The Damage Forrest Galante Has Done to Conservation Biology

By Branden Holmes. Originally published 16 August 2020. Rewritten 14 October 2023. I have also written a free eBook, "What's Lost and What Remains: The Sixth Extinction in 100 Accounts", to try to bring attention to the world's rare and extinct species.



Forrest Galante grew up in Zimbabwe, and is the grandson of Gerald Summerfield whom Galante claims helped prove that Coelacanths aren't extinct (Provost, 2016). However, a quick Google search does not bring up any results that indicate this is true. Rather, the discovery of the first known living specimen encountered by humans is well documented and omits the mention of any such person. It was caught off East London (South Africa) aboard the trawler of Captain Hendrick Goosen in December 1938, bought by a provincial museum curator, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, and recognised as the long extinct coelacanth by eminent ichthyologist J. L. B. Smith (Smith, 1956; Weinberg, 2000). Judging by Galante’s comments, it’s clear that his grandfather played a role in securing one of the later specimens caught in the Comoros islands (Provost, 2016), which is still a significant association with the species.

Indeed, it seems that this connection was prophetic, as if he was earmarked for discoveries, firsts and records1. According to the About page [archived version] on his website:

"At age 14, Galante was the youngest person to ever lead an international canoe safari down the Zambezi River."

And with his rise to public notice since moving to the US, first as a television contestant on 'Naked and Afraid', he is now best known as the host of the two seasons of ‘Extinct or Alive’ on Animal Planet. According to the Discoveries page on his website, the show resulted in Galante and his team rediscovering no less than eight species previously thought to be extinct, which would arguably make him the most prolific rediscoverer of species in the history of conservation biology. However, there is no evidence that he has actually rediscovered even a single species. Instead, he has a track record of taking credit for the work of others, ignoring recent records of species that he claims are missing, has never published any of his alleged rediscoveries in a peer-reviewed paper, and does not seem to care about the fate of the species he has allegedly rediscovered (i.e. does not give any updates on their status at all, saying if anything that he has "passed on" the rediscoveries to local researchers).

There are certainly instances in which a single individual has genuinely made multiple rediscoveries, such as the botanist Dr. Brian du Preez (Wild, 2019; Swingler, 2023), and the malacologist Dinarte Teixeira (PhD student) (e.g. Cameron et al., 2021; D. Teixeira pers. comm., 19 May 2022). But those successes are dwarved by the failed efforts of those same scientists to search for those same taxa previously. Not to mention that most scientists never rediscover a single taxon despite years of trying. The fact that Galante allegedly rediscovers species so frequently in such short search windows should immediately raise serious doubts over their veracity. And raise questions as to whether the false rediscovery narratives he constructs and pushes are negatively affecting the public's perception of the role, and competence, of conservationists more broadly, including those in poor and developing countries.


Red Flags: A Mere Media Personality?

Forrest Galante’s first public foray into putatively extinct species was not a published piece of research, but as a co-host of a one-off documentary aired in 2016 in search of the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) in Tasmania, called 'Extinct or Alive: Tasmanian Tiger'. It was evidently the inspiration for the title of his most well known television project, ‘Extinct or Alive’ (2018-2021). Mike Williams2 reminds me that one scene from the documentary has Galante interviewing a descendent of a man who shot a thylacine in the 1950’s and shows Galante a photo as proof. But this photo is actually one of a series taken in May 1930 depicting the thylacine shot by Wilf Batty on his family’s property at Mawbanna in Tasmania's north-west, the last known wild killed specimen. The fact that Galante does not pick up on this is disconcerting as it comprises one of the most famous series of photos of one of the most famous recently extinct species, and one which he evidently has a special interest in.

Forrest's website states that he has a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Santa Barbara with "special emphasis in marine biology and herpetology". Yet despite his education he makes numerous basic errors in his three appearances on The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) podcast (as shown below), as well as in other media appearances including his own content, in line with the fact that he appears to (predominantly) earn a living as a media personality and not as a professional biologist, and certainly not someone who earns a living from researching and publishing (there are no peer-reviewed papers to his name). A biology degree is a commonly studied degree given the importance of the natural world, but it does not make one an expert biologist, as it broadly teaches you what we know about living organisms. Expertise requires further, active research on the part of the researcher over a number of years. For professional biologists, a standard part of which is conducting studies (whether in the field, using computer simulations, studying museum specimens, molecular work etc.) and getting manuscripts through the peer-review process to have their findings published.

