This drawing shows two bird ‘hunters’: a down-on-his-luck Victorian lighthouse keeper, fleeing an island by night, taking with him a cage full of birds to be sold to collectors, and his pet cat. This drawing was inspired by the story of Tibbles, the cat belonging to the lighthouse keeper on Stephen’s Island, New Zealand, in the late 19th century. For decades Tibbles was thought to be solely responsible for the sudden and dramatic extermination of an entire species - the Lyall’s Wren, found only on Stephen’s Island. However, contemporary researchers have refuted this idea, proposing a more gradual decline in wren numbers due to feline predation. A large number of cats ran wild on the island, after been bought to the lighthouse and escaping. Some sources proposed habitat loss and collecting of specimens as also driving the extinction, but this cannot be proven. There was a keen trade in rare birds at this time, and specimens of Lyall’s Wren were sought by collectors. What is clear is that wider human action – arriving on the unpopulated island to build a lighthouse – was ultimately the cause of the extinction.
This drawing is a response to this sad tale. It is not meant to represent reality, nor judge any person involved in the Stephen’s Island situation. The story of Lyall’s Wren made me think about man’s ‘dominion’ over nature, and how this is traditionally taken to mean domination rather than stewardship. We have seen, and are still seeing, the devastating consequences of human domination of nature.
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