As conservationists and little kids donating quarters at zoos know perfectly well, the world is trying it’s darnedest to make sure that many of the awesome animals we have today will be preserved for posterity. Could you imagine growing up and not knowing what an elephant was? Here’s a list of animals we can’t really believe people will grow up without.
10) Chinese Paddlefish
(Video of American Paddlefish feeding, the closest living relative of the Chinese Paddlefish)
The Chinese Paddlefish was a highly prized fish in the Yangtze River in China, and noted for good meat and being a fighter. The fishermen in the crowd are scoffing and thinking of their own biggest catch. The difference with the paddlefish is that they regularly grew up to 20 feet long with a giant jaw that could rival Jay Leno’s. Unfortunately, they were just too much of a gamefish and a total prize. Because a 15-foot long fish with a giant jaw known for putting up a fight is not an easy catch, Chinese fishermen had to really get creative with their tactics, which in turn made getting to them fun. They were hunted so much that they are now listed as possibly extinct, as no mature specimens have been found since 2003 and no juveniles since 1995, which indicates that even if one were to be found, breeding and reintroduction would be virtually impossible.
9) Zanzibar Leopard
Little is known about the Zanzibar Leopard other than it scared the bejeezus out of locals. They drew up legends about witches training the leopards to do their bidding and terrorize the people. The lone taxidermied specimen is a faded one in the Zanzibar Museum, where they set it up to look as terrorizing as possible. Despite being a pretty neat-looking cat that mostly minded its own business, it was intensely hunted by locals. No researcher has seen one since the 80’s, though confirmable sightings were reported until 1996. After that, there have been no confirmed sightings. Why the locals spent all their time hunting the leopards instead of the witches who were apparently training the big cats also remains unconfirmed.
All we can really tell you about the Quagga is that nobody was really totally sure what it was, and we still sort of don’t. It looked like a zebra, and was basically what people over in Africa used instead of typical horses or oxen. That is, until they were hunted to extinction in the late 1800’s. Their hides and meat were valuable, and the Quagga was sort of forgettable because this was Africa and there were tons of other cool animals running around. Including, you know, actual zebras.
But when scientists later discovered how similar to the plains zebra the Quagga was (this is post-extinction, here), attempts were made to breed them back into existence. They’ve been able to extract quality DNA from preserved Quagga specimens, but when this first happened, there wasn’t a way to, you know, clone things. And now that we can, a browner version of a zebra isn’t exactly high on the scientific to-do list.
7) Mexican Grizzly Bear
Bears are typically pretty common sightings all across the wildernesses of North America, and most people would probably picture some snowy mountain or forest landscape to go along with it. Well, it’s important to remember that Mexico is a part of North America too, and had its own bears as well.
The Mexican Grizzly Bear was a brown bear (with an occasional bit of silver to their coats) that was indigenous to Mexico (thus the name). They weighed around 800 lbs. and were the largest animals in Northern Mexico. They weren’t particularly dangerous, primarily foraging for food, and only occasionally taking something out of livestock, but Mexican farmers freaked out about them enough to the point where they started serious hunting, and the last one was seen in 1964, and they are presumed extinct. So yeah, Mexico had some of the coolest and gentlest bears in the world, but now they’re gone. At least they sort of survived the Teddy Roosevelt era.
6) Great Auk
The world can always use more penguins. They’re just such great animals. They’re fun, they sing, they sled down snowbanks, and Morgan Freeman voiced a documentary about them. People love penguins, it’s pretty much fact.
So how could we ever lose the Great Auk? It was basically the Northern Hemisphere’s penguin up until about the mid-19th century, and it could’ve kicked the crap out of those lame Southern Hemisphere penguins. The Great Auk could grow up to almost a meter tall, and were found all over cold and northern areas, and were commonly around Newfoundland. The problem was that a lot of them were essentially slaughtered for things like food, their fat, and their feathers. This is acceptable when you need to hunt to survive of course, but that wasn’t what totally got the Auk. People decided they wanted the big penguin-looking birds as trophies, and the last two known Great Auks were hunted down to be used as stuffed animals for a private collector.
