Back From the Dead: Three Extinct Species That are Actually Still Alive

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-10 23:15

It's not every day that members of an extinct species suddenly turn up. When it does happen, however, it's a field day for biologists, botanists, and anyone interested in the topic.

Numerous species on Earth have gone extinct for numerous reasons. Most of them don't really come back from the dead (or from the IUCN's red list of extinct animals, in this case). However, there are some who are just so elusive that they simply seemed to have died out. Here are three supposedly extinct species that came back from the “dead” to surprise us.

Javan Elephant

A group of Borneo pygmy elephants. Or are they actually Javan elephants?
[Photo by Sebastian Kennerknecht/Minden Pictures/FLPA]

It's like the Javan elephant faked its own death, fled the country, and changed its name.

The Borneo pygmy elephant, a species that resides in the northeastern part of the island of Borneo, has long puzzled scientists. They don't look like Asian elephants, and they don't behave like Asian elephants either. They never spread throughout Borneo, and instead stayed in their tiny area on the island.

Locals on Borneo have long believed that the pygmy elephants are descendants of the supposedly extinct Javan elephant. The locals say that hundreds of years ago, the Sultan of Sulu shipped elephants from Java to Borneo as a gift to the local ruler. A WWF study confirmed this local legend.

Thus, the Sultan of Sulu may have inadvertently saved the Javan elephant. Scientists thought that the Javan elephant went extinct shortly after the European colonization of Southeast Asia. It turns out that this extinct species is actually still around, just under a different name.

Terror Skink

The terror skinkisn't extinct, it just found a really good hiding place.
[Photo by Stephan Caut, et al (2013)]

People thought that the terror skink has been extinct probably since 1876. Upon the collection of just one specimen in 1872, and no more after, there was reason to think that the species had died out.

Maybe terror skinks are just good at hiding. In 2003, Ivan Ineich from the Muséum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris found a terror skink on a small islet in New Caledonia. This islet is uninhabited, which may explain why no one has seen this supposedly extinct species in over a century. Subsequent searches came up with evidence of eight more individuals.

However, we still don't know much about the terror skink. For now, available data indicates that there aren't many terror skinks left. This may indicate that though terror skinks aren't actually extinct yet, they're skating pretty close to dying out.

Australian Night Parrot

There's still a lot we need to find out about the night parrot.
[Photo by Bruce Greatwich]

Much like another unfortunate Australian species, the Tasmanian tiger, the night parrot became the stuff of legends and unconfirmed sightings. Unlike the Tasmanian tiger, whose chances of still being alive are mathematically extremely low, the night parrot is indeed still alive.

The night parrot was last seen in 1912. 78 years later, in 1990, ornithologists came upon a dead night parrot by the road. Since then, there have been numerous reports of night parrot sightings. In 2008, two biologists published a paper on their 2005 discovery of live parrots. In 2013, naturalist John Young was able to record a live night parrot. Just this March, news broke that a group of scientists were able to capture clear photos of night parrots.

Like the terror skink, we don't know much yet about the night parrot. We don't know how many are left, how long they live, what they eat, what they look like as juveniles. We just know that it probably doesn't belong on the list of extinct species. Scientists are planning on employing different surveying methods to learn more about the species and figure out a way to save them from really going extinct.

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