Someone who is not a professional biologist can of course still make a significant contribution to biology, and the practical nature of the subject means its history is stuffed with self-taught individuals who have made major contributions. The rediscovery of a species is a clear example. So someone like Galante who has a bachelor's degree in biology is at a distinct advantage over those who never even attended university/college, and thus is very well placed to be such a contributor. Yet, far from displaying a deep level of knowledge regarding his speciality (large animals), he consistently makes basic errors. By way of just a few of the many examples from his various appearances on Joe Rogan's podcast, he states that the leopard (Panthera pardus) is larger than the jaguar (Panthera onca) (episode #1240, roughly 40:00 into the conversation). In reality the relationship is precisely the opposite, with the Jaguar being the third largest big cat in the world (Rabinowitz, 2005). He also strongly implies that since tortoises cannot swim large distances, inter-island travel is impossible (episode #1403, 1:05:50 into the conversation). In reality, it is well known that giant tortoises float (Patterson, 1973), and can even be found hundreds of kilometres from their home (e.g. Gerlach et al., 2006). And while their travel direction is thus contingent upon currents, the potential for inter-island travel is certainly there. But Forrest's third appearance on the podcast contains his biggest factual errors to date. For example, within the first 45 seconds of the following video:



Forrest clearly claims that 1) the facial tumour disease in question is shared by "a lot of the animals" in Tasmania and thus is not limited to the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), 2) it is herpes, and 3) it is due to an overabundance of prey, at least in the case of the Tasmanian devil. In reality, the disease is a transmissible cancer called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) and first arose via a tumour in a female devil between 1977 and 1987 in north-east Tasmania (Patton et al., 2020; Jones, 2023 and references therein; Woods, 2023 and references therein). It is certainly not herpes, it has not been reported in any other native Tasmanian animal, and it is not due to the absence of the thylacine or overabundance of prey or both. It is transferred through the species' tendency to bite each other on the face, or rather both strains of DFTD, since a second strain (DFTD2) sadly arose in 2014 (Jones, 2023; Woods, 2023).

He also claims that the Reticulated python (Broghammerus reticulatus) is the heaviest snake in the world, while the Anaconda (presumably, the Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus)) is the longest (starts at 6:58 in the below video). 



Reliable measurements for both species are scarce in comparison to exaggerated and unverified claims, but it is generally accepted that the Reticulated python (Broghammerus reticulatus) is the longest snake, while the more massive Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) is significantly heavier. The longest reliably measured wild Reticulated python was 6.95m long, and weighed 59kg after not eating for an estimated 3 months (Fredriksson, 2005). While the longest of 780 wild Green anacondas was 5.21m, and the heaviest was 97.5kg (Rivas, 2000:Table 3-1).


Extinct or Alive? Episodes in the Forrest Galante Saga

Even given the numerous basic errors Galante makes, if he rediscovered even one species his name would be etched into the annals of conservation biology for all time. The fact that he claims to have been a part of no less than eight of them, documented during the two seasons (18 episodes) and five specials of the show 'Extinct or Alive', means we need to unbiasedly investigate their veracity, in case he possesses unique knowledge on how to find putatively extinct species that can be applied more broadly. But multiple issues arise immediately.

Non-existent targets

The list of 22 target (sub)species contains four whose taxonomic validity is seriously disputed: the Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) (Pakenham, 1984; Miththapala et al., 1996; Uphyrkina et al., 2001; Sun et al., 2023 [preprint]), the Newfoundland wolf (Canis lupus beothucus) (Nowak, 1995), the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyurus) (Buckley-Beason et al., 2006; Kitchener et al., 2006, 2017), and the Southern Rocky Mountain wolf (Canis lupus youngi) (Nowak, 1995). That is, they probably never existed as distinct forms in the first place. And you cannot rediscover what you cannot discover: a non-existent (sub)species. These episodes could have been better served looking for real species, especially given the opportunity to highlight the plight of smaller animals, particularly invertebrates.

Bias towards larger species

The list of target species (n=22) were without exception large-bodied vertebrates, with not a single invertebrate in sight. Perhaps if there were a reason to suppose that such large-bodied species deserve special emphasis, such as by having suffered catastrophic rates of recent extinction compared with smaller-bodied animals, then this bias might be justified. But such a bias is not sustained by the evidence, as the database on this website shows. Large-scale funding to search for putatively extinct species may have only been made available to target large, charismatic species, but there are plenty of invertebrates in his home state of California that could have been the subject of an episode for very cheap. For example, the Sacramento Valley hairy-necked beetle (Cicindela hirticollis abrupta) last seen around 1984, a pair of weevils last recorded in 1975 (Trigonoscuta rossi and T. yorbalindae), the Antioch robberfly (Cophura hurdi) from the unique Antioch dunes, or the Killerdana trapdoor spider (Aptostichus killerdana) last recorded on 15 February 1971.

