Animals that are Extinct – List of extinct animals with pictures

What Animals are extinct?

Animals are said to be extinct when the last individual species of the animal dies and the animal’s entire genetic heritage is lost for life. Extinction however can be defined as a natural phenomenon where a kind of organism or species no longer exists on earth. An animal goes extinct when none of the species exist on earthAn organism may go extinct due to environmental factors in the ecosystem like climate change, habitat fragmentation, natural disaster, and over-exploitation of species for human use. Also, extinction is caused by evolutionary changes (genetic inbreeding, decline in population numbers, and poor reproduction).

Species originate through evolution by a process of speciation where a group within a species evolves and separates from other members of its species developing its own distinct characteristics. However, species may go extinct when they can no longer go against superior competition or survive in changing conditions. A typical species can become extinct within 10 million years of its first appearance. Even though some species survive with small to no morphological change for hundreds of millions of years.

Furthermore, more than 99% of all the species that have lived on earth are estimated to have died out resulting in over 5 billion species. Currently, in the world, there are more than 8.7 million species of organisms. As a result of human actions, the biomass of wild mammals has actually fallen by 82% and the natural ecosystem has lost about half its area according to the 2019  Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services by IPBES. The report also shows that a million species are on the verge of extinction and 25% of plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. There are a lot of animals that are extinct and this is why there is a need for biodiversity conservation.

However, listed and discussed below are 15 notable ancient and recently extinct animals.

List of Extinct Animals

Saber-toothed Cat

The Saber-toothed cat is one of the ancient extinct animals. It is often called a saber-toothed lion or saber-toothed tiger. Generally, the genera best known is Smilodon. They were known to exist about 55 million to 11,700 years ago.

What did the Saber-toothed cat look like?

This animal is characterized by its long, curved saber-shaped canine teeth which protrude from its mouth when closed. They were carnivores named for their elongated blade-like teeth in the upper jaw. In some of them, the canine teeth were as long as 50cm.

Sabre-toothed cat is one of the extint animals

The saber-toothed cat was robust and bear-like in its built and was believed to be excellent hunters. They hunted and fed on large mammals like sloths, elephants, rhinos, mammoths, and other colossal herbivores of the era. This family of cats probably used their long teeth to clamp onto prey to stop them from escaping.

However, there are many hypotheses about saber-tooth killing methods. Some of which involve attacking soft tissues such as the belly and throat of the prey, where biting deep was needed to generate killing blows. Also, the elongated teeth aid with strikes reaching the main blood vessels in the preys. They could open their jaws at an angle of 120 degrees which is almost twice as wide as a modern lion.

Why did the Saber-toothed cat go extinct?

However, they went extinct shortly after the extinction of one of their prey species- the mastodon. It is believed their extinction can be linked to the decline and extinction of the large herbivore they hunted and feed on. Although other explanation for their extinction includes competition with humans and climate change. However, before their extinction, they were widespread and found across the world on many continents.

Woolly Mammoth

Another animal that is known to be extinct is the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). Woolly mammoths fall among the ancient extinct animals. The Woolly mammoth is an enormous mammal that is believed to be closely related to today’s elephant. At about 3.5 million years ago, their ancestors migrated from Africa and spread across North America and northern Eurasia. Their habitat was the mammoth steppe or tundra steppe, stretching across northern Eurasia and North America. However, woolly mammoths could live long reaching the age of 60.

What did the Wolly Mammoth look like?

One of the extinct animals is the woolly mammoth
Photo Credit: https://news.feinberg.northwestern.edu

The woolly mammoth weighed over 6 tons and was about 4m tall. Males reached shoulder heights of 2.7-3.4m and could weigh up to 6 tons. Whereas the females reached shoulder heights of 2.6-2.9m and could weigh up to 4 tons. Their newborn calf could weigh up to 90kg. The woolly mammoth curved tusks could be 5 meters long and they had four molars which were replaced 6 times during their lifetime. Their trunk and tusks were used by the animal to manipulate objects, and also for fighting and foraging. They ate mainly sedges and grasses. Also, their body was covered in fur and the coat’s color varied from dark to light, having a shorter undercoat and an outer covering of long guard hairs.

