lost species split image

Today (20 May 2022) is Endangered Species Day, which aims to draw attention to the animals that are close to being lost forever. 

Many unique and wonderful species have met this grim, irrevocable fate throughout the ages, including the Dodo (in the 17th century) the Tasmanian Tiger (in 1936) and the West African Black Rhinoceros (in 2011).

The relatively recent cases of extinction are largely, if not exclusively, due to human activity. Causes of extinction include; pollution, deforestation, disease, hunting and poaching.

Despite the sad fact that many species are now gone for good, all is not lost.

Organizations like Re:wild, who hold the record for the most "lost species" sought by a conservation project, are working towards the rediscovery of animals, plants and fungi lost to science and to ultimately assist in their conservation if they still exist. 

Since 2017, eight of these "most wanted" lost species have been rediscovered. Here are those species that were once thought lost forever.

1. Wallace's Giant Bee

Scientific name: Megachile Pluto

In 2019, the Wallace's Giant Bee, aka the world's largest species of bee, was spotted for the first time in almost forty years. 

The discovery was made by US and Australian scientists who were searching for the insect on the remote North Moluccas archipelago in north-east Indonesia.

Female Wallace’s Giant Bees can grow to 4.5 cm (1.7 in) long with a wing span of 6 cm (2.3 in), while the males are much smaller.

It was first scientifically documented in 1858 on the Moluccan island of Bacan by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, hence their name. 

The rediscovery of this species was a monumental moment and hopefully will be the catalyst to preserving this record-breaking creature. 

“The reality is that the unscrupulous collectors already know that the bee is out there,” said Robin Moore of Global Wildlife Conservation, which funded the research trip.

"By making the bee a world-famous flagship for conservation, we’re confident that the species has a brighter future than if we just let it quietly be collected into oblivion."

jacksons salamander

2. Jackson’s Climbing Salamander

Scientific name: Bolitoglossa 

The Jackson’s Climbing Salamander, aka the "golden wonder", was rediscovered in 2017, the first of Re:wild’s top 25 most wanted lost species to be found.

A park guard at the Yal Unin Yul Witz Reserve in Guatemala spotted the salamander during his lunch break. This followed an education drive for the park rangers provided by FUNDAECO (Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation) to help recognize these elusive animals.

The Jackson’s Climbing Salamander was seen on the edge of the reserve’s border, leading to an expansion. The park is also home to the Finca Chiblac Salamander and Long-limbed Salamander, both rediscovered themselves in 2014.

Despite being seen for the first time in 42 years, the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander is still critically endangered.

Silver backed chevrotain credit

3. Silver-backed Chevrotain

Scientific name: Tragulus Versicolor

This adorable mammal, also known as the deer-mouse, is roughly the size of a rabbit. It was rediscovered in 2019 after 28 years lost in the Annamese Mountains, a mountain range in eastern Indochina, running through Laos, Vietnam and a small section of Cambodia. 

Since then, two more small populations of the species have been seen. 

The field team, made up of Re:wild, GreenViet, Southern Institute of Ecology and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, are currently studying the distribution of and threats to the species.

Somali sengi

4. Somali Sengi

Scientific name: Elephantulus Revoilii

This small mammal was rediscovered in Djibouti in 2020, after 51 years lost. The species was last documented in 1968 in Somalia. 

A team of scientists including Steven Heritage, the late Galen Rathbun, and Houssein Rayaleh set up 1,259 live traps at 12 locations to try and observe the elusive mammal.

The trip was a success and led to seeing 12 Somali Sengis and capturing the first ever images and video of the animal alive. 

Despite the similarities between these animals and shrews, they are actually more closely related to elephants!

Fernandina giant tortoise

5. Fernandina Galápagos Tortoise

Scientific name: Chelonoidis Phantasticus

In 2021, a genetic match was found between a species of tortoise discovered in 1906 and a tortoise found in 2019. It is the only two instances of this type of tortoise being documented, 113 years apart.

The discovery of the female tortoise in 2019 was due to an expedition to Fernandina Island in the Galápagos Islands. The trip was led by the Galápagos National Park Directorate and Galapagos Conservancy and supported by Discovery’s Animal Planet.

It is not yet know if there are other Fernandina Galapagos Tortoises in existence, and the species has a critically endangered red list status.

A leonensis crab

6. Sierra Leone Crab

Scientific name: Afrithelphusa Leonensis

This small, colourful crab had not been sighted since 1955. In eary 2021, a search was led by Pierre A. Mvogo Ndongo, one of only three experts in the world who can identify this rare creature.

Right at the end of the expedition, Mvogo Ndongo gave finding the reclusive West African freshwater crab a ninth and final go.

With the help of the local community who aided in the search, he found six specimens of the Sierra Leone crab.

"When I found the Sierra Leone crab, I was very very happy. This was after almost three weeks of searching for lost species. This trip was very difficult. You have to be psychologically strong. But I was very determined." - Mvogo Ndongo

During the search, Mvogo Ndongo also found the Afzelius’s crab, which had not had a recorded sighting in 225 years, and two new species of freshwater crabs.

These unique crabs’ homes take the form of burrows in the ground, far from any permanent water sources. They also have specially adapted lung-type structures so they can breathe air.

Furcifer voeltzkow chameleon

7. Voeltzkow’s Chameleon

Scientific name: Furcifer Voeltzkowi

The Voeltzkow’s Chameleon was rediscovered in 2018 and announced in 2020.

Frank Glaw, head of the Department of Vertebrates at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München, led the Madagascan expedition.

"Our efforts were entirely unsuccessful during most of the trip to find it where we thought it would most likely be," said Glaw.

"That was really frustrating, but the rediscovery during the last few days of the trip immediately changed everything and brought us an incredibly happy ending."

Three males and 15 females were identified, who had particularly interesting patterns of purple, orange, red, green, black and white.

Madagascar is home to nearly half of the world’s chameleon species, with 96 of these species not found anywhere else in the world.

"The Voeltzkow’s chameleon is a powerful flagship species for conservation in the region," said Zanotelli, who was also on the 2018 expedition.

"It is imperative that we protect nature and treat natural habitats as if we would like to live there. Only in this way can we ensure the future of the incredible species, like the Voeltzkow’s chameleon, we share this planet with."

8. Velvet Pitcher Plant

Scientific name: Nepenthes Mollis

This exotic and incredibly remote plant species was seen in 2019 for the first time in 101 years. It was only known to science from the original specimens discovered in 1918.

A team of botanists rediscovered this plant after a purposeful trek to the depth of the Bornean wilderness. 

Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that set traps for insects and digest them using hydrolytic enzymes.

"Every time we look for a lost species, it is a chance to celebrate our planet’s wild and whimsical wildlife," said Dr. Barney Long, Re:wild’s senior director of conservation strategies at Re:Wild. 

"It is also a chance to prevent the extinction of some of the least-understood species, wildlife that play a role in the ecosystems in which they live and that are equally fascinating as charismatic as the animals we all know. 

"Not only do lost species benefit from this work, but so does the other wildlife that shares their home, the ecosystems they live in, and the health of the planet as a whole."