Animals that were Rediscovered after Years of Extinction

Animals that were rediscovered after years of extinction

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There are many animals that we all know are extinct, right? To a degree, this statement is true but what if animals had become so critically endangered that it appeared as though they were extinct when really they were just out of sight?

That’s actually something that has happened numerous times. In fact, during the last 122 years, as many as 351 species that were believed to be extinct have been rediscovered.

What is a Lazarus Taxon?

Coelacanths have managed to survive for millions of years

Lazarus taxon is a term given to species that have disappeared from fossil records but reappeared sometime later. There’s no time frame for this. In some cases, lazarus taxons may go missing for millions of years before making a reappearance.

The term comes from the biblical character of the same name who was believed to be dead until Jesus brought him back to life. While it’s not believed that these species were actually resurrected from the dead, it appears that they went extinct only to return down the line.

Why Do Animals Become Extinct?

Why do animals become extinct?

According to Wikipedia, as many as 99.9% of all species that have ever existed have now gone extinct. Furthermore, it’s thought that any given species may have a lifespan of between one and ten million years. So what causes them to die out? As it happens, there are several reasons for this.

  • Overhunting or overfishing of a species is one of the leading causes of extinction. In places that were once uninhabited by humans, animal numbers decline rapidly once we take over and start hunting them. In fact, it’s believed that some of the larger mammals, like the mammoth, only went extinct because humans hunted them.
  • Another issue that animals face is climate change. This may have happened during the last ice age, but more recently, animals like the Wyoming toad and the black softshell turtle have suffered extinction because of a change in the climate.
  • Competition with other species for resources like food can also lead to the extinction of an animal.
  • As humans expand their domain, this encroaches on the territory of animal species, meaning that they face habitat loss. This is a leading cause of extinction, and the problem only seems to be getting worse. There are lots of animals on the brink of extinction because of deforestation, including the black spider monkey and the orangutan.
  • Pollution has not only caused various species to become deformed, but it may also be responsible for the total wipeout of certain species, including the golden toad of South America.
  • You’re probably familiar with the theory that dinosaurs became extinct after a huge meteor struck the earth. Natural events like this may be responsible for the extinction of some species. Other natural events that could have the same effect include changes in sea level and volcanic eruptions.

How Do We Know When an Animal is Extinct?

How do we know when an animal is extinct?

Humans have discovered around 8.7 million animals, but it’s thought that there are at least 5 million we aren’t yet aware of. Knowing this, it can be difficult to understand how we might know that an animal is no longer in existence. But there are ways and species are being monitored.

The IUCN Red List is a comprehensive list of animal species and their endangerment level which gets regular updates, several times each year. There are seven levels from Least Concern to Extinct which tell us how endangered a species is. Animals are placed within categories based on criteria such as how quickly their population is declining, their geographic range, and other factors.

Extinct Animals that were Later Rediscovered

Some animals may have such a small geographic range, or there may be such small numbers of them in the wild that humans can go without seeing them for decades. This is where people might assume that an animal is extinct when they’re still about. Let’s take a look at some animals that have seemingly risen from the dead.

1. Fernandina Galapagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus)

After the last known specimen was found in 1906, it wasn’t until 2019 that a single Fernandina Galapagos female tortoise was found on the island of Fernandina, and she’s thought to be around 50 years old.
Pamsai / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List, the Fernandina Galapagos tortoise went ‘missing’ for over a century. After the last known specimen was found in 1906, it wasn’t until 2019 that a single female was found on the island of Fernandina, and she’s thought to be around 50 years old. 

One of 14 species of Galapagos tortoises, this one shared DNA with the 1906 specimen, and scientists are now keen to find out if there are more still alive. However, the island is difficult to explore as it’s mainly volcanic and largely inaccessible.

The hope is that an expedition to the island will uncover other members of the species, and Fernandina, as she is known, will be able to mate and save the species.

2. Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Dryococelus australis)

The Lord Howe Island stick insects (Dryococelus australis) are found exclusively in the Lord Howe Islands located in the Tasman Sea.
Peter Halasz / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

As its name suggests, this species of stick insect is found exclusively in the Lord Howe Island group, and this species can get as big as your hand! But with such a small geographic range, the creature is listed as critically endangered, but Australian conservationists are doing what they can to save them.

After having been used for fishing bait in the 1800s, it’s thought that the species went extinct around 1920. Some years later, in the 60s, a small population of around 24 of the stick insects was discovered. From this, they have been bred in captivity, and numbers are now in the tens of thousands. Captive eggs are being sent to zoos around the world as a backup.

3. Coelacanth (Latimeria spp.)

It wasn’t until 2001 when a coelacanthwas found off the Kenyan coast by fisherman that these huge fish were rediscovered.
Bruce A.S. Henderson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

The coelacanth is a large fish species found primarily around the eastern coasts of Africa. These living fossils have been around for over 400 million years, according to fossil records, and for a period were thought to be extinct.

Amazingly, humans believed the coelacanth to have lost its battle to survive back with the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. It wasn’t until 2001 when a specimen was found off the Kenyan coast by fisherman that these huge fish were rediscovered. Sadly, they’re still classed as critically endangered, with less than 500 left in the wild. They’re still at risk of extinction owing to accidental catches from fishermen. However, the South African government is making efforts into research and conservation.

What’s most interesting is that the coelacanth is not related to ray-finned fish but is more similar to things like lungfish and even mammals. For this reason, before its rediscovery, scientists thought that the coelacanth was the missing link between ocean and land creatures.

4. South Island Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri)

The takahe is a bird endemic to the south island of New Zealand.

The takahe is a bird endemic to the south island of New Zealand. There was once a north island species, but this is now extinct. The south island takahe isn’t in a much better position as it’s currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

However, this is a recent development as the species was thought to be extinct, with the last known birds having been seen in 1898. It wasn’t until some 50 years later in 1948 that the birds were rediscovered.

With numbers alarmingly low, the takahe is now protected by the New Zealand Department of Conservation who aim to protect existing populations. It’s thought that hunting, predators, and habitat loss were all to blame for the supposed extinction of these unique birds.

5. Jackson’s Climbing Salamander (Bolitoglossa jacksoni)

A sweet-looking reptile with a distinct black stripe down its back, the Jackson’s climbing salamander would probably be hard to miss. But it still managed to evade detection for around 42 years! The species was last seen in 1975 and was then rediscovered in Guatemala in 2017.

Listed as critically endangered, a reserve initially set up to protect other species of salamander has expanded its range to provide a safe haven for the Jackson’s climbing salamander.

But it could have been that this species wasn’t rediscovered at all. If it weren’t for a park guard on his lunch break spotting the creature after seeing an educational poster, we might still think these lizards were extinct.

6. Laotian Rock Rat (Laonastes aenigmamus)

The Laotian rock rat was first described in 2005 and was such a seemingly unique creature that it was placed in its very own class.
Jean-Pierre Hugot / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

The Laotian rock rat was first described in 2005 and was such a seemingly unique creature that it was placed in its very own class. But after a little more research, it turns out that these cute critters are actually from a family of animals that were thought to have suffered extinction more than 11 million years ago!

As you can guess from its name, this species is native to Laos and is a nocturnal mammal that certainly has a prehistoric look about it.

Living in forests and rocky areas, it may come as a surprise that this species is listed as least concern with the IUCN. However, they have acknowledged that its numbers are in decline. Habitat destruction and poaching are currently the most significant threats to the species. It has been suggested that Asian authorities should make protecting the species a priority.

7. Bermuda Petrel (Pterodroma cahow)

The Bermuda petrel is a species of bird that was thought to be extinct for well over 330 years.
Richard Crossley / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Bermuda petrel is a species of bird that was thought to be extinct for well over 330 years. But in 1951, several nesting pairs were rediscovered and the bird, native to Bermuda, is now the national bird of the country. The birds were last seen in the 1620s, but it’s thought that, after humans settled on their native island, the 500,000-strong population declined.

