Elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus

Elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus

Maurice Wilson (1914-1987)
Watercolour on paper, 1950 © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Maurice Wilson brought past worlds to life in illustrations published everywhere from scientific books to cards distributed with tea packets.

His paintings combined scientific knowledge gained from studying fossils of extinct animals with a vivid imagination. Here, he depicts the enormous elephant bird that, at 3m tall, would have been able to look into the top windows of a double-decker bus. Its fossil remains can be found on Madagascar. With few natural predators on the island, scientists think it likely the bird’s extinction was due to the arrival of humans on the island, perhaps as recently as 2,000 years ago.