Animal Species That Came Back From Extinction

By Raza Mehdi

Dec 21, 2022

Declaring an animal extinct is tricky, as it's often a guessing game. An endangered species is usually tracked for as long as possible. But how do researchers know they've truly lost the last one?

An inexact science

Before 1990, a species without a sighting over 50 years could be declared extinct. Nowadays, other factors are taken into account, such as the number of breeding adults, geographic range, and degradation of its habitat.

Parameters for declaring extinction

Image: Wikipedia Images

Regardless of the subsequent measures in place, on rare occasions, researchers get it wrong. There have been numerous cases of animals believed to be long extinct suddenly reappearing.

Happy accidents

The coelacanth made an impressive comeback! This large fish can grow to more than 2 m and weigh around 90 kg. Believed to be extinct with the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago, it suddenly reappeared in South Africa among a waste pile of fish on a dock in 1938.


This bright flightless bird used to roam in what is now called New Zealand. It was declared extinct in 1898 due to hunting and habitat loss. However, 50 years after its supposed extinction, a colony of takahes was discovered in the Murchison Mountains in southern New Zealand.


With the body of a mouse and a long elephant-like nose, the name befits this little creature. Scientists lost track of the mammal in the 1970s, believing it to be extinct. But in 2019, a scientific expedition to the Horn of Africa spotted 12 Somali elephant shrews.

Somali Elephant Shrew

Not sighted since 1955, the crab was believed to be extinct. But in 2021, a researcher named Pierre Mvogo Ndongo travelled to Sierra Leone to search for the crab. After three weeks, he found six of them with the help of the local people. The crabs had migrated inland away from water and adapted to breathe air.

Sierra Leone Crab

This wide-eyed little primate is a sensitive nocturnal creature that struggles to survive in captivity. Considered extinct by the 1920s, it was rediscovered by Indonesian scientists in 2000 when one ended up dead in a rat trap. But they found the first living ones in 2008.

Pygmy Tarsier

This beautiful little bird with a distinctive black eyestripe was observed by scientists once in the 1840s, and then it disappeared for around 170 years. Two locals rediscovered it in 2020 after reported sightings in the forest of South Kalimantan in Indonesia.

Black-Browed Babbler

This tiny chameleon measures around 6.2 cm only. It was spotted first in the Malawi rain forest in 1992 before disappearing rapidly. In the following decades, nearly 80% of the Malawi rainforest was destroyed, with the chameleon presumably lost. However, the persistent lizard was spotted again in 2016.

Chapman’s Pygmy Chameleon

The species of giant tortoise disappeared centuries ago and was believed to be extinct. But in 2019, researchers came across a single female tortoise after 112 years. She was found living on Fernandina Island in the Galápagos and is the only living example of her kind known to researchers.

Fernandina Giant Tortoise