Not wanting to lose the species again, Bermudan authorities and scientists have put efforts in place to ensure the protection of these birds. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but numbers have increased, yet the species still remains endangered on the IUCN Red List.

One of the things that has been put in place is the Castle Harbour Islands Nature Reserve; an area specifically intended to ensure the survival of this species.

8. Bush Dog (Speothos venaticus)

Owing to how rare it is, the bush dog is listed as near threatened, and there are several efforts in place to ensure it doesn’t die out.

The bush dog is a South American species whose range extends from Argentina to Peru. First described in 1842, this rare species was not sighted again for many years. It was only after camera traps were set up in Brazil that scientists were able to confirm their survival.

Owing to how rare it is, the bush dog is listed as near threatened, and there are several efforts in place to ensure it doesn’t die out. For example, there are captive breeding programs taking place, and the trade of the animals is highly regulated.

In the wild, there are several small populations but these are separated by blocks in the habitat, which means that breeding opportunities are few and far between.

9. Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus)

The mountain pygmy possum was first discovered in the late 1800s, but only remains were found, so scientists assumed it was extinct.
John Englart / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s thought that the mountain pygmy possum would have lived in a more temperate climate millions of years ago. Owing to the fact that this species is considered critically endangered, scientists are using this notion to potentially save it. They’re trying to remove small populations from their Alpine habitat and introduce them to a less extreme and warmer environment.

The species has a very small range in parts of Victoria and NSW, Australia, and it’s thought that numbers are decreasing.

The species was first discovered in the late 1800s, but only remains were found, so scientists assumed it was extinct. Amazingly, some years later, in 1966, a live specimen was finally spotted.

10. Black-Footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes)

The geographic range of the black-footed ferret is incredibly small with wild populations in only three areas of the United States; Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota.

The geographic range of the black-footed ferret is incredibly small with wild populations in only three areas of the United States; Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. These animals are only here because they were reintroduced to the wild in an effort to save them. However, there are also known to be seven captive populations.

The only ferret native to North America, the black-footed ferret was important in Native American culture both for food and religious rites. However, it wasn’t officially described until 1851 by John James Audubon himself.

The fur trade was largely responsible for the rapid decline in black-footed ferret numbers, and it is now considered an endangered species. While it was thought that there could have been up to 1 million individuals in the wild at the time the species was described, numbers plummeted so rapidly that the animal was presumed extinct by the 1950s. However, in 1981, a small Wyoming population was rediscovered.

11. Wallace’s Giant Bee (Megachile pluto)

Thought to be the biggest species of bee in the world, Wallace’s giant bee was believed to be extinct for 38 years.
Naturalis Biodiversity Center / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Thought to be the biggest species of bee in the world, Wallace’s giant bee was believed to be extinct for 38 years. On the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, the species was found again in 2019 after not being seen since 1981! Before this, two dead specimens were found in 2018 and sold on eBay, but this discovery was the first living one in all those years. 

These bees can have a wingspan as large as 2.5 inches (6 cm), but while they’re large, their geographic range is very small, and this is why they are currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

A team of scientists and Indonesian conservationists have come together to search for more of these bees in the hopes of strengthening their numbers.

12. Crested Gecko (Correlophus ciliatus)

The crested gecko was actually first discovered way back in 1866 and is a species native to New Caledonia.

The crested gecko was actually first discovered way back in 1866 and is a species native to New Caledonia. However, after its initial discovery, no more individuals were found, so scientists assumed it was extinct.

Fast forward to 1994, and the gecko was rediscovered by Robert Seipp, who also found several other gecko species previously thought to have died out.

According to the IUCN Red List, the crested gecko is currently vulnerable, and one of the main problems for these small lizards is that they were popular in the pet trade. However, in an effort to save them, the sale and export of wild crested geckos is now banned. That said, captively bred individuals are the second most popular type of lizard to be kept as a pet.

