Since the beginning of life on earth, the species living on this planet have competed with each other for space and resources. For those species that lose this competition, the ultimate consolation prize is their entire extinction. Unfortunately, the rise of the human population has led to the widespread extinction of several other species. Included within these recent extinctions are animals that are pretty cool. As such, this list will count down 15 Cool Animals We Wish Hadn’t Gone Extinct. I tried to include a variety of animals on this list, but it is naturally composed of mostly large mammals. Not only are these mammals easy to distinguish from one another (due to their size), they are also the ones most likely to suffer from an increase human presence in their habitat. With that being said, I hope that our readers will recognize that the increasing human population could spell trouble for any number of animals on our planet. Only by our own efforts, can we hope to preserve the current animal populations, and prevent what happened to the extinct species on our list. If you can think of any great animals (now extinct of course) which did not make our list, feel free to mention them in the comments.
15. Sabertooth Tiger
Anyone who has had the mandatory class on Darwin during middle school science classes should remember that every feature an animal has (tigers‘ stripes, monkeys‘ tails) are the result of millions of years of evolution. These adaptions developed over time as a way to give that animal a competitive advantage over other animals in its never–ending search for food. One thing that I have never understood is what possible advantage the large fangs of the saber tooth tiger gave it over its competitors. This digression aside, the saber tooth was the king of all big felines, and it is truly a shame that this prehistoric animal became extinct. During its time on earth, it was capable of hunting any number of gigantic animals that roamed the earth.
14. Tasmanian Tiger
For a long time, the Tasmanian tiger (officially called the thylacine) was used as the primary reason for conservation efforts in the 20th century. The creatures were widespread in parts of Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea until overhunting by settlers led to their decline, and eventually extinction. This unique creature resembled a large dog, except that it had stripes similar to a tiger and an abdominal pouch. Given how protective the Australian government has become over its trademark animals like the kangaroo and platypus, it is easy to see the effect that the thylacine’s extinction has had on other Australian populations. If only this newfound attitude would have occurred before one of the countries coolest animals vanished from the earth.
13. Pinta Island Tortoise
In the late 19th century, turtles and tortoises were very popular among biologist. These unique creatures had several distinct characteristics that made them very important for the study of ecology. This craze over turtles was not limited to scientists, however, the Pinta Island tortoise was so popular among hunters that they were hunted to extinction by the mid-20th century. The turtles were valued for their meat, as well as their shell which could be hollowed out and used in a variety of ways. A lone, male, tortoise was discovered on the island in 1971. But with no females of the species remaining, Lonesome George died alone in June of 2012. This sad story illustrates the struggle of conservationist to survive these species once they reach a certain point of deterioration.
12. Irish Elk
One reason why the American buffalo and caribou have seen a population reemergence in recent years is because the large stature of the animals makes them an easy pitch for conservationist organizations. These large herd animals are crucial to ecosystems, and a decline in their number can have drastic implications for a variety of other animals. As such, you can understand the huge ecological ramifications of the extinction of the Irish Elk, one of the largest deer to ever have lived. The most recent remains of this creature were found in the bogs of Ireland, and have been dated to about 7,700 years ago. Scientists disagree on what caused this animals extinction, but most believe that the large range area needed to feed a creature this large, likely contributed to its downfall.
This list could be entirely composed of our next entry, but in the interest of diversity I thought it best to include dinosaurs as a single entry. Long before man existed, the world was dominated by large reptiles, who were collectively classified as dinosaurs. These creatures were part of their own, unique, ecosystem which we can still see the consequences of today (there is evidence to suggest that birds are the most closely related descendants of dinosaurs). While these creatures are clearly extinct (unless you believe in the Loch Ness monster), scientists have debated for centuries just what it was that brought about the end of these behemoths. Whatever it was, we can all be thankful that there aren’t tyrannosaurus rex’s walking down the streets of our major cities.
10. Wooly Mammoth
Of all the entries on this list, this one might be my favorite. Think about how great/popular elephants are in zoos and nature parks. Now imagine an elephant that is significantly bigger and covered in thick fur. Unfortunately, none of us have ever seen this creature, because the wooly mammoth (or so best estimates tell us) when extinct at the end of the last ice age. This was a period of tremendous change on earth, so the mammoth joined a number of creatures that went extinct at this time. Evidence suggests that hunting by early homo sapiens may have contributed to their downfall, so the mammoth might be the first animal that humans drove to extinction. I, for one, wouldn’t mind sharing my neighborhood with this phenomenal creature.
9. Cave Lion
Anyone who has seen the variety of nature shows on Animal Planet and Discovery can attest to the sheer awesome power of the worlds big cats. These creatures are perfect killing machines, capable of bringing down animals multiple times their size. It would shock many, therefore, to learn that there was once a big cat that would have made the rest of these felines look downright puny. The cave lion was an ancient beast that ruled the earth in the period immediately after the latest ice age. A small specimen has been estimated to weigh between 700-800 pounds. This is already about 10% larger than the average for our modern lions. On top of this, this animals frame had the potential for getting even larger, thus potentially rivalling even the sabertooth tiger.
