Science - Nature
By: - at August 14, 2013

15 Beautiful Animals that are Now Extinct

endangered species habitat signSince recorded history, we've known that billions of species have become extinct. If you're in tune with any conservation efforts, you've seen the warnings against letting species die out. Timber wolves, polar bears, and pandas are among the most recently considered endangered species. Most people have heard about the T-Rex, mammoths, and the dodo bird. Although these famous animals get the limelight, there are many extinct animals that most people have never heard of. Some of them looked like alien species, some will make you wonder why they died out at all. There are even animals that have died out so recently that scientists are attempting to clone them back to life. Below are some of the most interesting species we found that you may not have heard of before. In a global effort to preserve the species still thriving on this planet, conservationists look towards threatened species to get them endangered status, before it is too late.

15)  Quagga
The quagga was a half zebra, half horse species that has been classified as extinct since 1883. It was found in South Africa's Cape Province and in the southern part of the Orange Free State. At the time, they roamed in vast numbers, not unlike the buffalo in famous Spaghetti Westerns. Unlike normal zebras, the quagga only had the stripes on the top parts of their bodies. These stripes faded to a darker color that spread down into one uniform coat color.

Quagga - Ancestor of Modern Day Zebra
Quagga - Ancestor of Modern Day Zebra

The hindquarters were a plain brown. The name is onomatopoeic, meaning that the animal made a sound like "quagga" when it vocalized. The quagga were most likely hunted to extinction for a variety of reasons. Their meat and hides were in high demand, but also they competed with domesticated livestock for grazing areas. Most likely, the last natural quagga was killed in the late 1870s, and the final captive quagga died August 12, 1883 at the Artis Magistra Zoo in Amsterdam.

Although the quagga were classified as an individual species, there were so many "species" of zebras, that scientists at the time were uncertain if they were truly a species unto their own or simply a subspecies. At the time, there were countless species and subspecies of zebra. Many of them were killed out before they were properly identified or classified. The quagga became the first extinct species to have its DNA studied, partially in an attempt to figure out what classification they could be given. Recent genetic research from the Smithsonian Institute reveals that they are part of the variable plains zebras.

14)  Thylacine
The Thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian Tiger, was originally native to Australia and New Guinea. It was the largest known carnivorous marsupial from modern eras. The animal had a striped back similar to tiger markings and that is where it got its name. Other common names for it were the Tasmanian Wolf, the Tassie or Tazzy Tiger, or even just Tiger. Related species date back to the early Miocene, although it is thought to be the last member of its genus.

Thylacine - Tasmanian Tiger
Thylacine - Tasmanian Tiger

They originally lived throughout Australia, though they died out on the main Australian continent before the time that Europeans arrived. However, on the island of Tasmania they were able to survive, along with other endemic species like the famous Tasmanian Devil. Sometime in the 20th Century, the last thylacine was killed. Although hunting is thought to be the main contributor to its extinction, it was most likely helped by disease, the introduction of dogs, and humans invading its natural habitat. People still report sightings of the Thylacine, but it is officially classified as extinct.

13)  Steller's Sea Cow
George Steller discovered this impressive sea animal in the waters of Commander Island, an area near the Asiatic coast of the Bering Sea. Steller was a naturalist traveling along with the explorer Vitus Bering. This massive sea cow, a relation to the manatee and dugong, grew to be over 25 feet long and weighed more than three tons. In appearance, it looked similar to a large seal, but had two stout forelimbs and a tail that resembled that of a whale.

Reconstruction of Steller's Sea Cow - 1846
Reconstruction of Steller's Sea Cow - 1846

Unlike some water mammals, this tame sea cow remained in water all the time, never coming onto land. It had black, thick skin with a small head. Instead of teeth, it had two flat white bones on top of each other. From the evidence of fossils, it seems it once was commonly found in the North Pacific coast, all the way south to Japan and California. It is most likely that humans caused its extinction. There are rumors that some populations have survived, though like the thylacine, it is classified as an extinct species.

