‘Most Wanted’ list leads to rediscovered species

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Lela Nargi

THE WASHINGTON POST – From Cuba to New Zealand, teams of scientists around the world are searching for rare species of animals, plants and fungi. How rare? They haven’t been seen by humans for at least 10 years – and in some cases almost 200 years.

This global effort is part of Search for Lost Species, a program run by an organization called Re:wild. In 2017, Re:wild compiled a list of its 25 most wanted lost species. It was narrowed down from a much larger list of over 2,200 species in 60 countries that was compiled with the help of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which tracks species in the world threatened with extinction.

Since the beginning of the Re:wild program, eight species have been rediscovered, surprising even those in charge of the program, who were not sure of finding any of the lost species. Among the rediscovered animals are two species in Africa: a tiny, mouse-sized elephant shrew called the Somali sengi in Djibouti and the Voeltzkow’s chameleon in Madagascar. A rabbit-sized deer, known as the silverback chevrotain, has also been rediscovered in southern Vietnam.

As for the chevrotain, “we have obtained the first photographic evidence that the species still exists,” said Andy Tilker, Asian species manager at Re:wild. An Nguyen, who conducted the field research, said three populations of chevrotain were found. He and Tilker will work to better protect the mammal, which could get caught in hunters’ traps. Better protections are the goal of all Re:wild efforts.

This month, eight new species have been added to the list of lost species to replace those that have been found. They include a South American mushroom, a Portuguese spider, and a Brazilian tree that hasn’t been seen in 184 years.

This Blanco’s blind salamander is the only known specimen of the species. PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

Andy Gluesenkamp is director of conservation at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas. He leads a team in search of Blanco’s blind salamander. He said it’s the rarest amphibian in North America and is likely one of the top predators – like a “little great white shark” – in its ecosystem.

Gluesenkamp said the salamander hasn’t really “disappeared” since the only time it was seen 70 years ago. It lives in deep aquifers (underground places where groundwater is retained). It is therefore not easy for scientists to find or study them.

To search for clues to the animal’s whereabouts, he and his team use satellite images and DNA samples from its environment.

Inger Perkins is leading efforts to find a New Zealand bird called the South Island kokako. She said the kokako and other native birds have struggled to survive in the country since rats, stoats and possums arrived with European and other settlers hundreds of years ago.

Since 2017, there have been 317 reports of people who believe they have heard the unique sound of the bird.

According to Perkins, the kokako has a call with a “haunting melody” that she and other scientists are trying to capture with acoustic recorders. A photo or video of the kokako is also needed, however, “to confirm the bird still exists,” Perkins said. His team therefore also installed tracking cameras.

Although the Perkins team has been searching for the kokako for more than 40 years, they are optimistic about its rediscovery and protection.

“New Zealand has a good track record of bringing birds back from the brink,” she said. “We are doing everything we can to find it, so that it does not join the ranks of the extinct species.”

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