Prof Rhys Green of the Ecology and Conservation Science Research Group in the University of Cambridge Department of Zoology writes:
A remarkable and poignant specimen held in the Museum is the preserved skin of a Jerdon’s courser, a bird shot in southern India in the mid-19th Century. The species was discovered then by British naturalists, recorded a few times in the second half of the century and not seen again for over 80 years . During this time, a tombstone was erected to the species’ memory in an exhibition area at the Bronx Zoo because it was assumed to be extinct. In 1986 it was rediscovered living in one small area of scrub jungle in central Andhra Pradesh. In the 2000s an Indian PhD student working with me found the species several other sites nearby. To do this he used strips of powdery soil laid on the ground which take the imprint of footprints of any animal which runs across. Measurements of the toes of the Cambridge specimen, and others elsewhere, helped to establish the method for identifying the species leaving the footprints. However, in the mid2000s clearing of scrub jungle for an irrigation canal and by people who moved into the area after being displaced by the construction of a reservoir in another valley, removed or disturbed much of the species’ known habitat. There have been no confirmed records of it since 2009. It is a beautifully adapted animal which hides away under a thorn bush by day and runs around on its long legs in the scrub jungle at night hunting termites and other tiny insects on the ground in open glades where just enough light penetrates for its huge eyes to detect prey. I wonder how it achieves this amazing feat. It may now already be too late for anyone ever to find out.