New WCS Digital collection of 2,200 forgotten wildlife illustrations

23 March 2021 | Press Release | Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

All Illustrations © Wildlife Conservation Society

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) released to the public a digital collection of some 2,200 forgotten, historical scientific wildlife illustrations from its Department of Tropical Research (DTR), which it ran from 1916 to 1965.

The stunning illustrations include montages of otherworldly deepwater fishstately portraits of slothsstrange insectsbrightly colored birdssnakesfrogs, and other wildlife. Many of the illustrations seem almost whimsical, yet are scientifically accurate.

The Department of Tropical Research operated in an era when photography could not capture color and movement. The illustrators were vital to documenting the species the DTR studied and to introducing both technical and popular audiences to these species. 

Said Dr. Madeleine Thompson, WCS Director of Library and Archives: “Whereas most conservationists today use digital cameras, in the DTR’s era they relied on artists to document their findings. The illustrations in this archive are artistically beautiful but also important scientific records of what, at the time, were wildlife species often little-known to Western audiences.”

The digital collection project was completed by WCS Library and Archives staff members.  The Library & Archives advances knowledge in support of WCS’s mission to save wildlife and wild places. It provides information services to foster WCS’s leadership in science-based conservation, it preserves WCS’s robust record of activities, and it enhances understanding of WCS’s rich legacy.​ ​ 



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