They adapted well to the cold environment during the last ice age. Therefore they had short ears and tails to minimize heat loss and frostbite. The behavior and appearance of the woolly mammoth are one of the best-studied of prehistoric animals as the discovery of their frozen carcasses in Alaska and Siberia same as their teeth, skeletons, dung, stomach contents, and depiction from life in prehistoric cave paintings. Moreso, their behavior was similar to today’s elephants. Like modern elephants, they were probably social and lived in a matriarchal ( i.e female-led) family group. Evidence of such social behavior is supported by fossil assemblages and cave paintings showing groups.

Why did Woolly mammoths go extinct?

They lived during the Pleistocene and went into extinction in the Holocene epoch. However, they disappeared 10,000 years ago. The woolly mammoth actually coexisted with the early humans. Their bones and tusks were used by the early humans for making art, tools, and dwellings. They also hunted the species for food. Later on, at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 years ago, the woolly mammoth disappeared from its mainland range. Their extinction can be attributed to hunting by humans and their habitat degradation through climate change. The last of the isolated woolly mammoth population is said to have disappeared from Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean at around 1700BC. After their extinction, humans continued to use their ivory as raw material which continues till today.

Great Auk

Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) is one of the ancient extinct animals. They were large and flightless birds that were found in the North Atlantic and as far south as Northern Spain. Their wings were about 15 cm long. Great auks were the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus. They are not closely related to penguin birds as many think. Penguins were discovered later and named so by sailors because they resembled the great auk.

What did the Great Auk look like?

Great Auks had an average height of 75-85 cm and were very clumsy on land even though they were agile in the water. Auks were powerful swimmers and weighed about 5kg. As powerful swimmers, they were able to hunt for food underwater. They walked slowly and at times use their wings to help them navigate through rough terrain. Its favorite prey were fishes, Atlantic menhaden, crustacean, and capelin.

The Great Auk is also an extinct animal

Great auks were known to hold their breath for 15 minutes which is longer than a seal and to dive to depths of 75m – 1km. Though most of their dives were shallow to conserve energy. However, as excellent swimmers, they use their wings to propel themselves underwater. Their head was held up and their neck drew in while swimming. They are also capable of veering, banking, and turning underwater. Additionally, they are capable of accelerating underwater and then shooting out of the water to land on a rocky ledge that is above the sea’s surface.

Great auks bred on rocky isolated islands where they can have access to the ocean with plenty of food supply. They spend their time foraging in the waters of the North Atlantic when they are not breeding. Their beak is black, heavy, and hooked with grooves on its surface. They have a white belly and their plumage showed a white patch over each eye during the summer.  However, they lose the patches during winter, developing a white band stretching between the eyes instead. Moreso, during the winter they migrate south in pairs or small groups but never with the entire nesting colony.

Great auks nested in extremely dense and social colonies. They pair up and mate for life. Eventually, they laid one egg on bare rock and the color was white with variable brown marbling. Both Auk parents were involved in the incubation of the egg for about 6 weeks till the egg hatches. The young Auk then leaves the nest site after 2-3 weeks and the parents continue to take care of it.

The orca and white-tailed eagles were their main predators. However, polar bears preyed on the nesting colonies of the bird. If not being preyed on, these birds are said to have had a life span of approximately 20-25 years. The great auk used their bills aggressively in the dense nesting sites and also when threatened or captured by humans.

Why did the Great Auk go extinct?

Many native Americans took the great auk as a source of food and also as a symbolic item. Then, many maritime archaic people were usually buried with the great auk bones. The early European explorers to the Americas used the great auk as bait for fishing or as a food source. Hence reducing the bird population. Also, one reason that the European population of these birds was largely eliminated by the mid-16th century is that the down of the birds was in high demand in Europe. Humans preyed on them as food and as specimens for Private collections and museums. The last colony of the great auks lived on the island of Eldey and was all killed by 1835. However, the last three birds were caught and killed by 3 men on St Kilda, Scotland in 1844.