5) Three Different Species of Rhinoceros
(Pictured: Javan Rhinoceros and calf)
The West African Black Rhinoceros is just one subspecies of rhinoceros, noted for a particularly large and sharp horn. Huge in size, they were very sensitive to danger and had a habit of charging blindly toward it. Rhinos can be particularly crazy when provoked, so despite them not being meat-eaters, it’s not like they had much in the way of natural enemies. Instead, people decided they really liked that horn (like it had healing properties or something), and poached the rhinos in terrible ways. So even though it’s not going to kill a rhino to take its ivory (unlike elephants), since rhinos tend to freak out at things, poachers resorted to sneaking around wildlife preserve borders and using sneak tactics to get their horns. And by sneak tactics, we mean sniping from helicopters and then going in to pick them up.
Additionally, the Northern White rhinoceros and the Javan rhinoceros are now listed as “possibly extinct” and “probably extinct,” respectively, for pretty much the exact same reasons as the West African Black. Rhinos should be the current poster child for the WWF, not Pandas.
4) Javan Tigers
This wouldn’t really be much of an extinct species list if we didn’t include a tiger in here. It’s pretty common knowledge that tigers as a whole are like the poster children for endangered species. But the Javan Tiger, formerly classified as a subspecies of tiger, was determined to be its own species.
The island of Java in Indonesia isn’t doing too well at this whole conservation thing, what with their rhino also dying out, and the Javan Tiger was no pansy. Living among a people who were terrified of tigers (but not the rhinos, apparently), they were hunted regularly and their habitats were destroyed. We may never fully understand what gives people the ability to kill something that could eat you in minutes, and appeasement sounds like a much better route to take.
With none positively recorded since 1987, the Javan tigers were declared officially extinct in 2003 and re-taxonomied as their own separate species in 2006. But they’ll still always be bright and beautiful tigers to us, no matter what they say.
3) Falkland Islands Wolf
It’d probably be a good idea to start here by pointing out where the Falkland Islands are. If you’re looking at a map of South America, start near the top and go south until you stop recognizing countries. If you hit Antarctica, you’ve gone too far.
The Falkland Islands are almost as south as South America gets. So given that things like seals are near the top of the food chain in Antarctica, the Falkland Island Wolf basically fit the mold of what the South Pole’s idea of what a predator should be. Even Charles Darwin noted how odd it was, and commented on their surprisingly tame nature. The cool thing about this species is that nobody’s totally sure how they ended up there. The Falklands are quite a ways from the nearest islands, and they’re the only mammals found there, meaning they had no real source of prey or anything. So to recap, we have super-furry and cold-resistant wolves that are already half-domesticated and don’t require hunting as part of their lifestyle, and we let them go extinct in the late 1800’s. What finally did them in? Lack of food? The cold? Nope. Sheep farmers.
2) Guadalupe Caracara
The Guadalupe Caracara was a bird of prey native to Mexico, which you’d think would naturally make it a pretty awesome predator. It was quick, sneaky, and strong, and it’s got an extinction story that could only have come from a place as wild as Mexico. Being a big-deal predator, it needed some big-deal prey, and would occasionally feed on goats.
A lot of goat herders and farmers weren’t particularly big fans of this, so they started hunting the Caracaras and even asking for government assistance in getting rid of them. But what the goat farmers didn’t know was that they Caracaras were already going down in number dramatically, and it was their own fault. There had been a huge problem in the areas where the Caracaras were living with runaway goats going feral and destroying the Caracaras’ homes. So while the goat herders definitely contributed, the main reason for the Caracaras’ extinction was really a dose of vigilante goat justice.
The Thylacine, more commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger, was a carnivorous marsupial about the size of a Doberman, with all the scariness of one. It had crushing jaw power (it could open its mouth to almost a 90 degree angle), was a quick, solitary hunter, and good with camouflage. For years, it was at the top of the Aussie and Tasmanian food chains.
However, this was a creature that freaked out even the Australians, so they put a bounty on their heads, and the last one died in the Hobart Zoo in the 1930’s. But it took more than hunting to do it in. Other factors included introduction of the dingo into the Australian mainland, driving it off onto only Tasmania (competition for similar foods went up) and deforestation.
But if you want this guy to come back, it may happen someday, as some scientists think there’s a possibility of restructuring DNA fragments from a preserved baby thylacine, and there are tons of conspiracy theorists that think it’s still hiding out there in Tasmania.