Human animals bought up in the Western tradition tend to describe their encounters with other species as exchanges of power, and when confronted with extinction rush to the defence of the species at risk. This essay documents a different approach to the defence of nature. Basing itself on the work of six contemporary artists and drawing on the thought of Donna Haraway and Gregory Bateson I show how it is possible to comprehend the catastrophic extinction of birds in New Zealand by thinking about ecology. I argue that rather than defend nature, these artworks stage small moments of encounter, which remind us that the survival of ideas is intimately tied to the environment. Offering hope, shame and pleasure, these contemporary artworks are witnesses, activators and recorders of ever more frequent species extinction events.