Species not even missing, or already rediscovered

At the time of filming the respective episodes, three of the target species were not even missing: Pondicherry shark (Carcharhinus hemiodon), Whitetip weasel shark (Paragaleus leucolomatus), and Flapnose houndshark (Scylliogaleus quecketti). While three others had already been rediscovered by other people: Miller's grizzled langur (Presbytis canicrus), Cape lion (Panthera leo melanochaitus), Rio Apaporis caiman (Caiman crocodilus apaporiensis). Thus, six of the 22 target species had recent records, making it far, far more likely that he would succeed in "rediscovering" these not-actually-extinct targets that he claims to be possibly extinct. It is thus no surprise that all six of these feature among the list of eight targets that he has (helped) rediscover as part of the show. Only two (sub)species might truly have been rediscovered as part of the show: the Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) and the Fernandina Island giant tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus). But the former likely does not exist (see 'Non-existent targets' above), and the latter was rediscovered by another indiviual (Jeffreys Málaga) which Galante tried to steal credit for.


Season 1, Episode 1: Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi)

The Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) was described by Reginald Pocock in 1932 (Pocock, 1932), and was endemic to the small and populous island of Unguja (1,666 km2 or 643 sq mi) in the Zanzibar archipelago off East Africa. However, the species was officially persecuted for it’s alleged links to witchcraft (Walsh & Goldman, 2012), with the last confirmed records seemingly dating to the 1980’s. However, the validity of the subspecies has also long been disputed (Pakenham, 1984; Miththapala et al., 1996; Uphyrkina et al., 2001; Sun et al., 2023 [preprint]), and was subsumed into the nominate subspecies (P. p. pardus) by (Miththapala et al., 1996). Given the serious questions over the validity of the subspecies, it was not a good choice to target.

Nevertheless, according to the Discoveries page on his website:

“In 2018, Galante captured trail camera footage of a Zanzibar leopard, a big cat that had been classified as extinct for over 25 years— with support from Dr. Martin Walsh and Dr. Helle V. Goldman. During that same expedition, Galante also captured the first known video footage of a servaline genet in the region. ”

A blog post by Dr. Helle Goldman and Dr. Martin Walsh, the foremost researchers of the Zanzibar leopard over the last couple of decades, however, tells a very different story (Goldman & Walsh, 2018). I apologise for quoting almost the entire blog post, however it is important to do so as the full context needs to be understood here:

“The quest for the Zanzibar leopard is the running theme of the premiere of the Animal Planet infotainment series, “Extinct or Alive", which airs in the US on Sunday, 10 June. We participated in the production of this extended episode by providing background material about leopards and other wildlife on the island, as well as the island’s history and culture. Travelling to Zanzibar a week in advance of the film crew, we scouted filming locations, lined up interviews, liaised with local forestry staff, and obtained access to recent photographs of alleged leopard pugmarks and leopard kills (eviscerated goats).

In addition, we deployed 10 camera traps in various locations, getting excellent video footage of some of Zanzibar’s small carnivores in the wild: the Zanzibar servaline genet (Genetta servalina archeri), the African palm civet (Nandinia binotata), and the Zanzibar bushy-tailed mongoose (Bdeogale crassicauda tenuis). To our knowledge, none of these has been filmed on Unguja island before, so this was exciting.

They did, however, use footage of an interview with us and many clips of the other animals that we had camera-trapped, including superb daytime (and therefore colour) video shots of a servaline genet.
In the absence of verified evidence, like most authorities we now presume the Zanzibar leopard to have been extirpated, despite tantalising reports and claims to the contrary. But this shouldn't stop people from enjoying Animal Planet's expertly crafted and highly entertaining narrative.”

As acknowledged to some degree by Galante, Dr. Goldman and Dr. Walsh were instrumental in the success of the episode, but he does not elaborate on what this involved exactly. According to Dr. Goldman and Dr. Walsh, it was they who captured the Zanzibar servaline genet (Genetta servalina archeri) on film. Given the totality of evidence cited in this article and that of (Wight, 2020), I personally have no doubt that Dr. Goldman and Dr. Walsh are telling the truth.

The fact that Goldman and Walsh have never recorded the Zanzibar leopard despite visiting the small island many times over the years, including 10 camera traps deployed in their latest attempt, while Galante and crew managed to capture a leopard in the short time they were on the island, should raise suspicions that it is a feral animal or the footage was not in fact taken on Unguja. In terms of the footage itself, keeping in mind that the Zanzibar leopard is not a distinct subspecies, Dr. Goldman and others are sceptical of its authenticity as representing a Zanzibar leopard on Zanzibar (Unguja):

"In 2018 a crew of Animal Planet, during the recordings of a television program, obtained a camera trap video of an alleged Zanzibar leopard (Li 2018). Some authorities responsible for the Zanzibar leopard do not consider this film to be reliable evidence (H. Goldman pers. comm.; Goldman and Walsh 2018) and its diffusion on the internet has been restricted to the American television newsmagazine Inside Edition and some blogs devoted to paranormal and other alleged mysteries. On the other hand, the author has defended the authenticity of the film (F. Galante, pers. comm.). The video undoubtedly shows a leopard, but the images do not allow to verify precisely the pattern of the rosettes or to determine the shooting’s locality. It should also be noted that a feral African leopard released in Zanzibar is an option which can be eliminated, but only DNA evidence (such as from scats) would offer an opportunity to differentiate this animal from other leopards. Although remaining skeptical, we hope that, given the potential importance for conservation, further investigation will deepen the matter."

(Rossi et al., 2020:409)

Following the reported rediscovery of the Zanzibar leopard, student Andrew Weier visited Unguja to investigate the claim. Rather than confirm it, he found no evidence for the real Zanzibar leopard, and instead found that other animals had started to be referred to as leopards (Weier, 2019). To me, this indicates that the real Zanzibar leopard is subconsciously acknowledged as extinct by the local people, which leaves a "leopard" hole which the locals are now filling with other species. A similar occurrence happened after the extinction of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) in the mid-17th century, when its name was transferred to the unrelated Red rail (Aphanapteryx bonasia) (Cheke, 2006). The Abstract from his project reads:

“In this project, the modern narrative of the Zanzibar leopard was studied in Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park. Game cameras were installed and various locations around the national park to try and gather primary evidence that supported the existence of a leopard population in the forest. In addition, local community members were interviewed about recent leopard related activities. No biological evidence was gathered that supported the existence of the Zanzibar leopard and information collected from interviews indicated a potential shift in which other organisms are considered leopards. Recommendations were made for future research to be able to better understand the complex meaningfulness of the narrative of the Zanzibar leopard and how the narrative shifts over time."

(Weier, 2019)

There has been no update on the status of the Zanzibar leopard provided by Galante for five years as of late 2023, and nobody else has been able to capture evidence of it in the last few decades. The island is very small, and it is almost inconceivable that a leopard population could evade documentation for decades despite many people trying.


Special #1: Pondicherry shark (Carcharhinus hemiodon)

The first criterion for a target species should be that it is actually missing, and hasn’t already been rediscovered. Unfortunately, the narrative spun as part of Galante’s first Extinct or Alive special, aired during Shark Week 2019, is that the species hadn’t been recorded since the 1970’s. And therefore, while Galante himself admits that he didn’t personally rediscover the species, he nonetheless attributes that honour to his wife. In his team’s research he has seemingly based the date of the last record on the IUCN RedList entry for the species (Compagno et al., 2003). Which is a strange move since he disregards that same source when it says that species he targets as missing have actually been collected many times in recent years and hence are not missing in the first place (see Special #2).

Online news stories that would have been available via Google to Galante report that the Pondicherry shark was recorded several times during the mid-to-late 1980’s, and was photographed in 2016 (Rodrigo, 2016). While a specimen was caught in 2018, with the article on the catch stating that it was also recorded in 2007 as well (Sankar, 2018). So either Galante has simply not done his research, or he has chosen to ignore local (and) scientific knowledge. This poor target choice is all the more acute since there is a systematic failure to target smaller species, particularly invertebrates. Galante would rather, it seems, search for a large animal that is not even missing, than shine a light on one of the many missing invertebrates.

In 2020, the IUCN RedList re-assessed the species, which was published the following year (Kyne et al., 2021). Rather than accepting the 2019 rediscovery of the species as promoted by Galante and the show, the IUCN assessment went in the opposite direction by rejecting the 1979 record of the previous assessment from 2003 (Compagno et al., 2003), and instead notes that all known museum specimens were collected prior to 1960. With claimed reports since then (i.e. 1979, 1990's, 2000), including some photographs, being misidentifications or otherwise lacking support:

"The contemporary range of this species is poorly defined and museum specimens were collected pre-1960. There are reports from 1979, the 1990s, and 2000, but none of these could be verified. Its identification is problematic, and it is easily confused with a number of other Carcharhinus species (for example, recent putative records from Sri Lanka)."


"Misidentification and misreporting through confusion with other carcharhinids are ongoing issues, although there now exists reasonable capacity and knowledge across its historic range to correctly identify Pondicherry Shark if it persists. The increasing use of genetic barcoding, including for dried fins or other body parts, has also increased the likelihood of detection of rare species. Despite this, no samples that would be attributable to this species have been detected using such barcoding techniques."

(both quotes from Kyne et al., 2021)


Season 2, Episode 1: Fernandina Island tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus)

The Fernandina Island tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) was described in 1907 based upon a specimen collected the previous year (Van Denburgh, 1907). However, it had never been seen since, partly because nobody had specifically looked for it. And even though there were occasional signs over the years that tortoises still inhabited the island, it was assessed as possibly extinct by the IUCN (Rhodin et al., 2017). Subsequently, an expedition was planned to search for the species on Fernandina Island to confirm its persistence. A television crew tagged along, but when an individual tortoise was found by ranger Jeffreys Málaga, the host of the television show, who had nothing to do with the planning, seized the opportunity and took public the credit for the find. The specific details of this highly unethical behaviour by Forrest Galante are given by (Wight, 2020). Although I have not read his new book, 'Still Alive: A Wild Life of Rediscovery' (2021), it appears that he now does credit ranger Jeffreys Málaga with having found the tortoise. But the audience for a popular television show is far more than for a non-fiction book, so that the damage done was not nearly undone and almost certainly will never be.


Season 2, Episode 2: Miller's grizzled langur (Presbytis canicrus) (added 28 January 2023)

Miller's grizzled langur (Presbytis canicrus) had already been rediscovered in 2011 (Lhota et al., 2012), long before the episode in which Galante is portrayed as having rediscovered it was made. Photos of the species shown on the latest Joe Rogan podact episode to feature Galante (#1927) were taken by the original rediscovery team, as pointed out by one of their members, Dr. Brent Loken, a scientist with more than 8,500 citations:

Miller's grizzled langur (Presbytis hosei canicrus) had a complicated conservation history around 2008-2012, with a number of people claiming to have seen/photographed/filmed it (see Setiawan et al., 2009; Lhota et al., 2012). Ultimately, it is the Lhota et al. (2012) paper that announced the rediscovery of the subspecies, in part because the individuals previously reported in the period 2008-2010 could no longer be found (Ibid.). The species' reported rediscovery in mid-2011 was also a range extension, showing that it had, at least historically, occurred over a significantly larger area than previously thought. This suggests that the population is healthier than previously thought, though it clearly doesn't mean that the species is out of danger by any means.
The lack of more recent records of the species in the published literature can be due to any number of reasons, such as a lack of searches as had occurred prior to 2008 (Setiawan et al., 2009), a lack of funds to publish research, a submitted paper not passing peer-review for one reason or another, etc., and so should not have been taken by Forrest Galante to singularly imply that the species was possibly extinct. I am not aware of any source independent of Galante that suggested that it had since (possibly) disappeared since mid-2011, and time since last confirmed sighting by itself is a poor metric for the conservation status of a population since there can be many reasons for a population to go unseen for long periods (e.g. no one looking, hard to spot, difficult to distinguish between subspecies, etc.).
There is no evidence that Forrest Galante rediscovered the species, as it was not considered missing at the time of his alleged "rediscovery". That of course is not to say that it isn't an important record, but he has also not published on it either.

Season 2, Episode 3: Cape lion (Panthera leo melanochaitus)

The Cape lion (Panthera leo melanochaitus) has traditionally been considered one of the earliest megafaunal victims of the European colonisation of southern Africa (last record 1858). Along with the Bluebuck (Hippotragus leucophaeus) (last record c. 1800) and Cape warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus aethiopicus) (last record c.1865). However, a revised taxonomy of the entire family Felidae concluded that the Cape lion is in fact extant in virtue of an extant subspecies being a synonym of it (Kitchener et al., 2017). The same conclusion was reached about the Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo). Thus even if you don’t accept the proposed taxonomic changes, it is more likely that the status of the Cape lion will be resolved in the laboratory rather than the field.

Therefore, again it is a wasted opportunity to search for an invertebrate, such as the equal largest moth known from New Zealand, with an almost 15cm (6 inch) wingspan. Buller’s moth (Aoraia mairi) was collected only once, in the summer of 1867, by Sir Walter Buller and his brother-in-law, Captain Gilbert Mair, in the Ruahine Range of the North Island (Meads, 1990). Sadly the specimen is now believed lost.

But the most important point related to this episode is one of Galante’s claims as a guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast #1403:

Therein, Galante states that a particularly large lion with a black mane that his team tranquilised and took a genetic sample from had DNA with a 14% discrepancy from other southern African samples. This may not seem significant, but consider the oft-repeated claim that Chimpanzees and humans share somewhere between 96-98% of their DNA. So this would mean that the lion sampled is not merely a subspecies or even species of lion but a new genus entirely separate from Panthera (which includes the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard). But instead of talking about a new genus of big cats, which would be one of the greatest zoological discoveries of the 21st century, he talks about a “14% discrepancy” which demonstrates that he pretends to understand genetics3.


Season 2, Episode 7: Rio Apaporis caiman (Caiman crocodilus apaporiensis)

I have nothing new to add here to the fantastic investigative journalism piece by Andrew J. Wight (Wight, 2020). Galante tried to steal credit for the rediscovery of the Rio Apaporis caiman (Caiman crocodilus apaporiensis) from Sergio Balaguera-Reina, who had already announced it. Moreover, Galante has not been forthcoming with the support he promised scientist Sergio Balaguera-Reina in return for helping Galante make the episode a success:

“According to Balaguera-Reina, Galante promised to help fund the Colombian scientist’s caiman research. “But I never saw any of it,” Balaguera-Reina said. Then Galante vanished off Balaguera-Reina’s radar.”