Dodo

Dodo is a flightless bird that inhabited the island of Mauritius but has gone extinct. It is one of the ancient extinct animals. Dutch sailors first recorded and mentioned the dodo in 1598. However, the bird’s existence in life is evidenced only by written accounts from the 17th century, drawings, and paintings.

What did the Dodo look like?

Dodo is an extinct flightless bird
Photo credit: https://news.stonybrook.edu

The closest genetic relative to the dodo was the Rodrigues solitaire which is also extinct. These two relatives are from the sub-family, Raphinae, of the family of doves and pigeons. However, the closest living relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon. The bird was about 1m tall and weighed about 10.6-17.5 kg.

Dodo’s plumage is said to be brownish grey with yellow feet, having a tuft of tail feathers. These birds had a grey naked head and a black, green, and yellow beak. There are hypotheses that the bird became flightless due to a relative absence of predators and the availability of abundant food on the island of Mauritius. Dodos fed on seeds, roots, and fallen fruits using gizzard stones to aid the digestion of their food. Historically, they are thought to be fat and clumsy.

Why did the Dodo go extinct?

Dodos were hunted to extinction by sailors, their domesticated animals, and invasive species as their habitat was being destroyed. The last globally accepted sighting of a dodo was in 1662. Dodo’s extinction within less than a century of its discovery however called attention to the previously unrecognized problems of human involvement and role in the disappearance of an entire species. Furthermore, the bird’s role in the story of Alice’s Adventure in wonderland achieved widespread recognition and the Dodo has since become a fixture in popular culture, mostly as a symbol of obsolescence and extinction.

Tasmanian Tiger

The Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was a large carnivorous marsupial native to Australia, New Guinea, and  Tasmania. Being one of the ancient extinct animals, they were declared extinct in 1986 after the last known individual died in 1936. Its scientific name comes from Greek which means Dog Headed Pouched One.

What did the Tasmanian tiger look like?

Despite their name, they are not related to tigers and have an appearance of a medium-to-large size dog, although having a stiff tail and abdominal pouch like that of a kangaroo. However, the dark stripes on its lower back gave it its name and a tiger-like appearance. They weighed about 30 kg with a nose-to-tail length of almost 2 meters. The Tasmanian tiger was one of only two marsupials known to have a pouch in both sexes. However, the male used the pouch as a protective sheath to cover its external reproductive organs.

Tasmanian tiger is also among the extinct animals
Photo credit: https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au

The closest relative to the Tasmanian tiger is thought to be the Tasmanian devil and numbat. Tasmanian tiger was the known largest carnivorous marsupial globally before its extinction, evolving about 2 million years ago. It is also known as the Tasmanian wolf due to its canid-like characteristics. They were nocturnal and relatively shy.

Why did Tasmanian tigers go extinct?

It is said that they have been hunted to extinction by humans and other small predators like dingos. Aside from being hunted, what could have also contributed to their extinction is human encroachment into their habitat and the introduction of dogs and disease. The last wild Tasmanian tiger was killed between 1910 -1920 and the last one in captive died in 1936 in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania. These animals had become locally extinct on both the Australian mainland and New Guinea before the British settlement of the continent. Interestingly, some zoologists believe the Tasmanian tigers still exist due to some found droppings. However, there have been no officially confirmed sightings so far.

Passenger Pigeon

One of the ancient extinct animals is the passenger pigeons. The passenger pigeon or wild pigeon ( Ectopistes migratorius) was native to North America and has been extinct since the early 20th century. These birds are one of the animals that are extinct. Due to their migratory habits, their common name is derived from the French word passager which means passing by.

What did the passenger pigeon look like?

Passenger pigeons are extinct animals
Photo Credit: https://news.unl.edu

Their morphology is similar to the mourning dove in that the two were at times confused for the other. Hence the mourning dove was thought for long to be its closest relative but genetic analysis has shown that the genus Patagioenas is a closer relative to the passenger pigeon than the mourning dove.

