Extinct to extInked

(Woolly Mammoths, Childhood Trauma and Tattoos)

I love animals. I always have. When I was a child I was a member of the RSPCA, RSPB and WWF: World Wildlife Fund. The latter sent me a vibrant poster illustrating animals such as the Dodo, the Tasmanian Wolf and the Saber Tooth Tiger. This beautiful poster, with its exotic and intriguing animals took pride of place above my pre-teen bed.

The focal point of the poster was the majestic Woolly Mammoth. For months I admired the poster and dreamed of visiting a zoo principally to see the Woolly Mammoth, looking vivacious and magnificent in real-life with its mountain of furry flesh. Imagine my horror when I learned what the poster’s title ‘Extinct’ meant. My childhood ended there and then.

It’s been a while since I recalled that traumatic day. The suppressed memory returned whilst reading about Manchester Museum’s new exhibition: ‘We Are ExtInked’.

Official Photograph: Huw Spanner and the White Tailed Eagle. Photography by Andrew Firth

Huw Spanner and the White Tailed Eagle: Photo by Andrew Firth

The project ‘extInked’ was launched by Ultimate Holding Company in 2009 to mark Charles Darwin’s bicentennial birthday. It promised to be a ‘once in a lifetime participatory arts and ecology social experiment’.

During the initial three-day live event, 100 willing volunteers were painstakingly (and no doubt painfully) tattooed with 100 illustrations of endangered British species.

This unique performance resulted in an army of permanently tattooed volunteers taking the role of ambassadors for threatened and rare birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, plants and fungi. These volunteers went on to raise funds and promote education about changing ecologies and species loss.


On reading the tattooed species list I’m transported back to my childhood:

Is the ‘Boring Millipede’ really boring? Is the ‘Hornet Robberfly’ actually a thief? Does a ‘Distinguished Jumping Spider’ wear a monocle and are Weevils relieved that ‘Weevil-hunting Wasps’ are endangered?

Come to think of it, does the choice of endangered species reveal something about the tattoo wearer?

The list also contains the ‘Erratic Ant’, the ‘Wormwood Moonshiner Beetle’, the ‘Soprano Pipistrelle’ and the ‘Arctic Mouse Ear’. With names like these I defy you to not be a little curious too.

Imagine how disappointed future generations would be to learn that their favorite furry (slimy / creepy-crawly / feathered) or funny-named animal had been wiped out and placed on an ‘Extinct’ poster because we hadn’t bothered trying to save them.

TATTOOS – Good or bad?

I’ve always argued that I could never have a tattoo. I couldn’t choose a design that I’d be happy to wear engraved into my skin for the rest of my life. The things I like today could mortify me in 10 years time: Certainly if my Uni mates and I had taken seriously the suggestion of having our University Crest tattooed on us for graduation… Urgh! I shudder to think!

However, promoting education and protecting endangered species does strike a chord with me. Due to the aforementioned potential for future self-loathing it’s probably for the best that I didn’t know about extInked at the time, otherwise I might have been swept along and volunteered myself.

I want to applaud the 100 volunteers who were courageous enough to go though with it. In their own way they are each contributing towards the possible prevention of future childhood traumas like mine.

Volunteers: I thank you!

The ‘We Are ExtInked’ exhibition is showing at the Manchester Museum from Friday 8th July to Sunday 13th November 2011, alongside the new Living Worlds collection.


6 thoughts on “Extinct to extInked

  1. So did I misunderstand that post, or have you promised the world to definately get a wooly mammoth tattooed across your back in memory of this beautiful childhood memory? I’ve been wanting to get a purposeful tattoo for two years now but am the same as you, nothing will last the test of time I fear. If I’d heard of this at the time I may have volunteered. Great post. I’ll go and see it for sure.

    • What? You mean across my WHOLE back? My Mum would disown me! You didn’t see the look I got when I turned up for lunch with a temporary gecko tattoo on my wrist. ;-p

      If I was ever going to get one, which I’m not, it would probably be wildlife or tree related. I really do love animals and nature. I think if I had been involved with extInked I would never have regretted it, but I wasn’t so it’s a moot point.

      A friend of mine carried a picture of a tattoo she wanted with her everyday for a year to make sure it was definitely the design she wanted. When she finally went to have it done she had a last minute change of heart and chose something completely different.

      … And now she has to live with that decision every day… lol

      I’m personally a fan of black matt emulsion paint. It’s fun to paint freestyle temporary tattoos to match your outfit knowing it’ll wash off after a day or two.

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  4. Russian scientists to attempt clone of woolly mammoth: (BBC News article 7th December 2011)

    “Scientists from Russia and Japan are undertaking a Jurassic Park-style experiment in an effort to bring the woolly mammoth out of extinction. The scientists claim that a thigh bone found in August contains remarkably well-preserved marrow cells, which could form the starting point of the experiment. The team claim that the cloning could be complete within the next five years…”

    Are you for or against cloning to bring back extinct species?

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