Atitlan grebe bird Podilymbus gigas - Extinction

Atitlán Grebe

Podilymbus gigas

Conservation Status: Extinct

Cause of Decline: Habitat Loss

Location: South America

Collection: Birds

FMNH catalogue no. 97557

The Atitlán grebe, also known as the poc, was a large, flightless water bird endemic to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala’s Sierra Madre mountain range. The species was first described in 1929 and was declared extinct by 1994. 

In an attempt to encourage tourism in the Lake Atitlán area, Pan American Airways convinced the government in 1958 to entice fishermen to the area by populating the lake with the invasive but popular sport fishing species Black bass. The bass quickly began eating the crabs, snails and fish that previously sustained the poc, as well as eating poc chicks. They became the area’s apex predator and significantly stunted the biodiversity of Lake Atitlán. In 1960 there were 200 individual Atitlán grebe; by 1965 this number had more than halved. Only 30 individuals remained by 1983, with the last reported sighting in 1986.

Because the bass preyed upon all of the creatures that controlled bacteria levels in the lake, bacteria thrive and fish numbers are low. The pollution and stench coming from the lake has meant that the once burgeoning tourism industry has suffered the same fate as the airline that sought to profit from it.

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