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Ashley Braun is a freelance science and environmental journalist based in Seattle, Washington.

Research and Rescue: Saving Species from Ourselves

Illustration by Matt Chinworth

Ashley Braun | Longreads | October 2019 | 23 minutes (4,191 words)


On a crisp December afternoon, I convince my sister’s family to visit an unusual exhibit in the Cincinnati Zoo. Countless holiday lights glow in the surrounding trees as we walk toward a statue roughly the size of a chicken. The sculpture is of a pigeon, and we stand admiring how it gracefully arcs its smooth, bronze neck toward the sky while bending down its saw-toothed tail.

This memory of a bird recalls Martha, the very last passenger pigeon on earth, who died at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 1914. Most zoo-goers breeze past the sculpture, as if this pigeon were of no more interest than the kind that pecks through garbage. After we approach, my nieces, ages 5 and 11, flank the statue, downhill from a quiet Japanese-style pagoda, the aviary where Martha had spent her final years.
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