13. Chacoan Peccary (Catagonus wagneri)

It wasn’t until 1974 that scientists realized the chacoan peccary was still in existence after a small population was found in Paraguay.

The Chacoan peccary was only ever discovered after fossils of its remains were found. It wasn’t until 1974 that scientists realized this species was still in existence after a small population was found in Paraguay.

From the genus Catagonus, this is the only remaining species, but there aren’t many left, and it’s estimated that there are just 3000 in the wild. As a result of this, the Chacoan peccary is listed as endangered. 

Being at such serious risk of extinction, charitable societies have been working on the idea of setting up a Biological Corridor to safeguard the species.

14. La Palma Giant Lizard (Gallotia auaritae)

Not a lot is known about the La Palma giant lizard and it’s so elusive that many compare it to the mythical Loch Ness monster, despite the fact that there is convincing photographic evidence.

While there is fossil evidence that the La Palma giant lizard may have once existed, we still aren’t sure whether it actually does. It wasn’t until 2007 that any realistic sightings happened and these are still considered to be doubtful.

Now, there is a species that is a little less legendary, and this is more likely the modern version. While a complete skull was found of its ancient relatives, the modern lizard doesn’t measure more than around a foot in length. 

15. Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis)

The last time anyone saw a night parrot was back in 1912. By 1979, it was declared extinct, but then it reappeared in 2012.
Rawpixel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The last time anyone saw a night parrot was back in 1912. By 1979, it was declared extinct, but then it reappeared in 2012. This came as something of a surprise since in the 50s, scientists had suggested that there was no suitable wild habitat, and that’s why the bird became extinct.

Native to Australia, the rediscovery of the night parrot occurred in Queensland, where a very small population was found. In order to protect the species from any future potential extinction and owing to their endangered status, authorities purchased a 56,000 hectare piece of land for the birds. 

Sadly, there are still very few night parrots, and while sightings are few and far between and there’s no real way to know the exact numbers, it’s thought that there might only be between 50 and 249 individuals in the wild.

16. Silver-Backed Chevrotain (Tragulus Versicolor)

One of the 25 most wanted lost animals, the silver-backed chevrotain is a species of deer, commonly referred to as the Vietnam mouse deer.

One of the 25 most wanted lost animals, the silver-backed chevrotain is a species of deer, commonly referred to as the Vietnam mouse deer. An incredibly rare species, the animal was first described in 1910 but then not spotted again until 1990.

After setting up a camera trap in 2019, specimens were spotted in lowland forests of Vietnam. Since then, a further two populations have been rediscovered although the species is still listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List.

Researchers are now looking to study the populations in the hope of getting a better idea of their stability. However, it’s thought that hunting has played a significant role in why they have become so rare.

17. Somali Sengi (Galegeeska revoilii)

The Somali sengi is a type of elephant shrew that featured on the Most Wanted list of lost animals.
Steven Heritage / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

The Somali sengi is a type of elephant shrew that featured on the Most Wanted list of lost animals. Fortunately, after not being seen since 1968, in its native country of Somalia, it was rediscovered just a few years ago in 2020.

Somali sengis were rediscovered in Djibouti, a neighboring country of Somalia, and while it’s thought that the species is not widespread, the IUCN Red List describes it as data deficient. However, during studies where traps were set in 12 locations, Somali sengis were almost instantaneously captured. Because of this, conservationists are insisting that the species be listed as of ‘least concern.’

18. Mallorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)

The Mallorcan midwife toad is endemic to Mallorca, and while it was thought to be extinct for a little while, it only took two years for it to be rediscovered.
Govern des Illes Balears / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mallorcan midwife toad is endemic to the Spanish island of Mallorca, and while it was thought to be extinct for a little while, it only took two years for it to be rediscovered. That said, fossilized remains were found first in 1977 so it had remained hidden for a long time with living specimens found in 1979.

This species has some interesting breeding habits with females competing for a mate while the males carry the eggs on their backs. This is typical of all midwife toad species.