(Wight, 2020)


Special #2: Whitetip weasel shark (Paragaleus leucolomatus) and Flapnose houndshark (Scylliogaleus quecketti)

The latest episode of Galante’s show, technically a Shark Week special in the spirit of the previous year’s, features the rediscovery of not one, not two, but three species! An amazing feat since two, and probably all three, of those species were never missing in the first place. In the first special Galante did for the show, he stated that the Pondicherry shark (Carcharhinus hemiodon) hadn’t been seen since the 1970’s. The only reasonable conclusion to draw as to his source for this claim is the IUCN’s RedList which is available online.

Yet for this latest episode he not merely dispensed with this legitimate though fallible source, he deliberately ignored it. The two species he implies he helped rediscover are the Whitetip weasel shark (Paragaleus leucolomatus) and Flapnose houndshark (Scylliogaleus quecketti), which he claims were last recorded 36 years ago (1984) and almost 120 years ago, respectively (Georgiou, 2020). Yet the respective last records for those two species are later than 2007 (Pollom et al., 2020) and later than 2011 (Pollom, 2019). Galante is now simply making up the last records of (sub)species.



Forrest Galante has a large social media following, and one observation that his fans keep making is that he is truly passionate about wildlife. But passion is disconnected from any reliable metric of someone's competence. You cannot infer how much someone actually knows about a subject by their passion for it. And the evidence is clear that he makes basic errors, either cannot do proper research to ascertain the correct conservation status/taxonomic validity of taxa or doesn't care to, and partakes in unethical behaviour by stealing and attempting to steal credit from legitimate researchers. But the greatest evidence that he is not a competent biologist is his singular failure to have followed through with any of these alleged rediscoveries by publishing them in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. He thus maximises his public image by constructing a rediscovery narrative that the public are not likely to question, while easing the burden upon himself by not putting it out there for the scientific community to properly vet.

The most insidious thing about his impact is the projected general sense that he has rediscovered so many animals that scientists have systematically failed, over a much longer period, to find. Forrest and his TV crew only search briefly and yet have a far greater rate of success. And therefore conservationists proper are at best ignorant, and at worst incompetent. And that has profound ramifications for how members of the public decide to spend or donate their money. The generosity of the public in donating to conservation and environmental causes is not something to be taken for granted at the best of times. People work hard for their money, and have the right to spend it as they see fit. While the greed of humanity as a whole has meant that there are so many species, subspecies and populations in danger of extinction that the resources required to adequately to save them all will almost certainly not be forthcoming. So whatever funds can be secured are all the more important.

Television shows are for entertainment purposes and therefore do not always have technical accuracy in mind when presenting their material. And of course such shows are the products of many people not just the host. But whatever the constraints that were placed upon him when agreeing to do the show, no such conditions would be worth compromising for to a genuine conservationist if they resulted in such a distorted view of conservation biology as actually resulted from the show. The concept of looking for a different putatively extinct (sub)species each week is a novel and laudable idea, but it would have been infinitely served better if there had been no falsely claimed rediscoveries. It would ultimately have been realistic, because searching for missing organisms is hard, very hard, and often takes lots and lots of planning and searching around for funding.

Within science, the bread and butter of communication and influence are peer-reviewed papers that are referreed by two reviewers that are anonymous to the paper's authors to help ensure a high standard of output. This process can take a long time, and currently my Twitter feed is increasingly consisting of journal editors and authors lamenting the difficulty in finding reliable peer-reviewers, meaning that papers can take years to have published. But while this process is unfortunately drawn out, it is not without end. And yet Forrest Galante still has not published any of his alleged rediscoveries in a vetted peer-reviewed scientific paper. Indeed, when he is asked about updates regarding any of these species he invariably states that he has passed off the species to another researcher/group or has not heard anything new. This does not strike one as the approach of a legitimate individual who is intersted in conserving species, but rather that of an imposter who is only interested in maximising his own public image.

If I rediscovered even a single species, I would want every update on its status imaginable. To simply walk away from it shows a lack of real interest in its fate. Forrst Galante is, ultimately, a charlatan.



Two weeks after initially writing this article I found the following quote from the "talk" section [archived version] of the Wikipedia page on Forrest Galante:

"Questionable removals

Two sentences that cited criticism of Galante were removed three times from IPs near Galante's residence & Animal Planet offices. The source, Undark, does not attempt to appear neutral on the topic of its criticism, but does have editorial control on pieces published and cites significant figures in relevant fields on the topic. The sentence referencing the Galapagos episode in particular cites an extremely relevant source that was present at the filming. Especially considering much of the article reading like an advertisement, this does not seem like good-faith editing. The removals appear to be based on hiding criticism of Galante rather than removing unreliable or hidden-bias sources."



