10 Animals That Have Been Declared Extinct in the Last Decade

animals-that-have-been-declared-extinct-in-the-past-10-years (Image: Joseph Wolf; the extinct Formosan clouded leopard)

When it comes to the damage being inflicted upon our planet, modern civilization has a lot to answer for. Alongside natural events that have played out over thousands of years, habitat destruction, poaching, over-hunting, pollution and many other factors have all played their part in rendering countless vulnerable species extinct. This article examines a small number of creatures that have, alarmingly, been declared extinct in the last decade.

Formosan Clouded Leopard

the-extinct-formosan-clouded-leopard (Image: SSR2000)

The Formosan clouded leopard was a species of clouded leopard once native to Taiwan. But years of poaching took its toll on the beautiful cat, which was prized for its pelt. In the last few decades, the big cat has also seen a major loss of its natural habitat and the large scale destruction of its prey. It was finally declared extinct in 2013.

The declaration came at the end of a 13-year-long attempt to find any remaining Formosan clouded leopards that might still have been prowling the Taiwanese forests. Even as the formal declaration came from the heartbreaking end results of the study, Taiwan was forced to re-evaluate the status of the cat they still listed as protected.

In 2014, however, Scientific American reported that there was still hope on the horizon. Taiwan’s ecology has improved significantly in recent years, and scientists suggested that a similar species of clouded leopard could be introduced into the national forests, which now had the oats to support them.

Alaotra Grebe

the-extinct-alaotra-grebe (Image: L. Shyamal)

This small brown-and-cinnamon grebe was native to a particular lake in Madagascar, from which it took its name. Restricted to living in and around its lake for its entire life – in part because of its small wings that made long-distance flight impossible – the Alaotra grebe was last seen in the early 1980s. It was confirmed extinct in 2010, the first bird extinction in two years.

The grebe was killed off by a combination of factors, including the use of fishing nets to cover the expanse of Lake Alaotra. By the time fishermen set up on the lake shores, grebe numbers had already been significantly impacted by poaching and the introduction of several species of carnivorous fish. The Alaotra grebe is one of the most recent in a long list of avian casualties, with the BBC estimating that of some 10,000 known species of birds, around 190 of them have been declared extinct since modern records began.

Pinta Tortoise

with-the-death-of-lonesome-george-the-pinta-tortoise-became-extinct (Image: Vince Smith)

His name was – appropriately – Lonesome George, and he died early in the morning on Sunday, June 24, 2012 at his home Galapagos National Park. Estimated to be over 100-years-old, he was thought to be the last remaining Pinta tortoise in the world. George’s death was discovered by the man who had been his keeper for four decades.

The first blows to the species were struck in the 1800s, when they were extremely over-hunted by everyone from explorers to whalers and traders. By the time Lonesome George was first spotted by conservationists in 1972, the Pinta tortoise had already been declared extinct once. George was taken to the Tortoise Center in Santa Cruz, in the hope of protecting him long enough to find a female breeding partner and continue the species. Several were found, but any offspring remained elusive.

There may, however, still be hope for the species, as hybrid tortoises have been discovered on another of the Galapagos Islands. Scientists hope that pure members of the Pinta tortoise species may yet be found. If so, Lonesome George could prove not to have been the last of his kind after all.

Spotted Green Pigeon (Liverpool Pigeon)

the-extinct-spotted-green-pigeon-aka-the-liverpool-pigeon-at-the-world-museum (Image: Clemency Fisher)

Only a single (stuffed) specimen survives of the so-called Liverpool pigeon, and what exactly the odd-shaped, oddly-coloured pigeon’s story is, we’re not entirely sure. It was declared extinct by the IUCN Red List in 2008, although it is unknown as to when the last individual actually died. In spite of its name, the bird was likely native to an island in the South Pacific or in the Indian Ocean, and its species may have become endangered with the first arrival of the Europeans.

First described in 1783, illustrations of the spotted green pigeon pop up in various ornithological books which nevertheless lack provenance. Other taxidermied specimens are mentioned in various texts, but have disappeared save a single bird kept at the World Museum, Liverpool. For decades, it was debated whether the bird was a separate species or an aberration of another type of pigeon. Finally, however, the bird was recognized as its own species – related to the dodo – and declared extinct.

Christmas Island Pipistrelle

According to the IUCN Red List, Australia’s tiny microbat is officially categorised as Critically Endangered rather than extinct. Their report, though, makes it clear that it likely is extinct, which is how Australian officials declared the tiny mammal in 2009.

Scientists had been aware of the declining micobat population for around two decades, but red tape prevented the Christmas Island pipistrelle from garnering the protection it sorely needed. The last sighting of the pipistrelle marked the first extinction in Australia in around 60 years. Populations – or lack thereof – could be confirmed with the use of ultrasonic bat detectors since the Christmas Island pipistrelle was the island’s only microbat inhabitant. Unfortunately, the night is silent.

