ANIMAL ART OF THE DAY for Endangered Species Day: Van Gogh’s exotic animals

Today is Endangered Species Day, commemorated annually on the 3rd Friday of May.

Although Vincent Van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890) never traveled outside of Europe, he painted at least two different animals from faraway lands. He likely saw these as stuffed specimens in natural history collections, such as that of his friend Antoon Hermans, who according to the Van Gogh Museum had a collection of more than 300 mounted exotic animals.

The Green Parrot (Paris, autumn 1886)
oil on canvas
Catalogues raisonnés: F 14, JH 1193
Private Collection

Although the above painting is commonly referred to as The Green Parrot, its yellow and red markings identify the species as a Yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix), a parrot native to Mesoamerica. Unfortunately, this species is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with habitat loss and illegal trade listed as top threats.

Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot (Amazona oratrix)
Wikimedia Commons [cc by-sa 2.0]

Flying Fox (Nuenen, October-November 1884)
oil on canvas
Catalogues raisonnés: F 177a, JH 1192
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

“Flying Foxes” (primarily referring to Acerodon and Pteropus spp.) are large fruit bats native to areas of East Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australasia, and Oceania. There are at least 66 extant (and 4 recently extinct) species in these two genera, over half of which are currently threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List.

Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox aka Golden-capped Fruit Bat (Acerodon jubatus)
Eddie Cheng/500Px

Painted as a taxidermy in dim light, it is difficult to definitively identify this as any one species. While the lighter color seen on the top of the head is likely just from the backlighting Van Gogh used to highlight the translucent wings, it reminds me of the Large Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus), which is indeed one of the very largest of the world’s megabats. Like Van Gogh’s parrot, this species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with habitat loss, overhunting, roost site disturbance, persecution by fruit growers, and climate change all listed as threats. The statuses for all 65 bats in the Pteropus genus are available here, and are also summarized below:

As for the smaller Acerodon genus, all five species are also statused as threatened, with two listed as Endangered and the other three as Vulnerable.

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