CNN Photos

A study of mass extinction

Scientists estimate that another species becomes extinct every 20 minutes. Photographer Marc Schlossman has been exploring the depths of extinction at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Documenting birds, amphibians and reptiles lost to history, Schlossman’s ongoing project questions the role of humans as the rate of extinction continues.

Schlossman has long been interested in animals. He volunteered at the Field Museum for a summer in high school, working a couple days a week labeling and cataloguing mink skulls. In college, he studied wildlife biology before turning to photography for a living.

“It is so fascinating talking to the curators,” Schlossman said. “I’ve learned so much.”

Using a plain black or white backdrop for many of the images, Schlossman simply documents each specimen. His project also includes endangered species, but those featured here are extinct.

Comparing each image to another toll of the bell, he said, “It’s a long list, to think about the size of the problem.”

For example, North American passenger pigeons used to black out the skies as they migrated. It was said that a flock could take hours to pass overhead. When professional hunters targeted them with nets in the 1800s, their numbers began decreasing rapidly.

By the early 1900s, passenger pigeons could only be found in captivity. The last died in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden in 1914.

“You start hearing stats, and it’s kind of outrageous,” Schlossman said. “As a species, we’ve pushed these issues and problems past a tipping point. … We should be stewards, because we’re the dominant species. Are we doing that? I think not.”

Schlossman hopes to expand his project to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and the British Museum in London.

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN