Death-Defying Animals That Came Back From Extinction

By Rosunnara R.Last Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:58:46 PM ET
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Many animals were thought to be extinct because they disappeared for years, but somehow they're back from the dead. It’s crazy how long animals can remain undetected. Some species haven’t been seen for centuries — or even millions of years. Some of their whereabouts are also surprising. In the end, the scientific community is thrilled to have these animals back.

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Let’s celebrate the extraordinary creatures that beat the odds when the world believed they were gone forever. Here are the incredible and unbelievable stories of death-defying animals that came back from extinction.

The Wild Dogs of New Guinea

The New Guinea wild dog is the world's rarest and most ancient dog species. For 50 years, researchers feared that the species was extinct. However, several witnesses reported sightings of the wild dogs between 2005 and 2012. Sounds like a good sign, right?

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Unfortunately, experts lacked physical proof of the sightings, so they still believed the dogs were gone. In 2016, the New Guinea wild dog was officially rediscovered in a remote mountain range. Researchers found and photographed 15 dogs thriving in isolation at about 10,800 to 13,800 feet above sea level.

“Lobsters” Living in Trees?

Many people wonder, "How do you miss giant lobsters that live in trees?" Well, it happens, and this was the case for Australia's Lord Howe stick insect, also known as the tree lobster. For almost 100 years, nobody ever saw the species. The fascinating story starts with a shipwreck in 1918.

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The vessel crashed into an Australian shore, releasing masses of rats that destroyed the tree lobster species — or at least that's what experts thought. Fast forward to 2001, when stunned researchers encountered tree lobsters near a volcanic site. Some of the insects were taken to Melbourne Zoo for a special breeding program.

The Ancient Caspian Horse

Meet the mammal, the myth, the legend: the Caspian horse. Growing up to 47 inches tall, the Caspian is a miniature horse breed from Iran. These babies go way back to 3400 B.C., making theirs one of the oldest and most famous horse breeds of all time.

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Since the seventh century, the Caspian stayed out of sight until horse breeder Louise Laylin found three thought-to-be-extinct horses in the Caspian Sea mountains in the 1960s. She brought the mythical creatures back to her riding school in Norouzabad, where they populated before expanding to other countries.

The Teeny Tiny Nelson Shrew

The last time scientists saw the Nelson's small-eared shrew was in 1894. Experts collected a small pack of the shrew species in southern Mexico. However, the animals were never seen again, which led many experts to assume they went extinct.

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Their suspicions changed when two mammalogists from Mexico went searching for the missing shrews. The pair's quest was a success. In 2004, they found three teeny tiny Nelson shrews on the slopes of the San Martín Tuxtla volcano and shared the discovery with the rest of the scientific community.

The World’s Largest Bee

The average bee species is 0.08 inches long, while the Megachile pluto, the largest bee species, can grow up to 1.54 inches. The Megachile pluto, also known as Wallace's giant bee, is native to Indonesia. It's easily identified by its enormous size and jaws.

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Wallace's giant bee was initially seen in 1858. After many decades of no sightings, the species was declared extinct until its rediscovery in the wild in 1981. The bee vanished again and reappeared on eBay in 2018. A live bee was filmed and temporarily captured for the first time in 2019.

Java’s Missing Elephants

It's hard to imagine how scientists lost track of such a large species, but somehow the elephants of Java stayed under the radar. While scientists believed they were extinct, these animals were living on the island of Borneo under a different identity.

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Scientists called this species the Borneo pygmy elephant. However, they actually came from Java due to animal trading many centuries ago. The elephants in Java were hunted to death, but those that survived in Borneo were released into the jungle.

The Starry Night Toad

The starry night toad is often identified by its white and black spots. Unfortunately, a deadly fungus wiped out many amphibians in the 1990s. When the starry night toad disappeared with many other frog species, experts assumed it was extinct too.

