From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1997:

Surprisingly little acclaim attends the rediscovery of
species believed to be recently extinct or extirpated––and less
political popularity. Rediscoveries are unpopular with proponents
of trade and development because they raise the threat of
new protective regulation, but are not much better liked by
advocates of stricter conservation laws, since they lend weight
to claims that the purportedly high current rate of extinction is
more an artifact of incomplete research than a scientific verity.
Rediscoveries are also sometimes even scientifically
suspect: some species haven’t been seen in decades perhaps
mainly because no one was looking.
Advances in genetic research have narrowed the likelihood
of anyone fooling the scientific community with a faked
rediscovery, but attempted fakery has occurred, especially in
cases where species still found in one habitat apparently turn up
again in another, without any sign as to how they persisted
without observation, or recolonized an area with no record of
having crossed intervening territory.

Some faked rediscoveries come when people try to
“help” nature by reintroducing cousins of extirpated animals
and plants to their former habitat. These are typically given
away by either the presence or lack of regional adaptations.
Some faked rediscoveries involve attempts to halt
development by “finding” endangered species on the site.
Occasionally, unscrupulous individuals try to extort
money in connection with endangered species “rediscovery.”
In December 1991, for instance, one Robert Waites Guthrie
pleaded guilty in Mobile, Alabama, to allegedly attempting to
extirpate Alabama red-bellied turtles from the wild so that he
could “rediscover” them and get a federal grant to reintroduce
them––a procedure prosecutors said he intended to prolong by
initially reintroducing only turtles of one sex.
Most rediscoveries are at least initially problematic
because they raise questions that can’t easily be answered. For
example, bobcats were rediscovered at the Cape May Wildlife
Refuge in New Jersey last November, a year after reappearing
at the Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.
Bobcats had been absent from each region for 25 years or
longer, except during a reintroduction effort that was believed
to have failed about 15 years ago. No one knows yet whether
the present bobcats descended somehow from the original population,
from the reintroduced group, from released ex-pets,
from wild migrants, or hybridized from all the above.
Queen’s University of Belfast students Jon Russ and
James O’Neill in May rediscovered Nathanius’ pipistrelle in
County Antrim, Northern Ireland, near a roost of common pipistrelles.
Native to the Baltic states, Nathanius’ pipistrelle
hadn’t previously been seen in the British Isles. Bat experts are
uncertain whether those Russ and O’Neill found are longterm
residents, or just migrants who were blown off course. They
do seem to have been breeding in their new location.
Bring out your dead
Some rediscoveries are problematic because they may
be associated with the loss of other species.
Biologist Vivian Wilson, owner of the Chipangali
Wildlife Orphanage near Bulwayo, Zimbabwe, in January
reported discovering black-footed wildcats and oribi antelope
during a biological survey of Hwange National Park. Wilson’s
survey of the park, the first in 25 years, reinforced the
Zimbabwean government’s claim that elephants are overrunning
their habitat, to the possible benefit of both African lions
and baboons, who prefer relatively open country and have also
increased in number. Water buffalo numbers, on the other
hand, had fallen by half, and tsessebe, bushbuck, waterbuck,
arboreal monkeys, and cheetahs were all down, too. Never
before found in Hwange, the black-footed wildcats and oribi
apparently migrated from Botswana to take the places of the
cheetahs and larger antelope.
The Wilson survey didn’t altogether please
Zimbabwean authorities, either, because while Wilson confirmed
regional elephant overpopulation, he found just two
white rhinos left in Hwange, casting doubt on the government’s
boasted ability to interdict poaching.
[The ability of any African government to interdict
poaching fell into question just a month after South Africa
pushed unsuccessfully to reopen rhino horn trade at the
Zimbabwe triennial Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species, as a carload of rhino horns turned up in
Johannesburg in mid-July, followed by the brazen August 4
poaching of a white rhino in Kruger National Park.] Occasionally, rediscovery or further discovery comes
about through the process of a rare beast being poached to
extinction. The sao la, or Vu Quang ox, was discovered in
1992 in central Vietnam after biologists obtained remains from
indigenous hunters. The animals are now legally
protected––but the remains of another 10, about half of all the
specimens ever seen by science, were recovered from poachers’
cabins near the Laotian border last winter.
Similar events led to the discovery in the same region
of the Megasmuntiacus vuquangensis, a primitive barking deer,
also in 1992, and the confirmation announced in March of the
discovery of a wild pig, S. buccolentus, first described by
French missionary Pierre-Marie Heude about 110 years ago.
Physical anthropologist Colin Groves of the Australian National
University in Canberra, a wild pig expert, obtained the skull of
a pig he didn’t recognize from native hunters in the Annamite
forest of Laos, then laboriously tracked down Heude’s specimen
at the Institute of Zoology in Beijing, which had inherited
the Heude scientific archives after his death in 1905. Heude’s
specimen was sent to him by a trophy hunter. The two skulls
represent the sum of knowledge about the species.
Check it out
The March rediscovery of five male Bay checkerspot
butterflies and one female at the Jasper Ridge Biological
Preserve near Stanford University threw a curve at both the university
and one of its biggest academic stars, population biologist
Paul Erlich, who first built his reputation nearly 40 years
ago by studying the butterfly, and has championed it ever
since. The Bay checkerspot had a known range of just 1,200
acres. When the university refused to take special measures to
conserve the Bay checkerspot, the species apparently disappeared
from the wild circa 1995––but researcher Craig Lee,
who caught and safely released all six of this year’s Bay checkerspots,
demonstrated that even the extinction of a species of
very limited habitat can be difficult to verify. Perhaps the six
he found were the last Bay checkerspots. Then again, since
butterflies reproduce prolifically under the right conditions,
they could potentially repopulate the region.
The rediscoveries conservation biologists tend to like
best involve species who are subjects of conservation programs,
recolonizing former habitat––like the otter seen in the River
Don, South Yorkshire, during the first week of March, 24
years after the last appearance of an otter in the region. British
authorities took the reappearance of the otter, and of the Allis
and Twaite shad in the Medway River in Kent, as evidence of
the success of a long drive to clean up water pollution.
Ornithologists rejoiced at the May reappearance of
two nesting bluebirds in Everglades National Park, the first
observed there in more than 40 years and one of the six species
believed to have been extirpated since the park was created in
1947. Pineland nesting birds in the Everglades are down about
20%, overall, due to habitat transformation, but pine snags
left by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 have created new potential
nesting habitat for bluebirds and nuthatches. Park biologists
had proposed spending $155,000 over a two-year period to capture
from 80 to 120 bluebirds and nuthatches in Big Cypress
National Preserve, to reintroduce them to the Everglades.
Even more exciting to conservation biologists, but
kept secret for more than a year, was the 1996 reinvasion of the
Italian Alps by up to 15 brown bears. Although a remnant bear
population had survived in nearby Slovenia, wild brown bears
hadn’t been reliably reported in Italy since 1867.
The likelihood of panda survival increased markedly,
meanwhile, when Chinese forestry officials found a previously
unknown colony of 30 in northwestern Gansu province, near
Sichuan, where the other 19 known wild colonies live in a system
of 14 forests designated as future panda preserves.
Yet another bear rediscovery may be in the offing.
Officially extinct in Colorado since 1952, grizzly bears were
rediscovered and re-extinguished there once in the same 1979
incident, in which bowhunter Ed Wiseman was mauled but
stabbed the bear to death with a handheld arrow. Film maker
Doug Peacock, Round River Conservation Studies biologist
Denis Sizemore, and Colorado Grizzly Project director Jorge
Andromidas claim to have discovered more recent evidence of
grizzlies in the San Juan mountains, and American Humane
Association director of marketing and media relations Joyce
Briggs was among several residents of Larkspur, just outside
Denver, who believe they saw a grizzly in their neighborhood
during the second week of May 1997. If the Larkspur bear was
in fact a grizzly, and not just a very large light-colored black
bear, grizzlies would appear to be again widely enough distributed
in Colorado that a definitive encounter can’t be far ahead.
They’re back
The most exciting rediscoveries, however, are of
species that were believed to have been not only regionally
extirpated but long lost forever.
In April, for instance, a century after the only previous
known specimen of the Bornean river shark was exported
to a museum in Vienna, representatives of the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature’s shark specialist group
identified a young female Bornean river shark, 31 inches long,
among a catch by villagers who live alongside the
Kinabatangan River in Sabah state, Malaysia. Sabah officials
had argued that sharks and closely related rays were regionally
extinct. Less than half a dozen river shark species are known,
and all were believed to be either extinct or nearly so.

