Mass extinctions are not an unusual phenomenon. Erupting volcanoes, giant asteroids, and long ice ages can also cause mass extinctions. According to scientists, the Earth already experienced five and some scholars are now starting to claim that we are currently in the middle of a sixth one. This is not too surprising as there are plenty of animals that went extinct in the last 20 years. But the current mass extinction is somewhat different than the previous ones.
The problem is that this time, we are the cause. The negative impact that humans are having on other species is undeniable. This becomes even more obvious when analyzing the extinction rate of islands. For instance, 2,000 bird species went extinct in the Pacific Islands following human colonization. These numbers are incredibly high and equal to almost 1/6 of the current bird fauna.
In the last few years, more and more animals have gone extinct. According to data, 467 species disappeared from our planet in the last decade. We decided to make a list of nine animals that went extinct in the last 20 years to commemorate these beautiful species and do our little part to make sure they won’t be forgotten.
1. Northern white rhinoceros
While southern white rhinos are still widespread in South Africa, northern white rhinos are functionally extinct. Only two specimens are currently alive, Najin and Fatu. Unfortunately, both are females meaning that the species is de facto extinct.
The last northern white rhino male individual died in March 2018, leading to the extinction of the species. There is still some hope regarding the existence of other northern white rhinos in Africa, but these are only speculations, and no evidence is available at the moment.
Northern white rhinos used to roam in several countries. You could have spotted them in southern South Sudan, northwestern Uganda, in northeastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the eastern area of the Central African Republic. Some scholars even suggested that this specimen also lived in western countries such as Cameroon and Chad.
Unfortunately, this is not the only species of rhinoceros that got extinct in the last 20 years. The western black rhino was also declared extinct in 2011. This species used to inhabit the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa and it was mainly found in Cameroon. It is believed that its population experienced a 96% decline between 1970 and 1992. According to experts, illegal hunting practices were the primary causes that led to the extinction of these animals.
2. Pyrenean Ibex
The Pyrenean ibex was a subspecies of the Iberian ibex that used to inhabit the southern territories of France and the Cantabrian Mountains in the north of Spain. This specimen is one of the many animals that went extinct in the last 20 years. It was officially declared extinct in 2000 and unfortunately, scientists never got the chance to properly analyze it. For this reason, we don’t have much in-depth knowledge of this animal.
However, even though the information of the Pyrenean ibex is limited, we know that females and males differed by color, fur, and horn shape. The males could be easily distinguished from the females by their faded grayish brown furs with black coloring, while females were entirely brown.
Males also differed from females because of their intricate horns, curving outwards and backward. These were also characterized by ridges, each of which was said to represent a year of life. Unlike the males, female Pyrenean ibexes had pretty standard horns, both short and cylindrical. These animals were herbivores and migrated with the seasons to higher or lower altitudes to either give birth or mate.
Several attempts were made to clone the Pyrenean ibex to revive this subspecies, and in 2003 the first clone was born. However, its life was short and lasted only a few minutes due to lung problems.
3. Pinta Island Tortoise
The Pinta Island tortoise, also known as Pinta giant tortoise, is one of the many animals that went extinct in the last 20 years. This species was endemic to the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador and was declared extinct in 2012. In particular, Pinta Island tortoises inhabited Pinta, a tiny island of only 60 km². In the past, a thriving tortoise population lived on this island, but the introduction of feral goats led to its quick decline. Feral goats destroyed most of the vegetation, drastically reducing the tortoises’ food supply.
Pinta Island tortoises were incredible animals that could survive up to six months without water or food. They spent most of their time resting for a total of up to 16 hours per day! They were herbivorous and mainly fed on cactus pads, greens, grasses, and native fruit, actively contributing to the functioning of their ecosystem.
Several Pinta Island tortoises used to inhabit Pinta Island, but only one of them achieved world fame. Its name was Lonesome George, and he became known worldwide for being the last male of his species. Several attempts were made to mate Lonesome George with other tortoises, but as you can easily deduce from his name, they were all unsuccessful. But there is still some hope!
In 2012, Yale researchers found 17 first-generation hybrids on Isabela Island. As the specimens were extremely young, experts are hoping that their parents are still alive somewhere in the Galápagos Islands. Unfortunately, at this moment, we have no confirming proof of this hypothesis. Only time will tell!
The baiji was one of the only five species of freshwater dolphins in the world, but unfortunately, its population experienced a quick decline in the second half of the 20th century. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), in the 80s there were approximately 400 specimens still alive. Unfortunately, The number shrank to only 13 individuals between 1997 and 1999.
This peculiar dolphin lived in the waters of the Yangtze River and the Qiantang River in the east of China. The baiji used to have a lifespan of about 24 years and took an incredibly long time to reach sexual maturity: four years for males and six for females. They were pretty big creatures and weighed from 135 to 230 kg.
Male individuals had a length of approximately 2.3 meters, while females were about 2.5 meters long. They could reach a speed of 60 km/h in case of danger and due to their poor sight had to rely on sonar for navigation. Baiji were characterized by their beautiful colors, pale blue to gray on their dorsal side and pure white on their belly.