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However, the Colombian toad actually escaped "extinction." The only people who knew the starry night toad still existed were members of the Arhuaco community in Sogrome. In 2019, the tribe allowed researchers to see the lost species for the first time in 30 years.

The Giant Palouse Earthworm

The average earthworm is about a foot long. It's not uncommon to see an earthworm, especially in your garden. However, have you ever seen a giant earthworm? It sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but this giant organism does exist.

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In 1897, the first giant Palouse earthworm was discovered burrowing at a depth of 15 feet. Experts learned that the species grows to be more than three feet in length. By the 1980s, the worms were thought to have vanished. However, a recent sighting confirms these big worms are still here.

The Naked-backed Fruit Bats of the Philippines

Residents of Negros Island found these bats quite valuable, especially their massive piles of guano. When the bat population was ample, miners used the guano as highly effective fertilizer. However, the number of naked-backed fruit bats drastically dropped after their habitat was destroyed.

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In 1964, the bat was never seen again. Experts searched far and wide for the species, but they had no luck. As a result, they officially called the species extinct in 1996. Four years later, the bats bounced back from extinction. However, the population remains so small that scientists predict they'll truly become extinct soon.

The Super-famous West African Coelacanth

One of the most famous comeback stories is that of the West African coelacanth, an enormous, ancient fish. These unique fish grow to six feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds. They also have long lifespans of 60 years.

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Scientists believed the fish went extinct with dinosaurs more than 66 million years ago. However, this fish was just great at hiding. In 1938, a South African museum curator found the long-lost coelacanth on a local fishing expedition. Soon, more coelacanths began popping up, even at fish markets.

The Gliding Possum

When you think of possums, you might imagine an animal with a long, pointed face and a rat-like tail digging in your trash can. But have you ever seen a gliding possum? These real creatures come from Queensland in Australia.

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Gliding possums are better known as mahogany gliders. Originally found in open forests, the glider was first reported in 1883. From 1886 to 1989, experts thought the rare species had gone extinct until members of the Queensland Museum stumbled upon the long-lost glider out in the wild.

The Australian Night Parrot

Parrots are easy to spot due to their colorful feathers and loud voices. But one parrot species literally lived in the shadows, remaining unnoticed in Australia. The mysterious night parrot fooled the entire world into believing it was extinct.

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The last sighting of a night parrot was in 1912, until one crossed the road in Queensland in 1990. Sadly, the parrot passed away due to a car accident. However, the event inspired naturalist John Young to look for the species for 15 years. Young's patience and determination led him to photograph a live night parrot in 2013.

The Venomous Cuban Solenodon

Don't let this little creature fool you into thinking it is sweet and harmless. The Cuban solenodon isn't your average mammal. This unusual critter has venomous saliva to paralyze its prey, such as small birds, frogs, lizards and even rodents.

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Not seen since 1890, the Cuban solenodon became a tale as old as time until researchers captured three in 1973 and 1974. However, it's not surprising that these creatures are strong survivors. The Cuban solenodon's ancestors walked among dinosaurs and made it through 66 million years of disasters. In other words, beating the odds runs in the family.

The Nocturnal Gracilidris Ant

More than 12,000 species of ants exist in the world, so it's easy to see why scientists missed spotting the ant genus Gracilidris. Scientists believed this creature disappeared more than 15 million years ago. The only existing fossil of the specimen is in Dominican amber.

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In 2006, the tale of the ant's extinction ended. The species was located in not one country, but three: Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. These tiny beasts have been alive the entire time, meaning they've survived natural disasters and ice ages. Plus, they've lived right beside famous creatures like woolly mammoths.

The Takahe of New Zealand

There are over 60 species of birds that can't fly, including penguins and flamingos. However, the rising star of flightless birds is the takahe. Found in New Zealand, the takahe was declared extinct in 1898. However, scientists realized they were wrong.

