These 562 species disappeared from the radar of animal protection

When an animal is declared extinct, several data are examined: date of the last direct observation, fine exploration of its range, opinion of local organizations… But sometimes, the animal in question is a species called “Lazare” , that is, a species declared extinct prematurely and found years later. This is the case of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird native to Cuba and the southern United States, declared extinct… twice! Its first extinction was announced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1996, when it was last seen in 1944. In 2004, naturalists claim to have seen it in Arkansas (United States), but the expeditions carried out do not confirm the discovery. It’s this time Fish & Wildlife Service of the United States which confirms its disappearance in September 2021. But, a twist, the bird reappeared a few months later, on April 13, 2022, in a forest in Louisiana (United States).

This example sums up the whole puzzle represented by the “lost species” identified by researchers. Difficult to observe or attracting little interest from zoologists, some are simply too little known to be able to determine their conservation status. Carried out by German and Canadian universities, this study, published on Animal Conservation on May 16, 2022, is the first to quantify more than 500 species lost among the world’s vertebrates, unseen for 50 years or more. A figure that could be greatly underestimated, which is why Arne Mooers, the originator of the study, says that “While theoretical estimates of ongoing ‘extinction rates’ are fine, it’s best to take a close look at actual species.”

A majority of reptiles concerned

Of the 562 species identified by the study, 257 are reptiles, 137 amphibians, 130 mammals and 38 are birds. This is hardly surprising for researchers, who consider that herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) is much less studied by biologists than mammals or birds. On April 27, 2022, a study warned of the risk of extinction of one in five reptiles within about 15 years, this taxon being very sensitive to the consequences of climate change. Among amphibians, many anurans (family gathering frogs and toads) have not been observed for several decades, this is the case of Schneider’s banana frog (Afrixalus schneideri), who only lives in a small locality in Cameroon.

Among mammals, it is rather endemic species such as the Chinese dolphin (Vexillifer Lipotes), living exclusively in the waters of the river Yangzi Jiang in eastern China. Announced extinct in 2007, specialists have called for more caution about its status. The IUCN still considers the species critically endangered, although no Chinese dolphins have been officially sighted since the death in captivity of the last representative of the species, in 2002.

Birds are an exception.

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