Although the baiji is technically listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN, no one has spotted a single individual in the last 20 years. The last known specimen was called Qiqi and died in 2002.
5. Catarina pupfish
This tiny fish was not very widespread and could only be found in a Mexican spring located in Nuevo León. It was officially declared extinct in 2015 making Catarina pupfish one of the many animals that went extinct in the last 20 years. Between 1987 and 1992, after their natural habitat dried out, many Catarina pupfish were brought into captivity in an attempt to save the species. Unfortunately, it turned out they were extremely difficult to maintain outside of their natural habitat.
The Catarina pupfish was one of the smallest fish in North America, and adults measured only 4 centimeters in length. Males could be easily distinguished from female individuals thanks to their wonderful colors. The former were characterized by an iridescent blue while the latter were of a beautiful golden color.
By December 2012, only a colony of 20 individuals remained in the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park in Texas. Unfortunately, the last male died in 2015, leading to the official extinction of the species.
6. Christmas Island pipistrelle
The Christmas Island pipistrelle is one of the many animals that went extinct in the last 20 years. It was a species of bath living in the Pacific Ocean on Christmas Island, an external territory of Australia. Originally, this animal could be found all over the island, but in the 90s its population moved to western areas. The Christmas Island pipistrelle was officially declared extinct on the 3rd of March 2021.
According to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water, and Environment, the Christmas Island pipistrelle was extremely small and weighed only 3 to 4.5g. Its forearm had a length of only 30-33 mm and, not surprisingly, it was considered Australia’s tiniest bath. Females lived in big colonies of up to 50 individuals, while males preferred to roost solitarily.
Christmas Island pipistrelles foraged on several insects ranging from beetles to flying ants and moths. They were known to give birth at the beginning of the wet season and could reproduce one or two years after birth. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about these animals, but some scholars believe that their lifespan was around 8 years, similar to other species of microbats.
The actual reasons that led to the extinction of the Christmas Island pipistrelle are still unknown. Some experts suggest that the population decline was caused by the introduction of non-native animal species on the islands, such as the common wolf snake and the black rat. It’s important to specify that these are all speculations.
7. Formosan clouded leopard
The Formosan clouded leopard was a subspecies of leopard endemic to Taiwan. This species was declared extinct in 2013 after a 13-year-long study failed to find any specimens. These animals were incredibly agile and could even hang upside down on thick branches of trees. They also had short and powerful legs with rotating rear ankles that helped them downclimb safely from trees.
According to National Geographic, despite being fantastic at climbing, Formosan clouded leopards did most of their hunting on the ground. They fed on monkeys, deers, pigs, squirrels, and birds. Experts are still debating about the behavior of these animals, but they all seem to agree on their solitary nature. Females gave birth to a litter of one to five puppies every year, and newborns took about ten months to become fully independent from their mothers.
Formosan clouded leopards were extremely important for the Rukai people, one of the indigenous populations of Taiwan. Hunting them was taboo as they believed that their ancestors followed these animals to reach their ancestral land.
Despite the Formosan clouded leopards being categorized as extinct on the IUCN red list, some people are still hopeful. Even though no specimen was seen since 1983, these are known for being extremely elusive animals. For this reason, some people believe that there may still be some individuals hiding in the rainforests.
In 2018, two different groups of rangers in Taiwan claimed to have spotted the animal. As a consequence, outsiders were prohibited to hunt in the area. However, we have no evidence that those specimens were real Formosan clouded leopards.
8. Japanese otter
The Japanese otter was once spread all over Japan, but in 2012 the Japanese Ministry of the Environment officially declared this animal extinct. In 1880 some specimens were also found in Tokyo, but the last sighting of this animal in the wild occurred in 1979, on the mouth of the Shinjo River.
Japanese otters were nocturnal animals that used to feed on shrimps, crabs, and fish. They were not picky eaters and also ate other animals such as eels and beetles. Japanese otters could reach a length of around 60-85 centimeters and were characterized by a thick coat of brown fur. They could survive up to 25 years in the wild, and they reached full maturity at the age of two or three. Males and females would generally live independently from each other and would meet exclusively during the mating season.
The reasons for the extinction of this species are multiple. During the Meiji period, from 1868 to 1912, otter skins became more and more valuable as they were sold abroad for a good profit. Consequently, many started to hunt these animals and the population drastically decreased.
After a few years, the Japanese government started to promulgate some regulations to limit the hunting of these animals, leading to an increase in their numbers. But these measurements were not enough. Human pollution and development damaged their habitat to the point that Japanese otters could no longer find food in the rivers. They, therefore, started to hunt in other more dangerous settings where they were frequently killed. This led to the quick extinction of the species making this another of the many animals that went extinct in the last 20 years.
9. Saudi gazelle
The Saudi gazelle was a gazelle species endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. It was last observed in the wild in 1970, but it was declared extinct only in 2016. The Saudi gazelle lived in the northern and western Arabian Peninsula, roaming between Yemen, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Its habitats were gravel and sandy plains where acacia trees would grow naturally. Saudi gazelle have been spotted in groups of 20 individuals and singly.
Experts agree that the extinction of Saudi gazelle was caused by excessive hunting, and already in 1980, this species was declared extinct in the wild.