12)  Caspian Tiger
The Caspian tiger, also known as the Hyrcanian tiger, Persian tiger, or the Turan tiger, lived in the areas of Turkey, Tajikistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Caucasus. It became extinct despite being the third largest tiger of all known tiger species. In appearance, it was similar to a common Bengal tiger and shared the species' coloring and markings.

Caspian Tiger - Berlin Zoo, 1899
Caspian Tiger - Berlin Zoo, 1899

The difference was that it had stocky, strong legs and an elongated body, huge paws and very large claws. It also had pure black patterns on the head, neck, back, and at the tip of the tail. The fur of this tiger was long and thick, with generous amounts found on its cheeks. The Caspian tiger's ears were very small and short in relation to its general body size. The males could reach up to 240 kilograms, while the females were smaller at 135 kilograms. Recently, researchers from the University of Oxford, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have studied the similarities between the subspecies of tigers, including the DNA of 23 Caspian tiger specimens that have been stored in museums. They discovered the Caspian tiger's closest living genetic relative is the Amur tiger.

11)  The Jaekelopterus Rhenaniae
The Jaekelopterus rhenaniae was a eurypterid that lived 390 million years ago that could grow over 8 feet in length. A eurypterid in an extinct version of arthropods (simliar to arachnids). These creatures could come right out of a B rated monster movie. The Jaekelopterus Rhenaniae was a scorpion-like creature that kept mostly to fresh water rivers and lakes. Despite this, it is commonly referred to as a "sea scorpion" or, as we like to call it "made of nightmares."

Fossil of Jaekelopterus, an Extinct Arthropod
Fossil of Jaekelopterus, an Extinct Arthropod
By Ghedoghedo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The word Arthropod is defined as an invertebrate animal who posses an exoskeleton, segmented body based on each segments' functions, and the most successful group of animals as far as their ability to adapt based on climatic extremes. Organisms like reptiles or even early mammals cannot hold a candle to the accelerated genetic adaptations and the sheer variety of arthropod species. Their ability to reproduce exponentially allows for genetic modifications or mutations to be recognized in much more shorter periods of time. With some insect species like fruit flies, a flying insect who has an extremely short life expectancy, natural selection driven by environmental factors, genetic encoding, and mutation caused by drastically changing ecological as well as changing environmental factors allow for researchers to gather mountains of data in a relatively short time.

DNA Structure
DNA Structure

Conversely, a similar study using a sample of chimpanzees of even human beings could take decades in order to establish the dominant and recessive traits are within a sample. Mutations could take decades to observe, document, and begin to start drawing conclusions.  Their unique talent of evolving very rapidly to ensure their survival makes them arguably the most evolved creatures on the planet as well as one of the oldest documented invertebrates. Due to the fact that fruit flies reproduce so frequently, mapping the genome of the common fruit fly, or at the very least gathering enough info from a given sample is an extremely efficient, expedited, way of going about studying dominant and recessive traits based on their extremely short reproductive cycle. Arthropods account for more than three fourths of all known living and fossil organisms, this figure equates to over one million known species in all. Although it looked very similar to a giant scorpion, this creature was more closely related to the lobster than the scorpion. As of the writing of this article, it is considered one of the two largest arthropods ever found. There are still scientific debates as to whether the sea scorpion or the Arthropleura, a giant millipede like creature, was actually larger. Regardless, this is one creature we're fairly happy we'll never have the chance of running into. Perhaps looking to arguably the most evolved creature on the planet - that is of course prior to its extinction. Maybe we as humans can look to the way traits were passed over all of those years to shed some more light on the human genome project, as well as our understanding or dominant and recessive traits.

10)  Aurochs
The Aruochs, an ancient breed of cattle, lived for millions of years before dying off in the 1600s. They originated in India and migrated into the Middle East and surrounding Asian areas. This cattle breed arrived in Europe as few as 250,000 years ago. Though they were prolific for countless years, they began to die out in the early 13th century. Eventually, they could only be found in Poland, Lithuania, Moldavia, Transylvania and East Prussia.