Owing to predation and competition from other species, these toads, which are typically only found in the northern part of the island, have a very small range. However, conservation efforts have been put into place, and it’s thought that numbers are on the rise.  

19. Black-Naped Pheasant-Pigeon (Otidiphaps insularis)

The black-naped pheasant pigeon is a stunningly beautiful bird, but it was last seen in 1882. That was, at least, until it was captured in a photograph some 140 years down the line in 2019. Researchers had been tipped off by locals in Papua New Guinea that these birds were inhabiting the forests and sure enough, they went in search and came out with photographic evidence.

However, while they were aware that the bird they had captured was rare, they did not realize that it was presumed extinct until they got back to their lab in North America!

Found on just one 555 square mile (1434.3 square kilometers) island, this bird is classed as critically endangered and, according to the IUCN Red List, as few as 50 remain in the wild, with numbers potentially decreasing. Locals and conservationists are trying to raise awareness to protect the bird. 

20. Jambato Toad (Atelopus ignescens)

Listed as critically endangered, the jambato toad’s numbers are unstable and thought to be in decline.
Kyle E.Jaynes, Mónica I.Páez-Vacas, David Salazar-Valenzuela, Juan M. Guayasamin, AndreaTerán-Valdez, Fausto R. Siavichay, Sarah W.Fitzpatrick, Luis A.Coloma / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Listed as critically endangered, the jambato toad’s numbers are unstable and thought to be in decline. The species is found only in the Andean region of northern Ecuador and was believed to be extinct until 2016. Before this, no living specimens had been seen since 1988. Although there is a similar species in Columbia.

It’s thought that the decline in numbers and assumed extinction was caused by a fungus that has attacked many amphibian species as well as climate change. However, now that the toad has been rediscovered, scientists are working to breed them in captivity to boost their populations.

Can Extinct Animals be Brought Back to Life?

Can extinct animals be brought back to life?

Could you imagine sharing the planet with some iconic extinct species once again? While it might seem like something from the movies, scientists are seriously discussing this and there have even been donations towards getting to work on projects. More than $15 million has been donated so that scientists can take genes from Asian elephants and combine these with DNA from the wooly mammoth in order to create a hybrid that they plan to release into the wild.

It all sounds a little like Jurassic Park, but there is scope for this to happen, and scientists believe that adding to the biodiversity of the Arctic tundra and adding animals like the wooly mammoth could restore the habitat.

This is all part of a process known as de-extinction or biological resurrection. It’s thought that this process could be beneficial in several ways including potential cures for diseases when studying certain species, improving the ecosystems, and preventing species from going extinct.

So, how does it work? Well, one of the methods we have already seen several times in science and that’s cloning. What we’ve seen so far are clones of existing animals, but it’s thought that by taking preserved DNA from an extinct species’ cell and putting it into an egg of a closely related species, we could bring animals back from the dead, so to speak.

This isn’t the only method. For example, by taking cells from closely related species and editing the genome, it may be possible to resurrect species that have gone extinct. Moreover, some scientists are looking at back breeding which is a type of selective breeding designed to bring forth ancestral traits.

However, it wouldn’t be possible to just bring back any old species. Not only would this be incredibly expensive, but it could also threaten current populations and interfere with the ecosystem. If scientists were to do this for the greater good, they’d need to be selective in what they were resurrecting. As it stands, there is scope for the aforementioned wooly mammoth as well as species like the quagga, the passenger pigeon, the cave lion, and the iconic dodo.

Other species could, in theory, be brought back to life, such as the Sabre tooth tiger. While this might seem exciting, it’s thought by the IUCN that this wouldn’t be the best idea, and it is advised against in their guidelines for reintroduction.

But regardless of guidelines, benefits, and other factors, no animal can be brought back to life without perfectly preserved DNA. This means that it would be more recently extinct creatures that would have a better chance at resurrection. So, you can rest safe in the knowledge that you won’t find a T-Rex wandering through the forest.

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