Several extinct species have been recently rediscovered and many people are wondering why this is happening. In less than a two-week period, between February 21st and March 4th of this year, three species were rediscovered – the Fernandina Island Galápagos tortoise (which was last spotted in 1906), the Wallace’s giant bee (which was said to have disappeared in 1980), and the Formosan clouded leopard (which was last seen in 1983 and declared extinct in 2013).
Although it’s great news that these species have been rediscovered, the question still remains: why are these supposedly “extinct” animals suddenly reappearing? Were they even extinct in the first place? According to the IUCN Red List, a species is only listed as extinct when “…there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died.” It’s also required that “…exhaustive surveys in known and/or expected habitat, at appropriate times… throughout its historic range [which] have failed to record an individual. Surveys should be over a time frame appropriate to the taxon’s life cycle and life form.”
The last time that people see a certain species is often calculated in the decision on whether it is in fact extinct or not, and that’s not entirely correct, as many species are very elusive and prefer to stay away from populated areas and people in general. So, just because they haven’t been seen in several years, doesn’t mean that they are extinct. Sightings can come in many forms, from actually seeing the species face-to-face, or capturing a picture of it, to more indirect evidence like footprints or people retelling stories of their encounters.
What’s even more confusing is the fact that the word “rediscovered” means that someone or something was lost or forgotten about, but we also interpret it as returning from the dead. As for the Fernandina Island Galápagos tortoise, although it hadn’t been spotted since the early 1900s, footprints, bite marks on pear cacti, and tortoise faeces had been discovered as recently as 2013. In 2015, it was declared “Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct), and apparently species are presumed extinct until it is proven that they are still living.
And while Wallace’s giant bee hadn’t been seen in 38 years, it was listed as “Data Deficient” and more recently as “Vulnerable”, but never as an extinct species. One of the species, however, that was listed as Extinct was the Formosan clouded leopard, as many hunters said they hadn’t seen the animal and no footage was ever captured from the several cameras in the area.
The giant tortoise and bee were declared alive after living specimens were discovered, but the clouded leopard’s existence is still uncertain as there have only been eyewitness testimonies so far and no solid proof.
I believe it’s only a matter of time before several more “extinct” species are suddenly “rediscovered”. Since pretty much everyone nowadays has a cell phone with video/photo options, and many others fly drones in wooded areas, it’s very possible that more eyewitnesses will come forward with video and/or photographic proof. And maybe not, since some species just want to be left alone in their secret locations, safely hidden away from humans.