Back William T. Hornaday, “The Bird Tragedy of Laysan Island”

William T. Hornaday (1854–1937)
From American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau

“Nesting albatrosses on Laysan Island.” The photograph, taken by a Honolulu resident, originally appeared in the August 1903 issue of Popular Science Monthly. A few years later, it was hand-tinted and mass-produced as a postcard, shown above, with the wholly erroneous caption “A Northern Convention, or a Family Reunion. Sea Gulls in Alaska.”

For Earth Day 2017: our Story of the Week selection describes one of “Hawaii’s greatest ecological disasters.”

A controversial figure, Bronx Zoo founding director William T. Hornaday will be remembered in part for his pioneering role in saving the American bison—a cause he originally dismissed as hopeless. In 1905 he founded, with President Theodore Roosevelt, the American Bison Society, which proved instrumental in saving enough of the remaining animals to reintroduce them into wildlife reserves. During a storied career Hornaday published dozens of books and essays, and in this selection he describes how a small number of people nearly devastated the entire avian population of the tiny island of Laysan Island—millions of birds, including a number of species only found there.

Read “The Bird Tragedy of Laysan Island” by William T. Hornaday

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