Amusing Monday: Endangered species emerge as art forms

Painting large murals of endangered species on exterior walls across the U.S. is a way of “fostering connections between people and the other forms of life that surround them,” according to Roger Peet, a Portland artist who is leading the project, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Whale mural in Los Angeles. Photo: Jess X. Chen
Whale mural in Los Angeles // Photo: Jess X. Chen

The latest mural, painted on a building in Los Angeles, shows a blue whale breaching off the coast of an urban area with an industrial skyline. The mural was painted from a massive stencil by Brooklyn street artists Icy and Sot, who are brothers, according to the website “Brooklyn Street Art.” The mural is designed to inspire protection for the whale and reduction of ocean pollution, the artists said in an interview.

Mountain caribou mural in Sandpoint, Idaho
Mountain caribou mural in Sandpoint, Idaho

The Center for Biological Diversity is perhaps best known for suing the federal government to list and protect declining species, but it has also been committed to public outreach, including the distribution of condoms featuring endangered species. The organization launched the mural project to call attention to at-risk wildlife specific to local communities where the murals are painted, according to the CBD’s website on the mural project.

The first mural in the series, featuring a mountain caribou, was painted in Sandpoint, Idaho, northeast of Spokane. This area of the Selkirk Mountains is the last remaining territory for the caribou in the lower 48 states. Mural artists Mazatl and Joy Mallari worked with Peet on the project.

Arctic grayling mural in Butte, Mont.
Arctic grayling mural in Butte, Mont.

“The city of Sandpoint unanimously approved the mural project for a prominent downtown building and passed a resolution supporting recovery of the caribou and augmentation of the southern Selkirk herd — exactly the kind of local support for endangered species our project is designed to foster,” states the CBD’s website.

The second mural, painted by Peet last summer in Butte, Mont., shows the Arctic grayling, a fish in the salmon family that was once common in Northern Montana, the headwaters of the Missouri River. Because of river diversions and pollution, the fish population has declined dramatically. In the lower 48 states, the fish survives only in a stretch of the Big Hole River near Butte. The Montana Standard has the story.

Monarch butterfly mural in Minneapolis, Minn.
Monarch butterfly mural in Minneapolis, Minn.

A monarch butterfly on a wall in South Minneapolis, Minn., is the third mural in the series. In late summer, monarchs undergo metamorphosis in Minnesota and other northern regions before migrating to Mexico for the winter and then to the southern U.S., where they lay their eggs. Pesticide and development have taken a toll on the monarch habitat and reduced their population by 80 percent over the past 20 years, according to the CBD website. Peet worked with Barry Newman on the mural.

In November, a mural featuring the watercress darter was completed in Birmingham, Ala. This small, brilliantly colored fish is found only in the Birmingham area. Peet worked with Birmingham artists Merrilee Challiss and Creighton Tynes on the mural.

Watercress darter mural in Birmingham, Ala. Photo: Kyle Crider
Watercress darter mural in Birmingham, Ala.
Photo: Kyle Crider

“Birmingham was selected as the site of darter mural because Alabama is a world hotspot for freshwater animal diversity, and the center is working to protect hundreds of Alabama species from extinction,” says a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Upcoming murals include a mussel — the pink mucket — in Knoxville, Tenn., an aquatic salamander — the Ozark hellbender — in St. Louis, Mo., multiple fish of the Colorado River on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, and bull trout in Oakridge, Ore. Organizers say more murals could be painted with additional funding and support from local artists.

Painter Roger Peet, who continues to manage the mural project, says the effort is built upon the biodiversity of individual places:

“Those species embody an area’s natural history and contribute to what makes it irreplaceable. They also have something to say about the future, as many are in danger of going extinct. And when we lose species, the places and lives we live become poorer and shallower places as a result.

“To help bring these species into the light, we decided to paint them on the walls… Whether that’s a fish in a river, a butterfly flitting from plant to plant or a caribou chewing lichen off a tree trunk, we’re bringing together artists and communities to create big, bold images that will become part of the neighborhoods where they’re created, making it a little easier for people to care about the native species struggling to survive in their midst.”

All photos courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity.

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