“A powerful antidote to despair”: the project that tracks down lost species

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Dozens of species lost to science have been rediscovered thanks to a pioneering program. The task now is to keep them

Eight new “wild and whimsical” lost species from around the world have claimed a spot in Re:wild’s top 25 most wanted list. It’s part of the organization’s Search for Lost Species program – a Guinness World Record quest to find and protect species lost to science.

The eight replace those that have been rediscovered since the project began in 2017. Among them: the Jackson’s climbing salamander, spotted again in Guatemala in 2017; the Fernandina Galápagos tortoise, rediscovered in 2019; and the silverback chevrotain (main image, above), which was filmed in Vietnam in 2019.

“When we launched, we didn’t know if anyone would rediscover one of the wild animals on our most wanted list,” said Barney Long, senior director of conservation strategies at Re:wild. “Each new rediscovery has reminded us that we can find hope in even the most unlikely of situations and that these stories of neglected – yet fascinating – species can be a powerful antidote to despair.”

The eight species added to the list include the Colombian oily catfish; the Cuban dwarf hutia, a guinea pig-like rodent lost since 1937; and the blind white salamander, last seen in Texas in 1951.

Long said he hopes the new additions (listed below) will inspire conservationists and citizen scientists around the world to join in the research.

Officially, lost species are those that have been lost to science for at least 10 years – and often much longer. The most searched list is a subset of more than 2,200 species lost that Re:wild has compiled in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Fortunately, between 2017 and 2020, some 67 species from the expanded list have been rediscovered.

The Jackson’s climbing salamander was rediscovered in Guatemala in 2017. Credit: World Land Trust

“The successful rediscovery of lost species is the first step towards preventing the extinction of these often forgotten species,” Long said. “Once a species has been found, conservationists can begin to answer critical questions about the size and health of its populations, threats to its survival, and solutions for its conservation and recovery. “

Re:wild has also launched a list of lost legends: species whose rediscoveries are at best considered distant and whose extinctions may be recent, but which persist in the collective imagination of society. This list includes the Australian Tasmanian tiger; the Costa Rican golden toad; and the Yangtze River dolphin in China.

In 2020, the program received a Guinness World Record for “most ‘lost species’ researched by a conservation project”.

The eight new features of Re:wild

Lost species
1. Oily Catfish, Colombia

The world’s only freshwater catfish with rings of fatty tissue wrapped around its body, described as “the closest fish a fish can get to the Michelin Man”. Lost since: 1957.

Lost species
2. Mouse Togo, Togoa and Ghana

A small, insect-loving, ground-dwelling mammal known locally as ‘Yefuli’. Lost since: 1890.

3. Dwarf Hutia, Cuba

A guinea pig-like rodent that may have left suspicious droppings for researchers on the case. Lost since: 1937.

4. South Island Kōkako, New Zealand

A bird with a haunting cry often compared to the sound of a flute or the notes of an organ. Lost since: 2007.

Lost species
5. Blanco Blind Salamander, USA

A blind salamander living in underground aquifers in Hays County, Texas. Lost since: 1951.

Lost species
6. Fagilde Trapdoor Spider, Portugal

An elusive spider that builds horizontal traps and clappers to score dates. Lost since: 1931.

7. Large puma mushroom, South America

Although not really very big, this mushroom has quite a scientific name (Austroomphaliaster nahuelbutensis) and can represent its own genus. Lost since: 1988.

8. Holly from Pernambuco, Brazil

A mysterious species of tree that has eluded scientists for nearly two centuries. Lost since: 1838.

Main image: A silverback chevrotain caught on camera. Credit: SIE/GWC/LEIBNIZ-IZW/NCNP
Illustration: Alexis Rockman

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