10 Extinct Species That We Should Miss

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Dinosaurs were surely fantastic creatures, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wishes Tyrannosaurus rex were alive and roaming the streets. If dinosaurs weren’t extinct, humankind probably would be. All in all, the dinosaur extinction is something we should be happy about, at least from a human survival perspective. So sorry, T. Rex, you’re not one of the things we pine to resurrect.

Unfortunately, there have been some not-so-ancient extinctions that we really should regret happening. Most of the species that have gone kaput in recent history have met their doom at human hands. And although, at the time, we thought we could do without these creatures, many of them could have helped us, or at least provided us with an interesting spectacle. The following 10 animals are all species that have died out in recent recorded history. And they’re all creatures that, for one reason or another, we should miss.

10. Dodo Bird

Dodos became extinct in the late 17th century.
Dodos became extinct in the late 17th century.

The dodo has become the symbol for species brought to extinction by human hands, and it must be included on any list dealing with the subject. Even if only for its entertainment value, the dodo is a bird that we should regret losing. Standing one meter tall with its characteristic hooked beak, tiny wings, and ruffled tail, the dodo was unlike any other bird known to man. It lived on the island of Mauritius, where it grew up to 50 pounds. Needless to say, this oddly shaped avian couldn’t fly; it nested on the ground and ate fruits and nuts.

Dodos didn’t have any natural predators on the island of Mauritius, so they thrived there until the arrival of humans. When people first settled the island, they didn’t hunt the birds often, but they did bring predators with them. The cats, dogs, and pigs that accompanied people to Mauritius killed the birds and destroyed their nests. Also, people gradually annihilated the forests where the dodos lived, making it hard for them to find protected nesting areas and appropriate food sources. About a century after humans first arrived on Mauritius, dodos died out. The exact date of their extinction is unknown, but it was likely before the year 1700.

9. Falkland Islands Wolf

The Falkland Island wolf became extinct in 1876

This species was the only native land mammal on the Falkland Islands and may have once been a companion animal to humans. Nevertheless, it was wiped out by humans in 1876. The Falkland Islands wolf is the only known canid species to have become extinct in historical times. The wolf was also known as the Warrah, a term based on a corruption of the native term for it. Sometimes, it is referred to as the Falkland Islands dog or fox too.

Darwin wrote about the wolf in his book, The Voyage of the Beagle. He commented that the species would probably be wiped out in a few years; at the time of his visit to the Falkland Islands, the numbers of the wolf had already dwindled. It was thought to be a threat to farmer’s sheep population, so it was often shot on sight. But other reports claim that the wolf was generally a docile animal that kept to itself and fed on birds and insects. Darwin even called it “tame.” So it seems like the wolf was destroyed for no good reason at all.

8. Steller’s Sea Cow

Steller’s sea cow was wiped out in 1768.

This large aquatic mammal was once a source of food and raw materials for many people living in the Northern Pacific region. Unfortunately, overhunting forced the species into extinction in 1768. Sea cows were first officially discovered by the German naturalist Georg Steller in 1741, although they had been a part of indigenous people’s way of life for perhaps thousands of years. Steller was traveling with the explorer Vitus Bering when he spotted a group of the cows near the Commander Islands. He was fascinated by them, and wrote about them in his journal. Fossil records show that at one time the animals lived all along the North Pacific coast, reaching as far south as Japan and California.

Sea cows were an important part of many native people’s lives. In addition to being eaten for food, sea cows’ skin was used to make durable boats. Also, their thick subcutaneous layer of fat made an ideal, odorless fuel. The regular hunting of the cows, however, reduced their numbers over time. And after Steller made them known to the European world, poachers quickly killed off the surviving herds.

Steller’s sea cows looked like a cross between a manatee and a seal, but they were much bigger than both these animals. Stretching 27 feet long and reaching estimated weights of up to 10 tons, sea cows were monstrosities in the water. Their characteristic whale-like tails and stumpy “arms” also set them apart from other water mammals. But despite their size and oddities, they were docile creatures, easy to track and kill. The cows couldn’t entirely submerge in the water and they usually traveled in groups, leaving trails of uprooted sea kelp. It wasn’t difficult for hunters to find them and, over time, kill them off to the point of extinction.

7. Quagga

Quaggas died out in the late 1800s

The quagga is a subspecies of zebra that was once found in great numbers throughout the dry areas of South Africa. It was something of an oddity, with markings like an ordinary zebra on the front part of its body and a rear that was entirely brown. The quagga was hunted into extinction in the 1870s, before it was even identified as separate from ordinary zebras. Quaggas were ruthlessly killed for their meat and hides and were also considered competition for livestock, who shared feeding areas.

Quaggas were the first extinct animals to have their DNA analyzed; after this was done, the very close relationship between quaggas and zebras was discovered. There is now hope that quaggas could be “resurrected,” in a sense, by breeding horses and zebras together. Of course, a horse-zebra hybrid wouldn’t be a true quagga, but the markings could be made to look similar.