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The birds were in the South Island's Murchison Mountains just minding their own business until a doctor rediscovered them in 1948. Since then, New Zealand has been working to conserve the species — and it's looking good. The population continues to grow each year!

The Fanged Mouse-deer

A mouse-deer with fangs and hooves sounds like a creature produced in a lab, but these babies are 100% natural. They're also not really deer or mice, but ungulates (a type of hoofed animals). Plus, this creature is extra-special because it's the world's smallest ungulate.

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Wildlife experts call them the Vietnam mouse-deer or the silver-backed chevrotain. The first mouse-deer was described in 1910 thanks to a British zoologist. By 1990, researchers had lost track of the animals, logging them as extinct. However, a team of scientists photographed the mouse-deer in a Vietnamese rainforest for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The Terror Skink or the Terrific Skink?

The terror skink, also called Bocourt's terrific skink, is a unique lizard with long, curved teeth. Disappearing in 1876, the species went undetected for more than a century. But the terrific skink has been brought back from "extinction."

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The lizard was rediscovered in 2003 in New Caledonia, a small island in the South Pacific Ocean. Today, the creature has been found on other nearby islands. However, you don't want to run into the terror skink. As the name suggests, these scary reptiles are top predators.

The Fernandina Giant Tortoise of the Galápagos

A giant tortoise from Fernandina Island in the Galapagos is back from the dead. The only specimen was recorded in 1906. Unfortunately, members of the California Academy of Sciences slayed the male critter. As a result, experts believed the giant tortoise was wiped out.

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Experts questioned the creature's state after tortoise droppings and cactus bite marks were found in 1964 and 2013. Following the clues it left, scientists searched and successfully found a 100-year-old female tortoise in 2019. She's currently living at a breeding center for conservation efforts.

The Lost Rio Apaporis Caiman

According to Global Wildlife Conservation, the Rio Apaporis caiman was lost to the scientific community in 1952. Some experts believed the crocodilian was extinct, while others needed to see with their own eyes that the species was still alive.

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However, there was one problem: Colombia's political situation restricted biologists from accessing the Apaporis, a 700-mile river that runs from central Colombia to the Brazil border. Fortunately, a peace treaty gave experts the opportunity to confirm the caiman's status. The result? In 2018, biologists happily spotted the live caiman in the wild.

The Pig-like Chacoan Peccary

The Platygonus — a creature closely resembling a pig — roamed the earth for millions of years until it vanished 11,000 years ago. Experts believe the extinct animals are related to the Chacoan peccary, which was first described in 1930. The weird part is that the report was based on fossils.

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As a result, experts thought the Chacoan peccary was the stuff of legend and folklore until 1971. Scientists rediscovered a population in the Chaco Province of Argentina. The native people of the area knew the species was alive the entire time, while scientists were late to the party.

The Colorful Kaempfer's Woodpecker

Originally discovered in 1926, Kaempfer's woodpecker lives in the bamboo forests of Brazil. Only one female specimen was initially seen, so scientists assumed the species was lost forever. They were wrong. The colorful birds managed to stay hidden for many decades until 2006, when a male was spotted in the state of Tocantins.

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Since its comeback, Kaempfer's woodpecker has been found in nearby states. Scientists were thrilled about the woodpecker’s rediscovery, but these birds are classified as "vulnerable" due to habitat loss. Hopefully, experts will find a way to rescue these extraordinary birds from extinction.

The Mallorcan Midwife Toad

Many animals on this list were first discovered alive in the wild before disappearing. However, the Mallorcan midwife toad has a different narrative. There were no photographs to confirm its existence. Plus, no one had ever physically seen the animal before.

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The only proof experts had was its own fossil, which was found by a naturalist on the Mediterranean island of Majorca in 1977. Surprisingly, the amphibian was located alive two years later, showing the world it escaped extinction. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared the species "vulnerable."