Wild pigeons inhabited the deciduous forest of eastern North America mainly but bred mainly around the Great Lakes. They migrate in enormous flocks in search of food, shelter, and breeding grounds and a fast flyer could reach a speed of 100km/h. Fruits, invertebrates, and mast were their main sources of food. They practiced communal breeding and communal roosting.

These extinct animals were sexually dimorphic in coloration and size. The male was about 390-410 mm in length. Moreso, the males were mainly gray on the upper parts, lighter on the underparts, and have iridescent bronze feathers on the neck with black spots on their wings. Whereas the females were about 380-400 mm and were duller and browner than the male generally. Their young ones were similar to the female but without iridescence.

Why did Passenger pigeons go extinct?

Approximately 3-5 billion passenger pigeons inhabited the US when Europeans arrived in North America. Sadly, their settlement resulted in mass deforestation which led to habitat loss and a decline in the population of the bird. Naturally, passenger pigeons were hunted by Native Americans but the hunting intensified after the Europeans arrived. However, pigeon meat was commercialized as cheap food for the poor by the 19th century. Hence, the passenger pigeons were hunted down massively for many decades.

There was a slow decline in their population between 1800 and 1870, followed by a rapid decline between 1870 and 1890. They died out in the wild around 1900 and the last confirmed wild bird was said to have been shot in 1901. The last captive birds were actually divided into 3 groups around the turn of the 20th century, some of which were photographed alive. However, the last known individual in captivity, Martha (named in honor of the 1st First Lady Martha Washington) died in the Cincinnati zoo on September 1st, 1914. The eradication of the passenger pigeon species is a typical example of anthropogenic extinction.

Steller’s Sea Cow

Steller’s Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was a large herbivorous mammal that was named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist who discovered the animal in 1741. However, they were named sea cows because they had the habit of living and grazing in herds. Sadly this creature is among the animals that are extinct too. The Steller’s sea cow was the largest in the sea cow family and was bigger than Dugongs and Manatees.

Steller's Sea Cow is one of the animals that are extinct

Then, they usually inhabit the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. However, Georg Steller first encountered the creature on Vitus Bering’s Great Northern Expedition when the crew was shipwrecked on Bering Island. The majority of what is known about the steller’s sea cow comes from Georg Steller’s observation on the island, which was documented in his posthumous publication On the Beasts of the Sea.

What did the Steller’s sea cow look like?

The Steller’s sea cow grew to about 8-9 meters (roughly 30 feet), weighing about 8-10 tons. It is said that the steller’s sea cow was tame. Additionally, these sea cows was a member of the family Dugongidae and had a thicker layer of blubber than other members of the order. They were well adapted to the cold waters of their environment and their tail was forked like that of dugongs or whales. Steller’s sea cows had short and small heads compared to their huge body.

These mammals lacked true teeth and had an array of white bristles on their upper lip with 2 keratinous plates within their mouth for chewing. Steller’s sea cows communicated with snorting sounds and sighs. Moreso, Georg Steller thought them to be monogamous and social animals, that live in small family groups raising their young ones. Hence they were similar to the modern sirenians.

Why did the Steller’s Sea Cow go extinct?

After 30 years of discovering Steller’s sea cows by the Europeans, the creature was hunted to extinction for its meat, fat, and hide. Hence, the steller’s sea cow became extinct in 1768. The speedy demise and decline of this animal species were due to the rapid hunting of humans just to provide food for long sea expeditions. It was said that 1 sea cow, then, could feed a ship full of men for 30 days.

One potential factor that led to these animals’ extinction especially off the coast of St. Lawrence Island was the Siberian Yupik people who stayed on the St. Lawrence island for 2000 years. They must have probably hunted the sea cows to extinction specifically as they have a dietary culture that depends heavily on marine mammals. Moreso, the onset of the Medieval Warm Period which reduced the availability of kelp may have contributed too to the species’ local extinction in that area.

It is believed that the fact that the steller’s sea cow spent most of its time eating kelp, floating close to the surface to feed on seagrasses, and the inability to submerge its enormous body made it very vulnerable to human hunters. More so, they moved slowly making them easy prey for hunters.

