Generally, if a species has not been observed for more than 50 years it is declared extinct, but there are no hard and fast rules on extinction.
Some believe extinction is tragic but it is a natural process. Species do disappear or change and new species arise. This pattern of extinction and speciation has been a response to changes in habitat and has fuelled subsequent adaptation for millions of years.
However, species are now disappearing at an alarming rate because humans are not only changing habitats, but they are taking these habitats away. Not only are we wiping out species but we are also wiping out the opportunity for new species to arise.
The demise of Tasmania’s last-known Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) in 1937 has captured everyone’s imagination. We are left with a few images, some film footage and museum specimens. The museum has several individuals in its collection, represented by skins, skeletons and a sub-adult born at the Royal Melbourne Zoo.
Most animals that have become extinct within the last few hundred years are less spectacular than the Thylacinerats, mice, bats, lizards and small birds, for example.
The extinct Laughing Owl was once widespread over both of New Zealand’s main islands and Stewart Island. It occurred in two subspecies, Sceloglaux albifacies albifacies in the south and S. albifacies rufifacies in the north. By the 1880s their numbers had been drastically depleted, and the last authentic report of the bird was in 1914. Specimens are rare in museum collections and our sole specimen of this large owl is a nestling. It is the only known example and is therefore extremely important to researchers.