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10 July 2010 / Liz Johns

Extinct? No, We’re Still Here – You Just Didn’t Look Hard Enough

Species come and species go, but sometimes when we think they’re gone for good and extinct from the world, they surprise us by reappearing – and most often in the same place we last saw them. These are the ‘refound’ species. Actually, that is the technically correct name, in biodiversity circles, for species that are reported extinct but subsequently rediscovered. Here are some of my favourite finds.

Fossil remains of the Chacoan peccary (a pig-like mammal) were found in 1930 and when no living peccaries were found, they were assumed extinct. Then one solitary Chacoan peccary was found in the Chaco region of central South America in 1975. This prompted further research and around 3000 were found living in the region. Unfortunately their habitat (forest) is often cleared for agriculture and they are illegally hunted for meat.

In 2004, the Nelson’s small-eared shrew was refound in a small area of forest in southern Mexico. Well, to be more precise, three shrew were seen. That’s all. But I guess if there are three, there’s hope for more. Prior to that, the last time anyone saw these shrew was 109 years ago when Edward Nelson first discovered them.

I have to include the Cuban Solenodon in this list, mostly because of its exceptional appearance. Nature’s genetic engineering at its most creative. They were deemed extinct in 1970 – none had been sighted since 1890 -but subsequent surveys have discovered them living at the eastern end of Cuba. They’re rarely seen and hard to catch as they are nocturnal burrowers, but one was caught in 2003 and kept for two days scientific study before being released. They called him Alejandrito.

And how about the Monito del Monte (a.k.a. the monkey of the mountain), a tiny marsupial believed to have been extinct for 11 million years with only fossil remains to tell us of its existence, until it was rediscovered in Chile. I don’t know what year this was, if anyone knows, let me know.

But what’s 11 million years of missing existence compared to the 65 million years of the coelacanth. Rediscovered in 1938, these fish are probably the closest link between fish and amphibians. They live mainly in the depths of the West Indian ocean, but since 1938, six countries have reported the presence of the coelacanth. It’s my bet they’ll be around for another 11 million years.

That’s not all, there are many more refound species: the terror skink, the woolly flying squirrel, Javan elephants, mountain pygmy possums, and the list, although not endless, goes on. Let’s hope more and more of these tremendous species are rediscovered on our fragile world and let’s try not to relose them again.


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2 Comments

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  1. featheredfiends / Jul 11 2010 11:30 pm

    Yet another great article. I especially like the Cuban Solenodon – never heard of it but it’s cute!

    Like

    • Liz Johns / Jul 12 2010 12:04 am

      Thanks featheredfiends. I’d never heard of a Cuban Solenodon either until 2 days ago. Good ol’ Internet.

      Like

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