1 He has six spearfishing world records according to his Facebook page.

Mike, along with Gareth Linnard and myself, co-(re)discovered three historical films of the species, including the latest known footage of the species (March-April 1935), which went viral around the world in 2020. One of which Forrest himself shared on Instagram.

If the 14% "discrepancy" relates only to the mitogenome then the genetic distance would be considerably smaller, but still extremely significant, and would still sustain the overall criticism.



Buckley-Beason V. A., Johnson W. E., Nash W. G., Stanyon R., Menninger J. C., Driscoll C. A, Howard J. G., Bush M., Page J. E., Roelke M. E., Stone G., Martelli P. P., Wen C., Ling L., Duraisingam R. K., Lam P. V. and O’Brien S. J. (2006). Molecular evidence for species-level distinctions in clouded leopards. Current Biology 16(23): 2371-2376.

Cameron, Robert A. D., Teixeira, Dinarte, Pokryszko, Beata, Silva, Isamberto and Groh, Klaus. (2021). An annotated checklist of the extant and Quaternary land molluscs of the Desertas Islands, Madeiran Archipelago. Journal of Conchology 44(1): 53-70.

Cheke, Anthony S. (2006). Establishing extinction dates - the curious case of the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the Red Hen Aphanapteryx bonasis. Ibis 148: 155-158.

Compagno, L. J. V., White, W. and Fowler, S. (SSG Australia & Oceania Regional Workshop, March 2003). (2003). Carcharhinus hemiodon. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2003: e.T39369A10185838. Downloaded on 16 August 2020.

Fredriksson, Gabriella M. (2005). Predation on sun bears by reticulated python in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 53(1): 165-168.

Georgiou, Aristos. (2020). Shark Not Seen for Over 100 Years Rediscovered in 'Land of the Lost'. Newsweek, 10 August, available at: [Accessed 16 August 2020]

Gerlach, Justin et al. (2006). The first substantiated case of trans-oceanic tortoise dispersal. Journal of Natural History 40(41-43): 2403-2408.

Goldman, Helle V. and Walsh, Martin. (2018). “The Zanzibar Leopard” on Animal Planet. Blogpost, available at: [Accessed 15 August 2020]

Hendrich, Lars, Manuel, Michael and Balke, Michael. (2019). The return of the Duke—locality data for Megadytes ducalis Sharp, 1882, the world's largest diving beetle, with notes on related species (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae). Zootaxa 4586(3): 517-535. [Abstract]

Jones, Menna. (2023). Introduction: The thylacine in Australian ecosystems, pp. xxv-xxviii. In: Holmes, Branden and Linnard, Gareth (eds.). Thylacine: The History, Ecology and Loss of the Tasmanian Tiger. Clayton South, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing. 240 pp.

Kitchener, A. C., Beaumont, M. A. and Richardson, D. (2006). Geographical variation in the clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, reveals two species instead of one. Current Biology 16(23): 2377-2383.

Kitchener, A. C., Breitenmoser-Wursten, Ch., Eizirik, E., Gentry, A., Werdelin, L., Wilting, A., Yamaguchi, N., Abramov, A. V., Christiansen, P., Driscoll, C., Duckworth, J. W., Johnson, W., Luo, S.-J., Meijaard, E., O, Meijaar, P., Sanderson, J., Seymour, K., Bruford, M., Groves, C., Hoffmann, M., Nowell, K., Timmons, Z. and Tobe, S. (2017). A revised taxonomy of the Felidae. The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Cat News Special Issue 11: 1-80.

Kyne, P.M., Jabado, R.W., Akhilesh, K.V., Bineesh, K.K., Booth, H., Dulvy, N.K., Ebert, D.A., Fernando, D., Khan, M., Tanna, A. & Finucci, B. (2021). Carcharhinus hemiodon. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T39369A115736695. Accessed on 30 July 2022.

Lhota, S., Loken, B., Spehar, S., Fell, E., Pospěch, A. and Kasyanto, N. (2012). Discovery of Miller's Grizzled Langur (Presbytis hosei canicrus) in Wehea Forest Confirms the Continued Existence and Extends Known Geographical Range of an Endangered Primate. American Journal of Primatology 74(3): 193-198.

Meads, Michael J. (1990). Forgotten fauna: the rare, endangered and protected invertebrates of New Zealand. DSIR Publishing: Wellington.

Miththapala, Sriyanie, Seidensticker, John and O'Brien, Stephen J. (1996). Phylogeographic Subspecies Recognition in Leopards (Panthera pardus): Molecular Genetic Variation. Conservation Biology 10(4): 1115-1132.

