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The Ghost With Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species.


The Semper's warbler wasn't much of a specimen before its extinction 80 years ago. It was about 5 inches long and dishwater gray in color. Yet like a photograph or heirloom found in the ashes of a burned-out house, the bird has fanciers. Weidensaul says that he and other naturalists keep looking for presumably extinct birds and other animals because they're "unwilling to accept that there isn't more to the world than what we can see." The Ghost with Trembling Wings looks at the quests of people who seek lost creatures not only in the wild, but also in the laboratory. Scientists attempt to keep near-extinct species alive through innovative captive-breeding techniques and even try to revive extinct ones through cloning. Weidensaul reports that a very small patch of natural habitat can long sustain and hide a specimen that seems to be extinct for a long period, as evidenced by the recent rediscovery of the pale-headed brush-finch of Ecuador. A few acres of virgin forest can support just 15 pairs of the birds. Discoveries such as that of six 18-inch-long lizards of the species Galliota gomerana provide the greatest thrill and inspiration for people pursuing lost animals, says Weidensaul. The Canary Islands animal had been thought extinct for more than 500 years. N Point Pr, 2002, 341 p., hardcover, $26.00.
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Publication:Science News
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 29, 2002
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