According to Georg Steller, the steller’s sea cow meat was described as “tasty” and was said to taste like corned beef. Although the steller’s sea cow meat was tougher, redder, and needed prolonged cooking. The animal was really fleshy and its meat was slow to spoil probably due to the high amount of salt in the animal’s diet effectively curing it. Also, the fat of the animal must have been used as odorless lamp oil and for cooking. However, the crew of St. Peter drank the fat and Georg Steller said the taste was like almond oil. The thick milk of the female sea cows could be drunk and made into butter. Their thick leathery hide must have been used too to make large skin boats, clothes, shoes, and belts.

Pyrenean Ibex

One notable species among the extinct animals is the Pyrenean ibex. The Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) was one of four subspecies of the Spanish Ibex or Iberian Goat that was found in the Iberian Peninsula. Its french common name is bouquetin. In Catalan, it is called herc and bucardo in Aragonese and Spanish. They were most common in the Cantabrian mountains, northern Pyrenees, and Southern France. This animal is the first-ever species to go extinct twice. They were common during the Upper Pleistocene and Holocene. However, the Pyrenean ibex became extinct recently in January 2000. Hence it is one of the most recent extinct animals. Of the four subspecies, the Portuguese ibex was the first to become extinct in 1892 while the Pyrenean ibex was the second. Historically, they were about 50 000 in number but by early 1900, their population fell to fewer than 100.

What did the Pyrenean Ibex look like?

The Pyrenean ibex grew to a height of 60-76 cm at the shoulder. They fed on grasses and herbs and weighed about 24-80 kg. Their short hair varied according to seasons in that during summer the hair was short but grew thicker and longer in winter. However, the hair on its neck stayed long through all seasons. In spring they usually migrated to more elevated parts of the mountain where they could mate. Then the females would separate from the males in spring to give birth in more isolated areas. Their kids were mostly born in May. During winter they migrated to valleys that are not covered in snow. The valley allowed them to eat despite seasonal changes.

Pyrenean Ibex is another extinct animal
Photo Credit: https://etc.usf.edu

These extinct animals were sexually dimorphic in coloration, fur, and horn size. The male ibex had a faded grayish-brown coloration during summer and they were decorated with black in certain places on their body like the mane, forehead, and forelegs. However, the ibex was less colorful in the winter. The male usually transforms from a greyish brown to a dull grey and the spots that were black fade and becomes dull. Their horns were thick large and curved outwards and backward, then outwards and downwards, then inwards and upwards. The female’s horn was short and cylindrical.

Also, the surface of the horn was ridged with the ridges developing progressively with age. However, the ridges were said to signify a year so that the total could add up to the ibex’s age. The female ibex however has a brown coat and can be mistaken for a deer throughout summer. The females lack black coloring, unlike the male ibex. For the first year, the young ibex was colored like the female.

Why did the Pyrenean Ibex go extinct?

The main cause of their extinction is quite unknown. Although scientists believe that the animal’s inability to compete for food and habitat with other mammals must have been a factor in the cause of their extinction. The last Pyrenean ibex was killed in Northern Spain by a falling tree in 2000. Although the other subspecies (Southeastern Spanish or beceite ibex and western Spanish or Gredos ibex) have survived. However, following several failed attempts to revive the subspecies, scientists cloned a Pyrenean ibex, making it the first species to no longer be extinct. Unfortunately, the baby ibex was born in July 2003 and died shortly after birth due to a lung problem.

Baiji White Dolphin

The Baiji white dolphin is a possibly extinct species of the freshwater dolphin that was only found in the Yangtze River in China. Baiji means “whitefin” in Chinese. The baiji is thought to be the first dolphin species to go extinct. In China, they are also called the Chinese river dolphin, Yangtze dolphin, Yangtze river dolphin, and whitefin dolphin. They were nicknamed the Goddess of the Yangtze which was believed by local fishermen and boatmen to be the goddess of protection. The Baiji lived in the Yangtze for 20 million years and their numbers began to decline drastically from the 1950s onwards. Although they have not been officially recorded as extinct, no one has seen a Yangtze river dolphin since 2002.

What did the Baiji White dolphin look like?

