While it’s true that nature can be unbelievably powerful, it can also be incredibly fragile. Since the dawn of time, it’s estimated that a staggering 99.9 percent of all species that have lived on Earth have gone extinct. Most of those deaths happened during mass extinctions that were caused by natural, cataclysmic events, but in recent years, we humans have caused our share of decimation to our fellow Earthlings.
Aggressive conservation efforts in recent decades have protected many endangered species from being forever lost, but we’ve still lost plenty of them. Here are some species that have been declared either fully extinct or extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in just the past 150 years. Sadly, you’ll never be able to see most of these creatures for yourself, no matter how much you’d like to.
As its name hints, this impressive bird used to be found in the Southeastern part of the country, with sightings ranging from southern New York to the Gulf of Mexico. The last captive Carolina parakeet died in 1918, meaning we’ve been without this stunning species for more than a century.
A combination of hunting, honeybees and a poultry disease are believed to have wiped these birds out. Sadly, the Carolina parakeet was the only parrot species to be native to the Eastern U.S.
Another extinct bird that was native to the Eastern states, the heath hen disappeared forever in 1932, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Seen as a delicious and easy source of food, heath hens were nearly wiped out by hunting in the 1800s before conservation efforts were put in place. But with their numbers diminished, natural problems like predation, disease and harsh winter weather eventually knocked them out for good. According to the Smithsonian Gardens, it’s been estimated that the Pilgrims actually ate heath hen, not turkey, on the first Thanksgiving. You can see two of them on the right in the photo below.
Gastric Brooding Frog
This may look like your average amphibian but the gastric brooding frog was anything but ordinary. This species, aka the platypus frog, was first discovered in 1972 and was indigenous to Australia — as, sadly, several recently extinct species were. One scientist discovered that the females in this species were able to turn their own stomachs into a womb by swallowing their fertilized eggs, ditching the harmful acid in their stomach and not eating for six whole weeks while 20-25 tadpoles came to maturity.
Unfortunately, the last wild gastric brooding frog was seen in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and the last captive one died in 1983, according to National Geographic.
These beguiling creatures were more like wild dogs than big cats but earned their name from the unique stripes on their fur. Tasmanian tigers were marsupials from Australia who, unlike kangaroos, ate meat. Drought drove them from Australia to the island of Tasmania, where they lived for thousands of years until British colonists wiped them out. The final one died in captivity in 1936.
Pinta Island Tortoise
The final Pinta Island tortoise to ever live was fittingly named Lonesome George, and when he died in 2012, the world lost another beautiful species. George himself, whom you can see below, was estimated to be more than 100 years old and weighed about 165 pounds, making him an impressive specimen.
This massive species of tortoise was wiped out by goats, who ate much of the vegetation they survived on. The goats were an invasive species who were brought to Ecuador’s Pinta Island by hungry fishermen in the 1950s.
The Eskimo curlew has become a legendary species among birdwatchers because it has yet to be declared officially extinct by the IUCN, but there hasn’t been a verified sighting of one since 1963. The IUCN calls it “possibly extinct” but experts in ornithology have mostly given up on ever seeing another one.
This bird, which was a common sight along North American shorelines in the 1800s, was hunted relentlessly by humans and also was killed off when its primary prey, a specific grasshopper species, disappeared when native grasslands were converted into corn fields.
When this Costa Rican beauty went extinct in 1989, it became the first extinction to ever be blamed on man-made global warming. However, recent research shows that might not have been what led to this colorful amphibian’s demise.
In 2010, scientists figured out that an El Niño weather pattern led to a particularly dry season that let a certain type of fungus thrive; the fungus infected golden toads, and the resulting skin condition killed them. No matter what caused the golden toad’s extinction, you won’t be seeing them again.
The passenger pigeon was, at one point, considered the most abundant bird in North America, and perhaps the world, according to the National Audubon Society. Another victim of overhunting, this species was thought to be invulnerable because of its large numbers, but it was eventually hunted to extinction. The final passenger pigeon, a female named Martha, died in captivity in 1914, bringing a sad end to the story of this once-flourishing species of bird.
