Discover the World's Recently Extinct and Rediscovered Plants and Animals!

Explore this website to learn more about the world's many recently extinct and rediscovered plants, animals, fungi etc.

This website attempts to help document and tell the stories of the world's many recently lost and rediscovered creatures. To capture as many of the last rays of the dying light of species as possible before they fade away. To echo the sorrow felt and expressed by the lingering ghosts of species we have sent into oblivion. As they wander, swim, fly, grow, and otherwise move, now silently and invisibly, through their former habitats. And to list the many second chances we have been given through rediscovery, to save species from the fate we thought they had already succumbed too. Unfortunately even then we do not always heed nature's warning (e.g. Caloprymnus).

To offer a window into the house of extinction, whose structure was designed by the architects of the current biodiversity crisis, us humans. Built upon a foundation consisting of the innate vunerability of populations, particularly small or isolated ones, to fatal declines. We are experiencing a global problem, an extinction rate far above abnormal. The enivitable eventual loss of all biodiversity in a temporally distant supernova does not render premature extinction any less anachronistic.

And to emphasise the role that conservation, both in situ and ex situ, can play in saving those creatures on the edge. Such as by highlighting successful programs implemented to rewild species such as the Californian Condor, Przewalski's horse and Père David's deer. But most importantly trying to downplay cloning and the potential for "de-extinction" that it brings. Talk of technological advancements that will more than likely end in complacency rather than real results. After all in many cases we possess no viable genetic material from lost populations. Most extinctions have gone unnoticed.

 

Picturing Extinction

It is hard to fathom the proportion of large animals that we have lost over the last hundred thousand years. From a six-metre long goanna in outback Australia, to gorilla-sized lemurs in Madagascar, giant birds from Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar, elephants from Mediterranean islands, river dolphins from China, giant elk and woolly rhinos from Eurasia, several species of lions (none from Africa), a second species of giant panda, another koala, a giant flightless pigeon (the dodo), primitive crocodilians from Pacific islands, giant terrestrial horned turtles, the American cheetah, deer of all kinds, real life hobbits, a three tonne marsupial (Diprotodon), colossal carnivorous kangaroos, a primitive Matsoiid snake. The list goes on and on. And on. And on.

Smaller mammals have arguably fared much better, even though hundreds have been lost. Predominantly bats, rats and mice, with the odd marsupial or shrew-sized eutherian mammal. Some truly enigmatic like Nilopegamys, a single specimen the only tangible record to it's once living population. Or the recently described hypothetical Sonnerat's shrew (Diplomesodon sonnerati), a seemingly near melanistic animal known only from a single depiction in an unfinished manuscript from 1814. Or my favourite mystery species, the Lord Howe long-eared bat (Nyctophilus howensis), known only from a single relatively recent skull from tiny Lord Howe Island, 640km off the coast of New South Wales, Australia. 

Even more devastating is the loss of birds, whose extinction rate is sky high. It has been estimated that at least 2,000 avian species have been lost in the last several thousand years. The majority originating from Pacific islands, many of which were flightless, with a large sprinkling from other regions, particularly the Hawaiian Islands. Arguably the greatest tragedy that humans have wrought upon Mother Nature is the extinction of the Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), a bird once so numerous that huge flocks darkened the sky for hours as the continuous flapping of wings accompanied the spectactle. While the last known pair of the original penguins, the Greak auk (Pinguinus impennis), were clubbed to death on lonely Eldey island, off the coast of Iceland. The egg they were incubating was crushed, whether accidentally or purposefully, under a sailor's foot.

For the most part marine fish have virtually dodged extinction altogether. Only three species are believed to have become extinct (date refers to last record): Azurina eupalama (Galápagos damselfish) in 1982, Asterropteryx gubbina (no common name) in April 2008, and Scarus aff. guacamaia (no common name) in c.1985. The latter is, however, taxonomically dubious. On the other hand, given their relatively limited habitat, freshwater fishes have been devastated. In one of East Africa's rift lakes, ichthyological annihilation has taken place. The cichlid fishes of Lake Victoria were somewhat disturbed by the introduction of Nile perch (Lates niloticus) in the early-to-mid 1950's, but managed to co-exist for about two decades. Until the perch population paroxysm, that has probably resulted in the loss of several hundred species, many as yet unnamed, and others unrecorded. While North and Central American freshwater fishes have succumbed to human alteration of their habitats through damming, introduced species, desiccation etc.