8. Japanese River Otter
Thanks to various internet memes and videos, otters have become one of the most popular animals in the entire world. If this increased popularity had happened earlier, perhaps it could have stopped the extinction of the Japanese river otter. As its name suggests, this small mammal was native to Japan, and at one point its population actually number in the millions. After centuries of over hunting and habitat destruction, however, the animal went extinct in the late 20th century. Seeing the error of their ways, the Japanese government attempted to revive the population. On August 28, 2012, they officially abandoned their attempts and declared this cute, cuddly, creature extinct. Since this extinction, countries in other parts of the world have been more productive of their own otter species.
7. Great Auk
I’m not a big fan of birds in general, but I have to say that penguins are pretty cool animals. As such, I was sad to learn that the great auk, a flightless bird very similar to the penguin, had gone extinct. The great auk was actually discovered before penguins, and the term “penguin” originated as a nickname for the auks. Hunting by humans initially lowered the population of the auks, and then various environmental changes led to their demise in the 1850’s. Luckily for us, the great auk’s closest living relative is still in existence (the razorbill), though they too are highly endangered. Birds generally require a fairly large habitat to support their offspring, so human developments like deforestation have critically affected many species.
6. Laughing Owl
It is a sad fact that animals are more likely to receive protection from federal and state governments if there is something unique about them that they can tout to politicians and their voters. This, however, was not enough to save the laughing owl, a bird native to New Zealand that had a high–pitched cry that sounded like a human laugh. This animal was hunted to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, or at least that’s what people thought until the 1980’s. In that decade, the New Zealand government received several reports of people who reported hearing cackling laughter during the night in rural areas. No hard evidence of the owls has ever been found, but these numerous reports have given hope to many of the survival of the laughing owl.
5. Falkland Islands Wolf
In the past thirty years, very ambitious plans of conservationists in regards to wolves, and other large canines, have come to fruition. All these efforts came too late for the next entry on our list, the Falkland Islands wolf. This strange creature from the Falkland Islands (naturally), was somewhat like a cross between a dog, wolf, and fox. This creature was already somewhat sparse when humans first began visiting the islands, but hunting by settlers and tourists didn’t help matters. In 1833, Charles Darwin famously studied the wolves and hypothesized that they would become extinct in the near future. By 1873 (a mere 40 years later), his prediction came true. This cool animal certainly would have benefit from modern conservation efforts for canines.
4. Pyrenean Ibex
Those of you who were scared of Jurassic Park as a kid might just want to skip this next one. This is because our next entry, thanks to recent scientific advances, might not actually be gone forever. The Pyrenean Ibex, a large goat like creature, officially went extinct in 2000. In 2009, however, scientists were able to clone an ibex and put it into the stomach of a female billy goat. The resulting creature unfortunately died in 2009, but the project researchers are confident that they can replicate the success; hopefully with a better result. For that reason, don’t be surprised if you see a population of ibexes pop up again at some point. I wonder what Jeff Goldblum would have to say about a park full of cloned ibexes.
3. Steller’s Sea Cow
The last time I went to Florida, my grandparents were fascinated with the manatees who swam along the canal near our hotel. I regretfully had to inform them that a close relative of the manatee, the Steller’s sea cow, went extinct in the late 1700’s. This species of Gugongidae was discovered in 1741, and were so desired for their meat, fat, and hide, that they went extinct within twenty-seven years of their discovery. The slow-moving animals were easy prey for human hunters. This led to some horrific stories of dozens of Steller’s being killed by hunters, with the majority of their meat being left in the ocean to rot. At the time they were discovered in 1741, their range was already limited to the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, so it’s possible that the species was already marked for extinction when their hunting by humans began.
I’m not a big livestock guy, but even I have to admit that the Aurochs were pretty cool. The progenitors of the modern cow, the last aurochs died on a Polish nature preserve in 1627. Evidence suggests that the aurochs first started to become domesticated about 10,000 years ago (eventually becoming the cow we know today), and therefore, the ones remaining in the wild were hunted to extinction. The auroch’s range was only in parts of Eastern and Central Europe, so it’s easy to understand how their extinction happened. It‘s still upsetting that such a cool animal would wind up going extinct. The aurochs were significantly larger and wilder than our modern cow, making them quite the impressive specimen.
1. Haast’s Eagle
Of all the entries on this list, I probably find this one the most terrifying. With that being said, I think it would really cool if an eagle big enough to hunt and eat cattle was still around today. The Haast Eagle (named for the person who discovered it) was the largest eagle to have ever existed on Earth. They lived New Zealand, where they typically hunted another strange animal, the flightless moa birds. When the moas were hunted to extinction by indigenous Maori hunters, the Haasts were without a food source. This caused them to become extinct by the early 1400’s. I wonder how small dogs and other pets would fare in residential areas if the Haast’s eagle was still around.
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