Certainly one of the more intriguing-looking beasts on this list, the quagga looked a bit like a zebra, except only half of its body had stripes and the other half was brown. This species was a native of South Africa that was eventually hunted into total extinction in the early 1880s. After more than a century of nonexistence, a group of scientists used selective breeding to isolate specific genes in zebras that would produce a quagga, meaning this species could somehow find a way back to life.
One species of lion that completely died out nearly 150 years ago was South Africa’s Cape lion. Similar to what happened to that country’s quagga, the Cape lion was hunted out of existence in the late 1800s. What was believed to be the last one ever was held as a prized pet named Prince by an explorer named Emil Holub. Around 1880, Prince died and Holub had him stuffed, allegedly because he loved the animal so dearly. Seeing that stuffed creature is unfortunately the closest you’d come to greeting a Cape lion these days.
Japanese Sea Lion
While some unconfirmed reports claimed the Japanese sea lion had been spotted as recently as the 1970s, the IUCN accepts that the last reliable sighting of one happened in 1951.
This species was the victim of massive hunting and the effects of undersea battles during World War II, which explains the date of its demise. The IUCN does not rule out that the population could’ve moved to a different ocean habitat and become blended with other sea lion species, but the Japanese variety, as it was known, is lost.
Caribbean Monk Seal
Like the Japanese sea lion, the Caribbean monk seal fell victim to humankind, leading to its extinction at about the same time. This creature hasn’t been seen since 1952 in the Caribbean Sea, where it was a native.
In 2008, a five-year review by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into what led to the Caribbean monk seal’s demise confirmed that overhunting was what wiped out the entire species.
The desert bandicoot used to be a common sight among the sand dunes of Australia before it died out. This small creature was last seen in the 1960s in Australia’s Northern Territory, according to the local government there.
The desert bandicoot fell victim to invasive species, foxes and cats, as well as a changing habitat that it couldn’t withstand. It’s tough to decide whether these little guys were cute or creepy but, either way, it’s unfortunate that they can no longer be seen in the Outback.
The migration of foxes was also a major killer of this Australian species in the early 1900s. The oddly named desert rat-kangaroo had been heavily hunted by colonists in Australia during the late 1800s, with a reported 3 million of them dying as a result. The introduction of European red foxes into the animal’s habitat quickly led to its total annihilation.
This deer was a native of Thailand and fell between an average white-tail deer and an elk in terms of size. It was named after Britain’s consul to Bangkok in the mid-1800s and would survive until the 1930s.
According to the IUCN, the last wild Schomburgk’s deer was believed to be killed in 1932, while the last one in captivity died in 1938. Like many deer species, it was popular game among hunters, and that’s what is believed to have led to its extinction.
Yunnan Lake Newt
China’s Yunnan Lake newt hasn’t been seen since 1979, making it a very recent addition to the list of extinct species. This salamander had a beautiful color pattern, as you can see from the illustrations made of it before it was wiped out. The loss of the Yunnan Lake newt has been attributed to loss of habitat and newly introduced species.
This small bird was a resident of Hawaii and was also known as the black-faced honeycreeper, but po’ouli is a much better name if you ask us. The last known creature of its species died in captivity in Maui in 2004. The New York Times described this bird as “shy,” which is why it wasn’t even discovered until 1973. It lived on a diet of snails and bugs but was killed off because of a changing ecosystem and human sprawl. Aloha, little bird.
Fisherman in the Great Lakes used to hook the blackfin cisco quite often, which ultimately led to its demise. This fish would grow to about 20 inches in length and was last seen in Lake Michigan in 1969. That decade is when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially marks its extinction.
Unconfirmed sightings of blackfin cisco have been reported as recently as 2006, but it is believed this species is completely gone from our waters.