6. Bali Tiger

Around 1937, the last Bali tiger was killed

The Bali tiger is one of two subspecies of Indonesian tiger that is now extinct, the other being the Javan tiger. Although the loss of both species is devastating to biodiversity, the Bali tiger was a particularly strong blow. It was the smallest of all tigers, measuring no more than seven-and-a-half feet long and weighing about 200 pounds.

Bali tigers only lived on the island of Bali, and when the forests began to be destroyed by people, their habitats were greatly reduced. With the population already waning, the tigers were hunted into extinction by Europeans during the Dutch colonial period. The last tiger was thought to be killed in 1937, although some tigers could have survived longer in the wild. It’s considered very unlikely that any still live today.

5. Golden Toad

The brightly colored Golden toad hasn’t been seen since 1989

Once abundant in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, the golden toad came to a sudden extinction in the 1980s, after its habitat was drastically altered due to climate change. No other amphibians are known to display the toad’s distinct color, which was described by its discoverer, Jay Savage, as “Day-Glo orange.” The toads’ skin was shiny and bright too, which only furthered the illusion that it had been dipped in paint. Only male toads had such bright coloring; females were, in fact, mostly black with a few orange spots.

Golden toads were seen frequently in the cloud forests after their discovery in 1966. But in the 1980s, they became less common. Since 1989, no one has seen a Golden Toad. For a long time people hoped the toads were burrowed underground, waiting for conditions to improve. But after no sightings were seen for years, the toad was placed on the extinct species list in 2004.

4. Aurochs

Aurochs, one of the ancestors of modern cattle, became extinct in the 17th century

We owe a lot to aurochs. They’re one of the ancestors of modern cattle, an animal which today supplies the world with meat and milk. Actually, aurochs and cattle are considered by many to be variations of same species. Some people would say it’s not fair to group aurochs with extinct animals, but since there are no longer any wild cattle in Europe, most scientists do consider aurochs to be wiped out. Aurochs also exhibited many features that aren’t found in modern domesticated cattle, like forward-bent horns and stripes down their backs.

Aurochs were first domesticated in Mesopotamia, but they remained prevalent in the wild of Northern Europe until the middle ages. Their numbers gradually dwindled due to overhunting and habitat destruction. Though they were fierce animals, aurochs eventually succumbed to the stress of being constantly hunted. The last of the aurochs lived in the early 1600s.

3. Great Auk

Great auks were once prevalent, but they were hunted to extinction in the 1800s.

Believe it or not, great auks were once called penguins before the modern bird took the title. But great auks and penguins aren’t closely related, despite their similar appearance. Great auks were the last surviving species of the genus Pinguinus, a group that once included many large, flightless birds. At one point, great auks were prevalent on many Northern Atlantic islands, including Greenland. They also wintered as far south as Florida!

Auks were always hunted for food and down by native people; they were evidently a valuable part of life for indigenous tribes, as multiple archeological items have been found made of their skins. It wasn’t until greater numbers of people moved to Scandinavia that they were sought out in large numbers for meat, eggs, skins, and feather down. The egg snatching was what sent the auks on the path to extinction; not only would hunters kill adult birds, but they would also collect the eggs for food. The last great auks lived in the 1850s.

2. Passenger Pigeon

Passenger pigeons became extinct in the early 20th century

North American passenger pigeons were once known as one of the spectacles of the continent. They flew in flocks that were billions strong, clouding the skies like locusts during their migration season. But massive killing campaigns wiped out the birds quickly; in a few centuries, the pigeon population that once numbered about five billion was completely destroyed.

Early flocks of passenger pigeons were sometimes more than a mile wide, taking hours to pass overhead. They were a huge threat to farmers, and their agricultural impact is part of what prompted the frenzied extermination of the species. Another reason they were killed in droves was for their cheap meat, which was sold to servants and slaves, two birds for a penny. Thousands of birds were killed at one time using poison, fire, and guns. The last flock of passenger pigeons, which numbered about 250,000 birds, was killed off in a matter of a few days in 1896; the killers had the distinct purpose of bringing the species to extinction. A few remaining birds were sighted through the early 20th century, but the species had entirely died out by 1910.

One good thing did come of the slaughter of passenger pigeons; their extinction led to an interest in the conservation movement. In part because of the passenger pigeon’s extinction, new legislation has helped other species survive in the United States.

1. Tahltan Bear Dog

Tahltan bear dogs became extinct after white settlers brought new dogs to America.

One of man’s best friends is extinct. Though it was not a species but a breed, the extinction of the bear dog comes as a big blow. The Tahltan bear dog was a canine companion to the American Indians in what is now Northern Canada before the arrival of European settlers. The dogs descended from those that crossed the land bridge to the Americas with people long ago. They were a huge part of native life; trained to stalk and hunt bears, Tahltans were fearless animals when at work, but they were loving companions otherwise. Reports indicate the bear dogs lived inside home structures with their human owners.

A bear dog’s defining characteristic was its tail, which was held upright with outward splaying fur. The dogs had thick, hard coats and were very intelligent. They were ritually bled before being led into the woods to hunt bears. When they found a bear, they would distract it long enough for the human hunters to find it and finish the kill. Tahltan bear dogs gradually became less common as white settlers brought other breeds of dog to the new world. Eventually, no pure Tahltans existed. But they will be missed.