It moved at a rate of less than two feet a year so it took a while for curators at London Zoo to be sure it had stopped moving forever. But Wednesday it was confirmed. The Polynesian tree snail is extinct after the last survivor of the species, Partula turgida, passed away in a plastic box at the zoo.
The last tree snail, named Turgi, will have a tombstone inscribed “1.5 million years BC to January 1996" to mark its passing. The species fell victim first to African giant land snails, introduced to the Pacific Islands early this century by foreigners who kept them as garden ornaments. A second snail imported in an effort to control the African snail preferred instead to eat the native Polynesian tree snail, accelerating its demise. Although a species becomes extinct somewhere in the world almost every day, the passing of the Polynesian tree snail had special significance because it was witnessed and documented.