Remarkably, Rothschild's collecting efforts were neither the most extensive nor the most generously funded of the nineteenth century.
That title almost certainly belongs to a slightly earlier but also very wealthy British collector named Hugh Cuming,
who became so preoccupied with accumulating objects that he built a large oceangoing ship and employed a crew to sail the world full-time,
picking up whatever they could find—birds, plants, animals of all types, and especially shells.
It was his unrivaled collection of barnacles that passed to Darwin and served as the basis for his seminal study.
However, Rothschild was easily the most scientific collector of his age, though also the most regrettably lethal,
for in the 1890s he became interested in Hawaii, perhaps the most temptingly vulnerable environment Earth has yet produced.
Millions of years of isolation had allowed Hawaii to evolve 8,800 unique species of animals and plants.
Of particular interest to Rothschild were the islands' colorful and distinctive birds,
often consisting of very small populations inhabiting extremely specific ranges.
The tragedy for many Hawaiian birds was that they were not only distinctive, desirable, and rare
a dangerous combination in the best of circumstances—but also often heartbreakingly easy to take.
The greater koa finch, an innocuous member of the honeycreeper family, lurked shyly in the canopies of koa trees,
but if someone imitated its song it would abandon its cover at once and fly down in a show of welcome.
The last of the species vanished in 1896, killed by Rothschild's ace collector Harry Palmer,