Aurochs - Ancient Breed of Cattle - Died off in the 1600s
Aurochs - Ancient Breed of Cattle - Died off in the 1600s

It is thought that hunting is what contributed to their steep decline in numbers. Though hunting began to be restricted to nobles and royalty, their numbers continued to decline. Once it became apparent that the aurochs were dying out, the royal court found gamekeepers to provide open fields that these massive cattle could graze in without being hunted. This is considered to be one of the earliest conservation efforts and for this important service, the gamekeepers did not have to pay taxes. Additionally, anyone found to have killed one would be punished by death.

However, this action was too little, too late and by 1564 there were only 38 animals left known. The final recorded living auroch was a female who died in the Jaktorow Forsest in Poland in 1627. You can see her skull, which was taken by the Swedish Army, at the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm. Two German zookeeper brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck tried to breed back the aurochs in the 1920s through a domesticated descendent stock program. The result was not a perfect match for the species, but it did result in a new breed called the Recreated Auroch, Heck Auroch, or simply Heck Cattle.

9)  The Great Auk
The Great Auk, a flightless giant auk once found in the Atlantic, belonged to its own genus, the Penguins and was also known as game fowl. It was by far the largest of the known auks, standing around 34 inches and weighting up to 5 kilograms. Once upon a time, it was in abundance on islands off eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Ireland and Great Britain. Although it was a more northern creature, there is some evidence that it migrated as far south as Florida, at least back in the 14th Century. The Great Auk lived on rocky, isolated islands from which they could easily access the waters of the ocean. Like the modern day Emperor Penguins, it had white and black feathers, and a black beak with hooks and grooves. The Great Auk fed on fish, and was an excellent swimmer. Like modern penguins, it was more agile in the water than on land, often walking clumsily. It also mated for life, nesting in dense colonies where both parents incubated the eggs for about six weeks. The Native American tribes held the Great Auk in high respect, using them both as food and symbols of power.

The Great Auk - Dying Out By the Mid 1800s
The Great Auk - Dying Out By the Mid 1800s

However, its down was a commodity in Europe, which made its contributed to the population dying out by the mid-16th Century in most of Europe. Humans continued to hunt it for food and its feathers and sometime around 1844 the last of the Great Auks died. Once again, humans did try to counter the affects once it was noted that they were dying out in the 1800s, but again, it was too little, too late.

8)  Gigantopithecus
The Gigantopithecus lived in the areas that are now China, India and Vietnam from around nine million years ago until about 100,000 years ago. There were at least three distinct species that lived around the same time, and in the same place, as many hominin species, including homo erectus and homo sapiens. One of the species of Gigantopithecus, the Gigantopithecus blacki, is a close relation to the human species, included in the subfamily Ponginae with the orangutans.

Gigantopithecus blacki
Gigantopithecus blacki

These giant apes were the largest that have ever lived, with the ability to grow to 10 feet and weigh over a thousand pounds. It looked similar to modern day apes, probably appearing much like what King Kong is depicted like in the movies. Ralph von Koenigswald, while in an apothecary shop where it was common to use fossilized bones for traditional Chinese medicine, discovered the first fossils of the Gigantopithecus in 1935. However, there have not been many other fossilized remains for scientists to study this giant ape. Scientists are uncertain how they moved, since they have yet to find a pelvis or leg bones, although most believe they probably moved similarly to modern gorillas and chimpanzees.

7)  Tarpan
The tarpan was a prehistoric type of wild horse that once roamed around Southern France and Spain and into parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. It lived until the 1800s in the wild, and the last captive tarpan died in 1876 at the Ukrainian game preserve at Askania Nova. The tarpan are thought to be an ancestor of many of the modern day domesticated horses in Europe, including all primitive and wild horses. The name tarpan even came from the Turkic language meaning wild horse. Because the species was alive after some other horse species became domesticated, the term tarpan is sometimes used loosely to refer to an all encompassing pre-domesticated ancestor of the horse.

