Today’s Solutions: April 18, 2024

While animals and plants have always come and gone, we have seen a huge increase in the number of vertebrate animals that have disappeared since the 16th century—almost all because of human-related changes such as loss of habitat or over-hunting. Now with climate change, more species than ever face the threat of extinction. With that said, there have been numerous notable conservation stories over the years featuring animals that were thought to be extinct coming “back from the dead.” Let’s check out 5 fascinating examples.

Elephant shrew: As featured in the Optimist Daily weeks ago, the Somali sengi aka the elephant shrew was discovered by scientists after having been lost to science for 50 years. With their trunk-like nose and mouse-sized body, the Somali sengi is truly a curious creature.

Terror skink: French botanist Benjamin Balansa discovered the lizard while visiting the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. At around 50cm (20 inches) in length, it probably wasn’t too hard to spot. Yet, the terror skink – the ‘terror’ part of the name refers to its mouthful of rapacious teeth – was never seen again until 2003. Since then, scientists have been working hard to understand more about them.

Cuban solenodon: A rare example of a venomous mammal, the Cuban solenodon was missing for quite some time. Although never technically extinct, its numbers are so low and sightings are so rare, that it has often been thought to be. The Cuban solenodon’s forebears were around at the same time as dinosaurs: it is “a ‘living fossil’ that hasn’t changed much in millions of years,” according to the publication Scientific American. Its bite can kill yet it lacks the strength and dexterity to defend itself or flee from danger, making it an easy target for predators. All in all, this creature doesn’t look all too different from the tiny elephant shrew.

Bermuda petrel: The Cahow, or Bermuda petrel, was last seen on Nonsuch Island in 1620. But here in 2020, you can watch webcam footage of them. A small number of the birds were spotted nesting in the east of Bermuda in the 1950s, and the population has since been resurrected. 

Australian night parrot: From 1912 to 1990, the elusive Australian night parrot was not seen. When it finally was discovered in 1990, the parrot was dead. It would be another 23 years before a living example was spotted by a researcher. The precise location of that sighting was kept secret to protect the birds, whose populations are now closely monitored and who live in vast wildlife sanctuaries.

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