25% were wildly inaccurate, producing images of dinosaurs, birds and octopus.
The auroch were one of the largest herbivores in post-glacier Europe with huge horns, reaching up to 8cm in length, a feat which none of our designers clearly depicted in their illustrations.
The saber-toothed tiger is one of the most well-known of the prehistoric animals, and as such is one which our designers displayed reasonable levels of success in recreating. Of course, the name gave clues to the animal’s distinctive teeth, which all of our designers displayed. Saber-toothed tigers most commonly had a spotted coating, but interestingly few of our designers picked up on this fact. The saber-toothed tiger was most prevalent in the Americas. It is believed the species
would have died out around 10,000 years ago at the same time as which all of the American megafauna of the time disappeared. The exact cause of extinction remains a mystery, however the animal’s reliance on other megafauna, alongside climate change, are believed to be key factors.
The sea mink is a recently extinct species of mink, which was endemic to the Eastern Coast of North America. The sea mink was larger than other minks, and also had a redder fur. Of course the name mink gave most of our designers a clue as to the animal’s appearance – though some were still wildly off, but few were aware of the reddish fur of the sea mink or its enlarged size. The sea mink became extinct around the late 19th century due to being hunted for its fur. The aim of our project was to raise awareness of endangered animals, highlighting that one day animals which are currently endangered could become completely unknown to future generations. Hopefully this project will encourage us all to do our bit to ensure this doesn’t happen.
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