Kherson Tarpan - Lived in Novovorontsovk Until 1880
Kherson Tarpan - Lived in Novovorontsovk Until 1880

Most likely, it died out due to the destruction of its habitat in order to make way for humans. They were also probably hunted by farmers to keep the tarpan from eating crops and impregnating their livestock. Because they easily interbred with horeses, tarpans were probably absorbed into the domesticated horse population. Recently, people have tried to re-breed it. However, none of the attempts have been successful although some slight resemblances have occurred in the new breeds.

6)  The Javan Tiger
Another tiger, the Javan tiger was only found on the Indonesian island of Java. Smaller than the tigers found on the Asian mainland, the Javan tiger ranged from 250 to 310lbs. Their stripes were long and thinner than other tiger species as well. Because of their size and coat colorings, it's thought that they spent most of their time in forested areas preying on deer, waterfowl, and even reptiles. Up until the early 19th Century, large numbers of the Javan tiger roamed all over the island.

Javan Tiger in London Zoo - Pre-1942
Javan Tiger in London Zoo - Pre-1942

However, as more humans began to take up residence, its natural forest habitat was destroyed, thus decreasing their numbers. Further decreases occurred through hunting. They became so rare that it was difficult to even put them into zoos. It was only during World War II that some zoos were able to attempt any serious conservation efforts. By the 1950s, there were less than 25 remaining on the island, and by the 1980s they were declared officially extinct. A wildlife preserve was founded in 1972 around Mount Betiri. However, this did not help bring the species out of extinction. There have been rumors of its remaining existence, though no confirmed sightings.

5)  The Syrian Wild Ass
The Syrian Wild Ass once lived in the mountains, deserts and steppes that are now a part of Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. It was a very small animal, only measuring one meter to its shoulder. Because it was so small and was also a very stubborn ass, it was never domesticated. However, it was well known for being very beautiful and strong for its relative size. It had a changing coat depending upon the season. In the summer, its coat was tawny and olive, while in the winter it became a pale sandy yellow. This species lived during biblical times, and is referenced in the Old Testament. It is thought to have been the wild ass Ishmael prophesied about in Genesis, and there are further references in Job, Psalms, Jeremiah, and Sirach. There were reports from European travelers in the middle ages that there were large herds roaming around.

Syrian Wild Ass Galloping in Vienna Zoo - 1915
Syrian Wild Ass Galloping in Vienna Zoo - 1915

However, sometime during the 18th Century, the Syrian wild ass disappeared from the Syrian Desert. Most likely the war between Palestine and Syria expedited its destruction, although hunting and human populations probably contributed to its death as well. In the 19th Century, the last living species lived in Northern Arabia, where they continue to decline in number until they were gone. World War I sealed their fate, as fighting forces destroyed their only remaining habitat. The final member of the species died at Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna in 1928.

4)  The Bubal Hartebeest
The Bubal Hartebeest, also referred to as the Bubal Antelope or Bubal, lived north of the Saharan Desert. The ancient Egyptians worshiped it as a mythological and sacrificial beast. For years it reigned in North Africa, including Egypt. Its coloring resembled that of a fawn, uniform over its whole body except for black patches on each side of the muzzle and the tuft of tail. It stood to almost 3 feet at the shoulder with horns the shape of a lyre that were near touching at the base. It was a highly social animal, living in herds of hundreds of animals. They preferred to live in rocky areas that had abundant vegetation rather than the many desert plains of Africa.

Bubal Hartebeest
Bubal Hartebeest

This species of antelope lived until 1923. The decline began in the 19th century, due to the colonial military of the French, after they conquered Algeria, who massacred entire herds for some unknown reason. Its numbers, along with where it could be found, continued to decline. By the early 1900s, you could only find the Bubal Hartebeest in Algeria and the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. Further hunting reduced its numbers until it was no longer around. There are closely related species still living in southern Africa, like the Red Hartebeest and Lichtenstein's Hartebeest.

