Hope for extinct species still living: But don’t get too excited

There may be many more “extinct” mammals waiting to be rediscovered than conservation biologists previously thought.

A Third of ‘Extinct’ Mammals May Still Be Alive.

In order to determine how often extinct species had been rediscovered, University of Queensland scientists Diana Fisher and Simon Blomberg created a dataset of 187 mammal species that have been reported extinct, extinct in the wild, or probably extinct since 1500, as well as those which have been rediscovered. They also looked at historical data on the threats that caused species to become extinct — or brought them close to it — including habitat loss, introduced species and overkill by humans.

It turns out that rumors of the extinction of more than a third of these species have turned out to be premature, the scientists report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B Sept. 29. At least 67 species — a little more than a third of those presumed to be extinct — were later found again. And in most cases, these were animals that had been hardest hit by habitat loss.

As an example, Fisher cites the Malabar civet, which was thought to be extinct due to habitat loss in 1929 but survived in marginal areas at least until 1987 when it was last seen on a cashew plantation. Unfortunately, that animal was killed by villagers, and no more have been seen since.

The team found species that were relatively sparsely distributed over a larger range were more likely to turn up again. But mammals of any particular evolutionary group or body size weren’t more likely to be rediscovered.


Tip: io9

The study also found that if humans and invasive species were the culprits in their demise, they are probably really gone. But, if extinction was chalked up to habitat loss, then a few individuals may be restricted to a very small area.

A few observations on this study. First, if it’s valid then that tells us we may find a few individuals remaining. That does NOT mean they will survive because you need to have a certain number to ensure genetic diversity to survive.

Thylacine/Tasmanian Tiger. Extinct.

This really means little in the realms of cryptozoology where some people investigate reported sightings of extinct creatures. Humans put out of business the interesting species like the moa and thylacine (pictured here). So, it’s unlikely they survive after all this time. (But, not impossible.) Regardless, this says NOTHING about the possibility of Bigfoot or relic hominids. As the time span gets longer, the odds of survival get ridiculously small. Essentially, biologically zero.

But it does bode better for species like the ivory-billed woodpecker.

We shall see. But, try not to get your hopes up. If a species is too rare to be regularly found, it probably won’t limp along for much longer. Extinction is both natural and man-assisted. Sad but true. All species will die out. Eventually.

Note, I don’t have access to the main journal publication cited but Brian Switek is a good source for interpretation. It is a small study though. Not sure what real world extrapolation it really has. Again, don’t read too much into it.

  3 comments for “Hope for extinct species still living: But don’t get too excited

  1. Massachusetts
    July 29, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    So, not much hope for a mammoth, I assume?

  2. Massachusetts
    July 29, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    And yes, didn’t Willem Defoe kill the last Thylacine? And he always seemed so open-minded.

  3. July 30, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    I didn’t know you had covered this.

    As I noted on twitter, I do think it is relevant.

    A, because the study specifically notes that too much emphasis with too little result has been put on large charismatic animals

    B, Not only does searching eventually lead to diminishing returns to likely there being nothing to find, because there is nothing to find, one can keep on searching for large charismatic animals forever, because there will be an interest, but no definitive “look, it’s not there” evidence. While the examples they use in the article include the thylacine, clearly the relevance to cryptids is obvious, is it not?

    C, The rediscovery of extinct species is major propaganda for cryptozoologists because, well, that’s all they have. Look at how they’re still hawking the Coelacanth 74 years later. It is still their icon, not other unknown animals that have been discovered more recently (they hawk them too, but most are fairly mundane, especially on land). Because at the end of the day, the major cryptids (Loch Ness, the Yeti/Bigfoot, mokelembembe, sea serpents in general, pterodactlys in Indonesia/Texas, and so on) are tied to the idea of extinct creatures surviving to the present, likely because of the traditional view of extinct creatures as more fabulous and monstrous.

    You can say it has little to do with Bigfoot etc., but in the public eye, the two concepts are intimately tied together, are they not?

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