This story appears in the January 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.
The caracaras of Guadalupe only became valuable once they’d nearly vanished. Abundant on the Mexican island in 1876, the raptors were systematically shot and poisoned as pests. By the late 1800s the endemic birds of prey had become extremely rare—and of interest to collectors. People started trapping them, hoping to sell the live birds to the highest bidder. They went extinct anyway—which makes them an appropriately ironic subject for Laurel Roth Hope.
Years ago Hope, a self-taught artist who once worked as a park ranger, found herself observing urban pigeons. “I started thinking about the way we ascribe value to things that are rare and denigrate things that are common, and how that affects the way we see wildlife,” she says. “I wanted to put the two together.”
Hope began crocheting what she calls “Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons.” “I wanted to use a little bit of humor, since caring about the environment and extinction can easily be overwhelming,” the artist says. The first suits consisted of “the pigeon as an icon of successful adaptation and the dodo as an icon of extinction.”
Hope starts by sculpting and casting the pigeons from resin. Then she chooses stitch patterns and colors to make a “3-D sketch in crochet” of an extinct bird’s plumage. (She says crochet, with its mathematical underpinnings, is a natural fit for feather patterns.) She samples the suit on her mannequin, as a tailor might.
“The suits act like a cozy,” explains Hope, “covering up something we don’t want to see—environmental degradation and species extinction—with something arguably more attractive.”