Monday, October 26, 2009

The truth about Tibbles

The tale of the lighthouse-keeper’s cat: Discovery and extinction of the Stephens Island wren (Traversia lyalli)
Notornis, 2004, Vol. 51: 193-200

The Stephens Island wren Traversia lyalli is widely quoted as having been discovered and promptly exterminated from its only locality, Stephens Island, New Zealand, by a single lighthouse keeper’s cat. Examination of archival and museum records indicates that this account is oversimplified, and throws more light on the roles of the lighthouse keeper David Lyall, the dealer Henry Travers, and the ornithologists Sir Walter Buller and Walter Rothschild. Extinction of the wren was more extended than generally stated: 10 specimens were evidently brought
in by a cat in 1894, but another two-four were obtained in 1895, and two-three more after that and possibly as late as 1899. Fifteen of these specimens are still held in museums. Cat predation probably was the main factor in the wren’s extinction, but not necessarily by a single cat: cats became established on Stephens Island in 1894, increased rapidly and exterminated several other species before they were eliminated.

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