Baiji white dolphine is one of the recent possible extinct animals

The Baiji is pale blue to gray on the dorsal side and white on the belly side. They had a long and slightly upturned beak with 31–36 conical teeth on each jaw. Their dorsal fin is low and triangular in shape and resembled a light-colored flag when the dolphin swam below the surface of the river. They could grow to 8ft long and weighed about a quarter of a ton. The mature male baiji was about 2.3 meters (7.5 ft) long and the females were about 2.5 meters (8 ft 2 inches). Their lifespan was estimated at 24 years in the wild.

The baiji when escaping from danger can reach 60 km/h (37 mph) but usually move within 30-40 km/h (19-25 mph). Their eyes were smaller compared to oceanic dolphins. Because of their poor vision, they made use of echolocation to move and hunt prey. Echolocation also plays an important role in group coordination, predator avoidance, socializing, and expressing emotions. The peak frequencies of echolocation clicks are between 70 kHz and 100 kHz.

Baijis were thought to breed in the first half of the year at the peak calving season (February to April). There was a 30% pregnancy rate observed among them and gestation usually lasts 10–11 months. The females delivered one calf at a time with an interbirth interval of 2 years. However their calves measured around 80–90 cm at birth, and they were nursed for 8–20 months. The males use to reach sexual maturity at age 4, whereas the females at age 6.

Why did the Baiji go extinct?

Industrialization in China had a huge effect on these dolphins. The river was used for transportation, fishing, and hydroelectricity. Qiqi was the last known living baiji that died in 2002. However, in 2006, scientists from the Baiji Foundation traveled up the Yangtze River for more than 2,000 miles equipped with optical instruments and underwater microphones. Unfortunately, these scientists were unable to detect any surviving dolphins. The foundation later published a report on the expedition and declared the animal functionally extinct, meaning that too few potential breeding pairs remained to ensure the species’ survival.

West African Black Rhinoceros

The West African Black Rhinoceros or Western Black Rhinoceros was the rarest of the black rhino subspecies and was found in several countries towards the southeast region of Africa. They emerged about 7-8 million years ago and in the 1900s, its population was the highest out of all the rhino species at almost 850,000 individuals. Then, there was a 96% population decline in black rhinos, including the western black rhino, between 1970 and 1992. Hence they are among the notable list of extinct animals.

The native countries of the black rhino were Kenya, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Zambia, Chad, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Rwanda, and the United Republic of Tanzania. However, the Black Rhino’s most abundant population was found in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and a smaller population was found in southern Tanzania. The Western subspecies of the Black Rhino were last recorded in Cameroon but are now considered to be extinct.

What did the West African black rhino look like?

The west african black rhinos are one of the recent animals that are extinct

The Western Black Rhinos could move quickly and have recorded speeds as high as 55 km/h. They could change direction quickly and run straight through scrub and bushes. These Rhinos were about 3-3.8 meters long weighing about 800- 1400 kg. Standing 1.4-1.7 meters tall in height, this rhino had two horns. The first horn measured 0.5-1.3 meters and the other between 2-55cm.

They were browsers like all black Rhinos usually, browsing for food during the morning or evening to feed on leafy plants and shoots. The Western black rhinos had very poor eyesight and were unable to see anything clearly from more than 30 meters away. However, they had excellent senses of smell and hearing and were known to use birds (oxpeckers) as an early warning system of approaching threats.

Why did West African black rhinos go extinct?

Some people believe the Rhino’s horns had medicinal properties and this led to heavy poaching. Hence they were hunted to extinction for their horns by poachers who killed them and their horns were highly prized on the black market and used in traditional Chinese medicine. Though this belief has no grounding scientifically so in the 1930s, preservation action was taken to protect the species. However, after preservation efforts were taken, the population rose in the 1930s. Unfortunately, as protection efforts declined over the years, so did the number of western black rhinos. By 1980 their population was in the hundreds and continued to decline.

The last West African Black Rhino was seen in Cameroon in 2006 and these rhinos were declared officially extinct in 2011. Hence the western black rhino falls into the list of the most recent animals that are extinct. Conclusively, poaching has been concluded to be partly responsible for the western black rhino extinction, along with farmers killing them to defend their crops in areas that were close to the rhino’s territories.

