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Great Auk

Golden eggs, witches and life after death all feature in this story of the great auk, a flightless bird that was hunted to extinction in 1844.

In 1844, three men landed on the island of Eldey off the coast of Iceland and crept up on a pair of Great Auks which had an egg in a nest and killed the birds and trampled on the egg.These are believed to have been the last Great Auks which ever lived. Being flightless birds the men had little trouble catching and killing them. As one of the hunters recalled "I took him by the neck and he flapped his wings, he made no cry, I strangled him." The irony is that once they became extinct, Great Auks became even more sought after; this time by collectors of their skins and eggs. Today there are thought to be 75 specimens in museums or private collections. In this programme, Brett Westwood visits the Great North Museum to see two of these; an adult and a juvenile, before meeting writer and painter Errol Fuller; the proud owner of a Great Auk egg; a beautiful but tragic reminder of what once was. But that isn't the end of the story as Brett discovers because a group of scientists are hoping to bring the birds back from extinction in a process called De-extinction. All this Charles Kingsley, Ogden Nash, a Golden egg and a glass foot are in this extraordinary tale of an "extinct superstar". Readers: Pippa Haywood, Brian Protheroe. Producer: Sarah Blunt.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Mon 22 Aug 2016 21:00

Errol Fuller

Errol Fuller
Errol Fuller paints and writes from his studio in Kent, England. The subject matter of his books is usually extinction, art, or the curiosities of natural history. Author of the seminal Extinct Birds, he has also written and designed books on the Great Auk, the Dodo, and the Passenger Pigeon, along with The Lost Birds of Paradise and Drawn from Paradise, which was a collaboration with Sir David Attenborough.

Dan Gordon

Dan Gordon
Keeper of Biology at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. He helped put together an exhibition at the Great North Museum: Hancock called Spineless, which featured hundreds of specimens from the museum’s natural history collections that are not currently on display, alongside several live specimens including the world’s heaviest stick insect and largest spider.

Viscount Matt Ridley

Viscount Matt Ridley
Matt Ridley's books have sold over a million copies, been translated into 30 languages and won several awards. His TED talk When Ideas Have Sex has been viewed more than two million times.

He writes a weekly column in The Times and writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal.As Viscount Ridley, he was elected to the House of Lords in February 2013.

He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is honorary president of the International Centre for Life in Newcastle and a collaborator with Revive and Restore.

Dr Marianne Wilde

Dr Marianne Wilde
A visual artist and Enterprise Fellow in the Department of Arts at Northumbria University, Marianne Wilde's particular focus is on collaborative and cross disciplinary projects within Art, Science and the Medical Humanities.

As a Research Fellow at the Great North Museum she works with the collections and explores ideas around extinct species and de-extinction and genetic cloning. As demonstrated in the picture of her work above.

Her research interests are concerned with collaborative cross-disciplinary projects that use the visual images and objects of a fine art practice as narrative and explanation in the wider environment. 

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