Xerces Blue Butterfly
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Founded by entomologist Robert Michael Pyle in 1971, the Xerces Society takes its name from the now-extinct Xerces Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities. This sad story has become our rallying cry, as we strive to never let this happen again—with our international work to protect invertebrates and their habitat. Learn more at xerces.org!⠀⠀ •••⠀⠀ 📸: Larry Orsak⠀⠀ •••⠀⠀ #originstory #extinction #endangeredspecies #endangeredspeciesconservation #conservation #environment #xercesblue #xercesbluebutterfly #bluebutterfly #butterfly #butterflyconservation #savethebees #savethebutterflies #savethepollinators #habitatconservation #makeadifference #nonprofit #invertebrates #invertebrateconservation #xercessociety
Easily one of the most gorgeous extinct species you could’ve ever seen, the Xerces blue butterfly used to flourish in the sand dunes around San Francisco as recently as the 1940s.
It became the first North American butterfly species to be wiped out as the result of human behavior. It was the development of that now-bustling city that devastated this creature’s natural habitat, leaving us only with dead samples to view in museums. Below, the Xerces Society, for whom this butterfly was named, shared a shot of two examples of this beautiful butterfly.
Black Softshell Turtle
This South Asian species, primarily found in Bangladesh, has been declared extinct in the wild by IUCN since 2002, but there’s some hope that it could come back from oblivion. The black softshell turtle, like many freshwater turtle species, has faced near-total devastation in recent decades and was believed to only have survived in captivity for almost 20 years until a thrilling discovery was made in India in 2019.
In a pond at a temple in Assam, India, a small population of these turtles was found thriving decades after they’d been given up on in the wild. Of course, they are still on the brink of total extinction, and IUCN hasn’t yet updated their status.
This bird’s demise was the result of a U.S. military cargo ship accidentally bringing a stowaway to the island of Guam. The stowaway was a brown tree snake, and because the Guam Rail is a flightless bird, it was unable to avoid being eaten by snakes. (The invasive snakes caused the annihilation of several bird species on the island, including two others that are now considered extinct.)
In its native island habitat, the Guam rail is known as the ko’ko, but residents there have unfortunately been able to spot them in about 30 years. In 1987, as the Guam rail stood on the brink of total annihilation, 21 of them were taken into captivity, which is the only way this species has survived since then. Efforts to reintroduce them into Guam’s habitat have begun, but it’s unclear if they’ll ever survive in the wild as they once did.
The 2011 movie “Rio” was about a Spix’s macaw who was helping repopulate his species, which had been nearly wiped out — but it appears he would’ve been too late in real life. This blue beauty hasn’t been seen in its native habitat of Brazil since 2000 as a result of deforestation. Thankfully, there are a few dozen of them still alive in captivity, but the Spix’s macaw is a species that has been lost in the wild.
Père David’s Deer
Named for a 19th-century French missionary, the Père David’s deer was a massive species found in China. The 500-plus pound beasts sported massive antlers, making them a prime target for hunting, which was one of the leading causes of its extinction in the wild, along with flooding.
The entire wild population of Père David’s deer had disappeared in 1939 but has been kept around thanks to captive breeding. Unlike most creatures on this list, these deer have a chance to thrive again in their natural habitat, as efforts to reintroduce them in China are already underway.
Thanks to captive breeding efforts, there is still a chance for the scimitar-horned oryx to come back from its current status of extinction in the wild as well. These beasts are able to tolerate extremely high temperatures, making them suited for their natural habitat of desert lands in Northern Africa.
The scimitar-horned oryx disappeared from the wild in 2000 due to hunting and loss of habitat. Small numbers of these once-prominent animals have been reintroduced in Chad in recent years, giving hope that we could again see them roaming the Sahara.
First discovered in 1946, this amphibian could be spotted around its namesake state for decades before its population dwindled. It’s unknown what exactly wiped out this species, but some possibilities include disease, pesticide use and a changing habitat.
The Wyoming toad hasn’t been seen in the wild since 1993, when 10 of them were captured to begin captive breeding. That’s where some still exist today, as scientists try to bring the Wyoming toad back, but it’s been extinct in the wild for almost 30 years.