Moa

Moa is among those animals that are extinct. The Moa were species of now-extinct flightless birds that inhabited New Zealand. There were nine species of Moa and they belonged to the Order Dinornithiformes which was traditionally placed in the ratite group. These 9 species were the only wingless birds that even lacked the vestigial wings which other ratites have. Until the arrival of the Maori, moa then was the dominant and largest terrestrial animal in New Zealand’s forest, subalpine ecosystem, and shrubland. They were hunted only by the Haast’s eagle and their extinction happened mainly due to hunting, within 100 years of human settlement in New Zealand.

Moa is an extinct flightless bird
Photo Credit: https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au

What did the Moa look like?

The 2 largest species of moa (Dinornis novaezelandiae and Dinornis robustus) were about 3.6m tall and weighed about 230kg. Their neck was outstretched, whereas the smallest species (the bush moa) was around a turkey size. The skeletons of moa were traditionally reconstructed in an upright position to give an impressive height but analysis of their vertebral articulations shows that they likely carried their heads forward as a Kiwi does.

Showing the horizontal alignment, their spine was attached to the rear of the head instead of the base. The moa trachea was supported by tracheal rings (many small rings of bone). Studies have shown that at least two moa genera (Emeus and Euryapteryx) exhibited tracheal elongation meaning their trachea were up to 1m long and formed a large loop around the body cavity. Hence they are the only ratites known to exhibit this feature which is associated with deep resonant vocalizations that can travel long distances. This feature is also present in some other birds like the cranes, swans, and guinea fowl.

Why did moa go extinct?

The only predator moa had was the Haast’s eagle. Before the arrival of human settlers, New Zealand was isolated for 80 million years and had few predators. Sometime before 1300, Polynesians arrived and all moa genera were hunted to extinction along with the Haast’s eagle that depended on the moa for food.

Elephant bird

Elephant bird is extinct
Photo Credit: https://gsas.yale.edu

Elephant birds were large flightless birds belonging to the extinct ratite family Aepyornithidae. These birds were endemic to the island of Madagascar and became extinct around 1000-1200 AD. They comprised the genera Vorombe, Mullerornis, and Aepyornis. The closest relative to the elephant bird is the Kiwi. elephant birds are one of the ancient extinct animals.

What did the elephant bird look like?

Aepyornis was said to have weighed between 350-500 kg and was more than 3m whereas the Vorombe titan stood 3m tall and weighed about 730 kg which made it the largest bird in the world, a little larger than the much older Stirton’s thunderbird (Dromornis stirtoni) from Australia.

Why did Elephant birds go extinct?

These birds have been extinct since the 17th century. It is believed that the extinction of Aepyornis was caused by humans. There is a theory stating that humans hunted the bird to extinction in a very short time and their habitats were destroyed. More so, recently human tool marks have been found on elephant bird bones which date back to approximately 10,000 BCE. Also, the elephant eggs must have been vulnerable too. An alternative theory states that the transfer of hyperdiseases from human commensals like guinea fowl and chicken may have led to their extinction. However, the particular time these birds died out is not certain.

Quagga

Quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is an extinct subspecies of the plains zebra which inhabited South Africa. They were endemic to South Africa until they were hunted to extinction by European colonists in the late 19th century. The quagga was once found in great numbers in the southern part of the Orange Free State and the Karoo of Cape Province in South Africa. Sadly they are now one of those animals that have gone extinct.

Quagga
Photo credit: https://thegeneral.herkimer.edu

What did quagga look like?

Quaggas were 257 cm long and 125-135 cm tall at the shoulder. They had a limited pattern of mainly brown and white stripes, distinguishing them from other zebras. The stripes were mainly at the front part of their body, and the rear was without stripes and brown. They appeared more horselike and their stripes distribution varied between individuals. It is said that they were wild, lively and must have gathered into herds of 30-50. However, they were considered to be more docile than the related Burchell’s zebra.

Why did Quagga go extinct?