No one is entirely sure what caused the drastic shift in its population, which had once thrived on Christmas Island. Females lived in colonies across the island that consisted of as many as 50 individuals and their young. It’s thought that hey likely fell victim to insecticide spraying and disease spread through a skyrocketing Yellow Crazy Ant population.

Japanese River Otter

the-extinct-japanese-river-otter (Image: Hiroshi Kibe)

The Japanese river otter is the official animal symbol of the Ehime Prefecture. But in 2012, the animal was officially declared extinct following three decades with no sightings. Searches have been conducted, but to no avail.

There were once millions of the otter subspecies living in Japan’s rivers, but the last known sighting – and photo – of the carnivorous mammal dates back to 1979. The large Japanese river otter was highly prized for its fur. As a result, the animal was subjected to massive over-hunting. As the country’s lakes and rivers grew ever more developed, the struggling species was put under increasing pressure.

Scientific American reports that September 19 is still celebrated as the “Otter’s ceremony anniversary”, in remembrance of the poet Masaoka Shiki. He identified with the Japanese river otter and often referred to it in his poetry. But today, it’s understood that there are no public domain photos of the animal in existence.

Malagasy Hippopotamus

skeleton-of-the-extinct-malagasy-hippopotamus (Image: Osborn)

The island paradise of Madagascar was once home to several species of hippopotamus, but as of 2014 they have all been officially declared extinct. The details of the island’s hippopotamus population is sketchy at best, but it has been accepted that there were three different species; they were each declared extinct in 2002, 2008, and 2014.

Evidence of the creatures span fossil record to folklore, and scientists have been able to piece together the barest of narratives. Remains suggest that Malagasy hippopotamus’ suffered their biggest setbacks with the arrival of humans, and countless bones have shown evidence that they were slaughtered wholesale for food.

Strangely, even though no bones have been found for around 1,000 years, tales of hippo sighting emerged so frequently in oral tradition that scientists suspect that at least some survived into more recent times. But after co-existing with humans for as much as 2,000 years, the Malagasy hippopotamus is undoubtedly extinct.

Eastern Cougar

the-extinct-eastern-cougar-aka-eastern-mountain-lion (Image: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

The status of the Eastern cougar remains hotly debated, but in 2015, the big cats were officially removed from the list of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act, and declared extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The amount of time they have been extinct for, however, is where the debate begins. Some argue that Eastern cougars aren’t gone at all. Their impressive ability to camouflage themselves based on their location – giving rise to their nickname of “ghost cat” – has made them notoriously difficult to track. Officials suspected the eastern species of mountain lion was extinct as far back as the 1800s, but rashes of sightings kept them on the endangered species list for decades.

Investigations into the many contemporary sightings have determined that most were either misidentified creatures or outright hoaxes. With a lack of evidence to the contrary, the Eastern mountain lion was finally put to rest in 2015.

West African Black Rhinoceros

the-skull-of-the-extinct-west-african-black-rhinoceros (Image: Senckenberg Museum)

Scientific American reports that at the beginning of the 20th century, around a million black rhinos roamed across Africa. Between 1960 and 1995, about 98 percent of them had been killed. And in 2011, the western black rhinoceros was also declared extinct.

Most of the rhinos were killed by poachers in an industry first fueled by Mao Zedong’s promotion of traditional Chinese medicine. Rhino horn was a common component. What’s especially unfortunate is the fact that, as Scientific American notes, Zedong didn’t even believe in TCM, but he did believe in China’s superiority over Western culture – which included Western medicine.

By 1997, it was estimated that only 10 western black rhinos remained. Scattered reports of sighting of other individuals persisted into the 21st century, but those final 10 were the last confirmed survivors. Of those, four lived in close proximity to one another. The other six are understood to have died alone.

The Baiji (Yangtze River Dolphin)

illustration-of-the-extinct-yangtze-river-dolphin-aka-the-baiji (Image: Alessio Marrucci)

Scientists announced the extinction of a 20-million-year-old species of river dolphin in 2006, suggesting that it was likely the first in a wave of extinctions.

The Yangtze River in China was the dolphin’s only habitat. But the virtually-blind marine mammal was likely driven extinct by a combination of factors that included pollution, the building of dams, and an increase in river traffic that interfered with the dolphin’s sonar (and, therefore, their ability to find food). The baiji’s disappearance leaves only five freshwater dolphin species (with four found only in Asia). All of them are endangered.

The last official sighting of the delicate Yangtze River dolphin – once called “the goddess of the Yangtze” – was in 1994. Other rumoured sightings, however, date to as recently as 2004. But it wasn’t until 2006 that a team of 30 scientists searched every one of the river’s 2,175 miles for any traces of the rare baiji. Sadly, there were none, and the freshwater dolphin is now considered to be functionally extinct.

Related: 10 Travel Destinations from the World of Dinosaurs & Extinct Prehistoric Creatures


About the author: Debra Kelly




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