10 Animals We Thought Were Extinct But Aren’t

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on June 07, 2013. Enjoy!

Earlier this month, scientists confirmed that the New Guinea highland wild dog, previously thought to be extinct, has survived in its natural habitat.

Photo and video evidence documents at least 15 of these primitive canines:

This is a remarkable find, but by no means the first. Numerous species have disappeared in the past, only to reappear when least expected.

1. Coelacanth

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the best known of all the formerly-extinct creatures, the objectively terrifying coelacanth – pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth — was presumed to go extinct 65 million years ago — that is, until a South African museum curator discovered a specimen on a fishing trawler in 1938.

Two known species of the fish exist: one that lives off the coast of the eastern coast of Africa, and one that lives off the coast of Indonesia. Coelacanths can live up to 2,300 feet below the water’s surface — and they’re pretty huge. These fish can grow up to six and a half feet and weigh almost 200 pounds. Some scientists even think coelacanths represent an evolutionary step between sea and land animals.

2. Gracilidris

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This nocturnal genus of ant was thought to have died out between 15 and 20 million years ago, and they were only discovered alive in 2006. A species of Gracilidris has been found in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where it lives in small underground colonies.

3. Giant Palouse Earthworm

giant palouse earthworm

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This albino macroinvertebrate can be found in eastern Washington state and part of Idaho, which is why it’s also called the Washington giant earthworm. Many thought it went extinct in the 1980s, but recently that’s been proven false.

Two specimens were recovered in 2010; prior to that, the most recent sighting was in 2005. Some reports claim that this worm can reach up to three feet in length, but the most commonly reported length is probably about a foot. Even so, that’s a long earthworm!

4. Terror Skink

One of the best common names in the animal kingdom, this rare reptile was thought to be extinct until 2003. And no wonder; it’s only found in the Isle of Pines. Before being photographed, filmed and released by specialists at the French National Museum of Natural History, the terror skink was only known by one specimen.

5. The Nelson

The name of this tiny shrew may be weirdly anthropomorphic, but for the past century or so it hasn’t been too keen on making itself known. This little mammal was discovered in 1894 — and wasn’t seen again for 109 years. That is, until two scientists decided to look for the shrews. These four-inch-long creatures were rediscovered on the slopes of the San MartĂ­n Tuxtla volcano in Mexico.

6. Arakan Forest Turtle

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Prior to its rediscovery in 1994, the Arakan forest turtle had last been seen in 1908. In a way, it’s not surprising the creature stayed hidden for so long. These turtles like to hide in forest floor debris in western Myanmar. But a couple of specimens eventually turned up in Asian food markets. Despite being critically endangered, the Arakan forest turtle is still traded by pet dealers.

7. Javan Elephant

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The story of how this comparatively small elephant avoided extinction is pretty cool. Scientists thought the Javan elephant disappeared not long after Europeans came to southeast Asia. However, it looks like a ceremonial elephant trade centuries ago saved the Javan elephant from the fate of the dodo.

Locals believed that the Sultan of Sulu — now part of the Philippines — transplanted elephants from Java to Borneo. In 2003, a study concluded that the Borneo pygmy elephant is genetically distinct from other Asian elephants and likely originated on Java. This seems to be one instance when wildlife trade may have actually saved a species from extinction.

8. Lord Howe Island Stick Insect

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This giant, terrifying insect is also called the tree lobster, meaning it wins for best common name in the animal kingdom — sorry, terror skink. And do they ever have a harrowing story of survival.

Tree lobsters used to be wildly common on Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales. But this all changed in the 1880s and the first two decades of the 1900s when mice and rats, respectively, were introduced to the island. By 1920 you couldn’t find a tree lobster if you tried, and by 1960 they were considered extinct.

However, you can’t keep a good insect down. There were rumors of a tree lobster population on the nearby island of Ball’s Pyramid. In 2001, a team of intrepid scientists decided to brave the cliffs to try to prove that the insect was, indeed, extinct. Instead, they found a population of 24 tree lobsters. It’s thought that they floated to the island as discarded bait, or were carried over by birds. No matter how they got there, these stick insects survived, and there are efforts underway to reintroduce them to their natural habitat.

9. Takahe

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The takahe is one of those flightless birds native to New Zealand. They were considered extinct in 1898 after four specimens were killed and mounted for museums. But never fear! In 1948 the takahe was rediscovered near Lake Te Anau. Even though the birds were once abundant, there are now only a few hundred in population.

10. Cuban Solenodon

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Oof, this solenodon is kind of an ugly creature. But don’t say that to its face; its saliva is venomous. I guess it might be just as well that we’ve only managed to catch 37 specimens since the animal’s discovery in 1861.

As you may guess from its name, this nocturnal burrowing animal is native to Cuba. By 1970, scientists thought this species was extinct since no individuals had been spotted in 80 years. That assumption was premature, however, because three specimens were captured between 1973 and 1974. The most recent find was in 2003 when a Cuban solenodon named Alejandrito was captured, studied and released back into the wild.

Photo Credit: Bernard Spragg/Flickr


Sarah H
Sarah Hill2 months ago

good news

Marija M
Marija M2 months ago


Joan E
Joan E3 months ago

Glad you're here. The world needs every one of you.

Toni W
Toni W3 months ago


Toni W
Toni W3 months ago


Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara3 months ago


Kelsey S
Kelsey S3 months ago


Kimberly Wallace
Kimberly Wallace3 months ago


Debra Tate
Debra Tate3 months ago

Very interesting, thanks!

One Heart i
One Heart inc3 months ago