The quagga was hunted extensively after the European settlement of South Africa. Also, the quagga competed with domesticated animals for forage and some were taken to zoos in Europe but the breeding programs were unsuccessful. In 1878, the quagga became extinct in the wild and the last one in captive died in Amsterdam on August 12, 1883. Afterward, the Quagga extinction was internationally accepted by the 1900 Convention for the Preservation of Wild Animals, Birds, and Fish in Africa. Therefore, the last specimen was featured on a Dutch stamp in 1988 and was mounted and kept in the collection of Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden. It has actually been on display for special occasions.

However,  the first extinct animal whose DNA was analyzed is the quagga. Furthermore, the Quagga project is trying to recreate the phenotype of hair coat pattern and related characteristics of the quagga by selectively breeding Burchell’s zebra, the genetically closest subspecies to the quagga.

Irish Elk

Irish Elk
Picture of the complete skeleton of the Extinct Irish Elk on display at the Paleontological Institute in Moscow
Photo Credit: https://ucmp.berkeley.edu

The Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus) also known as the Giant deer or Irish deer is an extinct species of deer. They are one of the largest deer that ever lived belonging to the genus Megaloceros. Sadly, they fall among extinct animals.  The Irish elk evolved during the glacial periods of the last million years. Their population extended across Eurasia during the Pleistocene, from Ireland to Lake Baikal in Siberia. However, this species is misnamed as it is neither exclusively Irish nor an elk rather they were giant deers. The “Irish” name stuck because good and well-preserved fossils of the deer are most common in peat bogs and lake sediments in Ireland. For this reason, the name “giant deer” is used in some publications, rather than the “Irish elk”.

What did the Irish elk look like?

This deer species stood up to 7 feet at the shoulder (2.1 meters), with antlers spanning up to 12 feet (3.65 meters) from tip to tip. They weighed about 40kg. After the extinct Cervalces latifrons and Cervalces scotti, the Irish elk was the heaviest known cervine (Old World deer). Hence tying with the extant Alaska moose (Alces alces gigas) as the third-largest known deer.

Although, compared to Alces, Irish elks appear to have had a more robust skeleton, with older and more mature Alces skeletons. Also bearing some resemblance to those of prime Irish elk, and the younger Irish elk resembled prime Alces. Moreso, the Irish elk exhibits more marked sexual dimorphism than Alces. The Irish elk males (bucks) being notably larger than the females (does). The males may have weighed from 450–700 kg, with an average of 575 kg. Whereas the females may have been relatively large, about 80% of the male size, with an average of 460 kg.

The distinguishing features of the Irish elk include concave frontals, and the proportionally short front section of the skull (orbitofrontal region). Also, proportionally long braincase, alongside the absence of upper canines, and the molarization of the lower fourth premolar. The Irish elk’s skull and mandible exhibit substantial thickening (pachyostosis), with the early and complete obliteration of cranial sutures.

They seemed to have had an overall light coloration with a dark stripe that runs along the back. The stripe was on either side, from shoulder to haunch. Having a dark hump on the withers with a dark collar on the throat and a chinstrap. However, there are suggestions that the hump allowed a higher hinging action of the front legs. This is to increase stride length while they run. Also, there is another suggestion that the hump may have been used to store fat. This is because localizing fat instead of distributing it evenly may have prevented overheating while they run.

Why did the Irish elk go extinct?

The Irish elk’s extinction has been attributed to the encumbering size of its antlers. A “maladaptation” that made fleeing through forests difficult for males especially while being chased by human hunters. Also, sexual selection by the females for males with large antlers would have contributed to the decline of their population. However, since the antler size decreased through the Late Pleistocene and into the Holocene. It may not have been the main cause of extinction. The reduction in forest density in the Late Pleistocene and a lack of sufficient high-quality forage are associated with the decrease in body and antler size. Thus such resource constriction may have cut down female fertility rates drastically and human hunting may have forced Irish elk into suboptimal feeding grounds.

However, it is suggested that further climate change and hunting may have contributed to their extinction. Their final demise may have been caused by a number of factors on a continental and regional scale, including climate change and hunting.

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