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David Lyall held his breath as he made the first incision straight down the belly of a little mouse-like olive brown bird that lay on his desk. Lyall, an amateur ornithologist, had never seen this bird before, and he knew he had to work fast and dry the specimen quickly before maggot infestation took place. For the next several hours, Lyall’s fingers worked swiftly and deftly as he pulled away the skin from the muscle, working his way from the abdomen to the back and tail, and then up towards the neck and the head, until he had detached the entire carcass from the skin. He even cut a small hole in the back of the skull and carefully scooped out the brain. Once he had removed all tissues, he packed the now empty body with sheep’s wool, stitched up the incision and placed the specimen in the window to dry in the sun.

Over the next few months, Lyall repeated this process several times creating at least 15 specimens of what is now known as Lyall's Wren or the Stephens Island Wren (Traversia lyalli). These specimens—which now exist in nine different museums around the world—are all that is left of this species.


Cats kill billions of birds and mammals around the world every year, and has been responsible for the extinction of dozens of species. Photo credit: vvvita/Shutterstock

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