The Furry Laotian Rock Rat

The Laotian rock rat, a.k.a. the rat-squirrel, looks like your average critter, but it actually stands out among other rodents. Originally discovered in 2005, this creature belongs to an ancient rodent family, the Diatomyidae. Experts assumed the family was extinct for more than 11 million years, but no!

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The scientific community was shocked by the rat's resurrection, while the native people of the Khammouane region were already aware of the living fossil. The IUCN classifies the Laotian rock rat as "least concern," meaning it's not endangered and it's here to stay!

The Sneaky Black-footed Ferret

Native to central North America, the black-footed ferret fooled the scientific community twice. In 1979, scientists officially gave up on the species. However, a dog delivered a dead black-footed ferret to its owner, reminding the world that it was not extinct after all. In response, experts searched and rediscovered a small population of the species in 1981.

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This ferret was last seen (again) in 1987, this time in the wild. It was listed as "extinct in the wild" in 1996 until the sneaky creature bounced back from extinction nearly 10 years later. The species is still considered endangered by the IUCN.

Peru’s Valuable Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey

The yellow-tailed woolly monkey has experienced plenty of hard times, like being reported as extinct for more than 100 years. Since its initial discovery in 1812, the rare primate species has only been seen a few times. As a result, scientists assumed it was gone forever.

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After not being seen for almost a century, the yellow-tailed woolly monkey’s existence was officially resurrected in the mid-1970s. Conservation organizations are working to save Peru's critically endangered primates. In fact, the monkey became the national symbol of conservation, with its picture appearing on money and cups in Peru.

The Chinese Crested Tern, Asia's Rarest Seabird

Asia's rarest seabird, the Chinese crested tern, faces many threats, including illegal egg collection, typhoons and fishermen destroying its nests. It was easy to believe that the bird met its fate in the mid-20th century. Six decades later, some good news was reported.

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A small population was found nesting off the coast of China’s Fujian Province in 2000. Another group was uncovered breeding in South Korea. However, wildlife experts are still worried about these seabirds. Classified as critically endangered, the Chinese crested tern may become extinct sooner rather than later.

The Dwarf Omura’s Whale

How do you lose track of a mammal that's 35 feet long? Perhaps it lives in the ocean. Compared to other whales, Omura’s whale is described as small in size. Experts first learned about the whale in 2003, giving the species an official name.

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Sadly, the specimen was already deceased, which means experts had no proof of a living Omura’s whale. Everyone assumed the species was permanently gone until the "extinct" whale was spotted off the coast of Madagascar in 2013.

The National Seabird of Bermuda

Bermuda's national seabird is the nocturnal Bermuda petrel. If you ask Bermudians, they call the bird the "cahow" due to its strange cries. This special creature is a big deal to the region. In fact, the bird appears on Bermudian currency.

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The world declared the bird extinct for almost 300 years, but scientists cheered for joy after learning the long-lost petrel actually beat extinction. As one of the rarest birds on Earth, the Bermuda petrel represents hope for nature conservation. If these birds can escape death, other missing animals can return, too.

The Forest Turtles of Arakan

For almost a century, the Arakan forest turtle appeared to be extinct. These critters had no problem with playing dead because they naturally enjoy hiding in leaves and debris. However, the scientific community rediscovered the species in a Chinese food market in 1994.

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The Arakan forest turtle was believed to be extinct again, but another miracle happened. In 2009, scientists found five of the animals at a wildlife sanctuary in Myanmar. Since then, wildlife experts have been doing everything they can to protect the nearly extinct reptile.

The Tasmanian Tiger

The Tasmanian tiger’s survival is up for debate. The large carnivore was thought to have gone extinct in 1936, but experts are unsure now. Mysterious sightings by civilians have raised questions about its extinction. Is the creature still out there?

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A recent sighting of the Tasmanian tiger happened in 2018. Another report included photos of a footprint on Sleeping Beauty Mountain. If the other amazing animals on this list managed to defy the odds, it wouldn't be surprising that the Tasmanian tiger also beat extinction.