I was fortunate enough to attend yesterday's (March 23, 2023) Zoom call with Tierra Curry and Lucas Zellers about "The Book of Extinction" in partnership with Mage Hand Press and the Center for Biological Diversity. In case you missed the call, here are my notes. My apologies if I misheard something or if you notice any inaccuracies. Feel free to let me know in the comments :)
Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) is perhaps the most well-known tabletop game in the world. It is a collective storytelling game where consequences are determined by dice rolls. With the increasing popularity of shows like Stranger Things and Critical Role, DnD has come out of relative obscurity and has become quite accessible. The game is all about telling stories together and understanding the world. It has created a new language of how to tell each other stories, reducing complex issues to things we can conceptualize, and something we can handle and wrap our heads around.
The mechanics and genre of this fantasy game are very connected to the idea of extinct species and are concerned with the past, echoing into the future. Thus, fantasy was the perfect home for using DnD to raise awareness about extinct species.
Two years ago, Lucas Zellers got the idea of working on a larger-scale project to create a monster book resurrecting extinct animals. He wanted to go back to his childhood days when he loved to read about creatures that didn’t exist in the real world.
In the current and continuous midst of an extinction crisis, there is a real sense of urgency that Lucas didn’t know about before. He gained real knowledge and understanding of the world and partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity to help raise awareness of extinct species.
Lucas Zellers found a press release from 2011 written by Tierra Curry and reached out, asking for details about the Florida Fairy Shrimp and the South Florida Rainbow Snake. Lucas spent a lot of time researching to be as comprehensive and accurate as possible to create this book. There are many books out there about extinct animals and the species we’ve lost over the past 500 years or so. Mage Press specifically chose animals that had a certain function and limited animals to those that went extinct due to human causes, also known as anthropogenic extinction. They needed stories that could be told well through their guidelines of storytelling and ended with just over about 70 animals, explaining how they went extinct.
One of the creatures that Lucas brought back to life was the Florida Fairy Shrimp. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the protection of this species back in 2010. Unfortunately, soon after, it went extinct. It was first described as a species in the 1950s and was redescribed in 2002. Some scientists think the Florida Fairy Shrimp could still be out there. There were no live pictures in existence, simply a drawing. The team at Mage Hand Press was committed to accuracy and checked their facts before giving the information to their artist (@carneiro_rpg). They focused on coloration and anatomy based on a 2002 drawing.
Lucas has learned so much from these creatures as well as the missed opportunities of the plethora of species that have gone extinct. So little is known about the Florida Fairy Shrimp that Lucas is probably now one of the world experts about this particular species, as told by Lucas :).
Another species that the Book of Extinction has brought back to life is the South Florida Rainbow Snake. This species was petitioned for protection in 2010 but went extinct in 2011. There have been unverified sightings of people looking for the South Florida Rainbow Snake. It was first discovered in 1952 and over time, its' habitat was largely polluted. The team at Mage Hand Press imagined this as a swamp-dwelling dragon with light being a key component of the dragon's traits.
The Passenger Pigeon is another species covered within the Book of Extinction. It was once a common sight in the skies over North America, but today it is remembered more as a biological phenomenon than a bird. Vast numbers of passenger pigeons moved over the United States before the arrival of Europeans.
Passenger pigeons were known for their incredible speed and agility in the air. Flocks of them would darken the sky, and their nesting grounds covered acres of land at once. However, when settlers began to hunt the bird, the population decline happened so quickly that by 1910, the last pigeon had passed away. The Smithsonian has preserved the last known pigeon, named Martha, who was frozen in ice after she was found dead.
Another bird that suffered a similar fate was the Carolina Parakeet, which was also meant to arrive at the Smithsonian and never did.
There is growing concern about complacency regarding common species such as the Monarch butterflies, which are quite vulnerable to climate change. The steep decline of the Monarch butterfly is a cautionary tale that reminds us that we need to manage everything as there are threats everywhere.
The plight of the Passenger Pigeon and other species will be chronicled in "The Book of Extinction," which is currently live on Kickstarter. The book is a way to introduce people to the crisis without leaving them in despair or anger. The authors have included citations and hundreds of cliff notes, which took over two years to write. The references will give people the ability to trace the work and let their curiosity take over.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove 23 species from the endangered species list and this is tricky because conservation efforts and funding must continue to keep species protected. This project is one of the ways to get the message out about the importance of conservation and protecting biodiversity to a new audience of smart, creative people who will share it with others. The book is deeply embedded in what makes fantasy and D&D what they are, and it appeals to people who lock in on this subject hard.
You can find Lucas on Twitter using the handle @sparkotter. The more funding this project receives, the brighter the big neon lighting sign about this topic will be.
Amid a massive fundraising effort, the authors invite you to take a deep dive into these creatures by contributing on Kickstarter and listening to their podcast. The plight of the Passenger Pigeon and other species is a reminder that we have to step it up collectively and not in silos. Fighting extinction doesn't have to be all doom and gloom; it can be exciting and creative. The 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act is coming up, and it's a great opportunity to get involved.