Nowak, R. M. (1995). Another look at wolf taxonomy, pp. 375-397. In: Carbyn, L. N., Fritts, S. H. and Seip, D. R. (eds.). Proceedings of the second North American symposium on wolves. Edmonton, Alberta: Canadian Circumpolar Institute, University of Alberta.

Patterson, Robert. (1973). Why Tortoises Float. Journal of Herpetology 7(4): 373-375. [First page]

Patton, A. H., Lawrance, M. F., Margres, M. J., Kozakiewicz, C. P., Hamede, R., Ruiz-Aravena, M., ... and Storfer, A. (2020). A transmissible cancer shifts from emergence to endemism in Tasmanian devils. Science 370(6522): eabb9772.

Pocock, Reginald I. (1932). The leopards of Africa. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London II 1932: 543-591.

Pollom, R., Bennett, R., Ebert, D.A., Gledhill, K., McCord, M.E. & Kyne, P.M. (2020). Paragaleus leucolomatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T161639A124519483. Downloaded on 15 August 2020.

Pollom, R., Da Silva, C., Ebert, D.A. & Fennessy, S. (2019). Scylliogaleus quecketti. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T39360A124406361. Downloaded on 16 August 2020.

Provost, Stephen H. (20 May, 2016). Animal Planet’s ‘Extinct or Alive’ TV special stars Coast Union grad. The Tribune (online), available from: [Accessed 15 August 2020]

Rabinowitz, Alan. (2005). Jaguars and livestock: living with the world’s third largest cat, pp. 278-285. In: Woodroffe, R., Thirgood, S. and Rabinowitz, A. (eds.). People and Wildlife, Conflict or Coexistence? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Rhodin, A. G. J., Gibbs, J. P., Cayot, L. J., Kiester, A. R. and Tapia, W. (2017). Chelonoidis phantasticus (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T170517A128969920. Downloaded on 16 August 2020.

Rivas, Jesús Antonio. (2000). The life history of the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus), with emphasis on its reproductive biology. PhD dissertation, The University of Tennessee.

Rossi, L., Scuzzarella, C. M. and Angelici, F. M. (2020). Extinct or Perhaps Surviving Relict Populations of Big Cats: Their Controversial Stories and Implications for Conservation, pp. 393-417. In: Angelici F., Rossi L. (eds.). Problematic Wildlife II. Cham: Springer.

Sankar, K. N. Murali. (2018). ‘Pondicherry shark’ spotted near Kakinada. The Hindu, 10 September, available at: [Accessed 16 August 2020]

Setiawan, A., Nugroho, T. S., Djuwantoko (mononym) and Pudyatmoko, S. (2009). A survey of Miller’s grizzled surili, Presbytis hosei canicrus, in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Primate Conservation 24: 139–143.

Smith, J. L. B. (1956). Old Fourlegs: The Story of the Coelacanth. Longmans Green.

Sun, Xin et al. (2023). A genomic exploration of the possible de-extirpation of the Zanzibar leopard. bioRxiv preprint.

Swingler, Helen. (2023, July 21). PhD graduand clocks vast distances on foot collecting 150 taxa, including 50 undescribed species. University of Cape Town (news story). Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2023]

Uphyrkina, O., Johnson, E. W., Quigley, H., Miquelle, D., Marker, L., Bush, M. and O'Brien, S. J. (2001). Phylogenetics, genome diversity and origin of modern leopard, Panthera pardus. Molecular Ecology 10(11): 2617-2633.

Van Denburgh, J. (1907). Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences to the Galapagos Islands, 1905-1906. I. Preliminary descriptions of four new races of gigantic land tortoises from the Galapagos Islands. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 1(4): 1-6.

Walsh, Martin T. and Goldman, Helle V. (2012). Chasing imaginary leopards: science, witchcraft and the politics of conservation in Zanzibar. Journal of Eastern African Studies 6(4): 727-746. [Abstract]

Weier, Andrew. (2019). Leopards Are Good to Think With: Spotting the Zanzibar Leopard in Jozani Forest. Unpublished paper.

Weinberg, Samantha. (2000). A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth. HarperCollins Publishers. 256 pp.

Wight, Andrew J. (2020). In the Bombast of an American TV Host, Colonial Science Lives On. Undark, 3 April, available at: [Accessed 16 August 2020]

Wild, Sarah. (5 November, 2019). Cape student rediscovers third “extinct” plant species – and expects to find more. Business Insider South Africa, available at: [Accessed 15 August 2020]

Woods, Gregory. (2023). Prologue, pp. xxii-xxiv. In: Holmes, Branden and Linnard, Gareth (eds.). Thylacine: The History, Ecology and Loss of the Tasmanian Tiger. Clayton South, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing. 240 pp.