3)  Moa
Moa lived in New Zealand up until the 1500s. There were actually numerous species of moa, anywhere between nine and twelve, and they belonged to the order Dinoronithiformes within the ratite group. They were flightless birds akin to the emu and ostrich, although they were the only wingless birds without even vestigial wings within the ratite group. Although it was previously considered that their closest living relations were the kiwi, Australian emu and cassowary, it is now believed that the tinamous are actually their closest relation. However, the tinamous can fly, unlike the moa. Although the moa typically are depicted standing upright, most likely they held their heads forward. They were able to graze vegetation found both on the ground and in the lower levels of trees.

Giant Moa
Giant Moa

For thousands of years, the moa dominated the landscape of New Zealand, including the forest, shrubland and subalpine areas. They only had to worry about the Haast Eagle as a predator. However, its huge size, over 12 feet high and 500 pounds, did not stop them being hunted out by the Maori. The Maori arrived in New Zealand sometime prior to the 14th Century. Within a century, almost all the moa were gone due to hunting, habit reduction, and forest clearance, showing it is not just modern man that can wipe out a species quickly. There are rumors they continued to exist until the 19th Century, but most scientists disregard these hearsay tales.

2)  Titanoboa
If you are deathly afraid of snakes, then you will be happy that the titanoboa have been extinct for over 58 million years. Most likely a precursor to the modern day boa constructor, this prehistoric creature could grow to 50 feet long and weighed over 2500 pounds. That's a snake as long as 2 busses that weighed more than a minivan. This genus of snake lived during the Paleocene epoch, around 60 to 58 million years ago. The only species within this genus, the titanoboa carrejonensis, is the largest, heaviest, and longest snake ever discovered. The fossils of this snake have been found in the Carrejon Formation in Correjon, La Guajira in Columbia, meaning it would have lived in the tropics.

Titanoboa Consuming Crocodile
Titanoboa Consuming Crocodile

One scientist in 2011, Charlie Brinson, created a 33-foot long electro-mechanical, robotic version of this giant snake. In 2012, a full-scale model replica was displayed at Grand Central Station in New York to help promote a TV show about the snake on the Smithsonian Channel. We didn't go look at it because we wanted to sleep again eventually.

1)  Baiji River Dolphin
The Baiji River Dolphin is the first aquatic mammal that died out in modern times due to human influence, becoming officially extinct in 2006. This species of dolphin was freshwater found only in the Yangtze River. They first appeared around 25 million years ago as they migrated from the Pacific up the Yangtze River. It is one of only four species of dolphins that have become exclusive freshwater inhabitants. An ancient Chinese dictionary Erya from around the 3rd century B.C.E. described the baiji in a story about a princess who drowned herself because she did not want to marry a man forced upon her by her parents. From this ancient tale, the dolphin became a symbol of peace and prosperity, nicknamed the "Goddess of the Yangtze."

Yangtze River Dolphin
Yangtze River Dolphin

As China became more industrialized, including using the river for fishing, hydroelectricity and transportation, the species began to die out. By 1950s, there was an estimated 6,000 dolphins living in the river, but they soon began to decline. There was a possible sighting in 2007, but nothing confirmed. Because Baiji river dolphin died out only a few years ago, scientists were able to extract its DNA. They are currently attempting to clone it in order to recreate the species. However, even if they are successful, one major problem remains: no one knows where to put it. The Yangtze River is now heavily polluted with 12 percent of the entire world's population living among its banks.

These fifteen species of animals joined millions of others that have once lived upon the Earth but can no longer be found. Some have even morphed into local legends like the Loch Ness monster, while others may never be discovered. However, as the more recent examples of extinct animals reveal, humans have a strong, negative impact on Mother Nature. Whether it was the Maori in the 14th Century killing the moa or modern man killing the baiji, humans have contributed to numerous species' decline and death. Too many times, humans have tried too little, too late to reverse the fate upon these animals. As more and more animals make the endangered lists, the question remains how to help reverse the decline of the species. Hopefully they'll stick to friendly animals and not recreate Jurassic Park.





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