The Greek Animal Welfare
Federation is currently trying to organize a
study of the recently rediscovered Cretan wildcat.
“For many years,” the GAWF 1996/1997
newsletter explains, “the existence of a wildcat
in Crete was regarded as a myth. In 1905,
a British scientific mission reported finding
two skins in a bazaar, but still there was no
proof they came from Crete.”
However, in April 1996, two Italian
exchange students captured a Cretan wildcat.
“How many more are there?” GAWF wants to
know. “Did the wildcat colonize Crete before
its final separation [from the mainland] five
million years ago, or was it brought with the
first human settlers?”
The Cretan find demonstrated that
even a fairly large nocturnal carnivore in a
habitat of substantial population can persist
undetected for quite a long time. Thus hope
remains for the Tasmanian tiger, also called
the thyacene wolf, a dog-like carnivorous
marsupial with 12 tiger-like vertical black
stripes. Fossils place the Tasmanian tiger on
the Australian mainland and in Indonesia circa
40,000 years ago, but European explorers and
settlers found them only in Tasmania, where
they were extirpated by sheep ranchers and
distemper during the first 30 years of the the
20th century. The last known Tasmanian tiger
died at the Hobart Zoo in 1936. Expeditions
by Walt Disney and Ted Turner, among others,
have failed to turn up traces of any others:
no remains, no droppings, no photos. But
about 350 Tasmanian tiger sightings have been
reported, including some only two years ago,
according to zoologist Eric Guiler, who
believes a remnant population survives in eastern
Tasmania. Guiler has unsuccessfully
sought them for more than 40 years.
Hope for rediscovery flared again in
April when the Indonesian government learned
missionaries had for some years heard about
but not reported the presence of Tasmanian
tigers on the slopes of Mount Cartenz, in Irian
Jaya. Biologists were dispatched to investigate,
but their findings, if any, were expected
to be sparingly released.
As London Daily Telegraph environment
reporter Greg Neale explained, “There
may still be trophy hunters who would relish
the chance of bagging the last thylacene.”
Added Natural History Museum
zoologist Iain Bishop, “If there is evidence
that a lost species might still exist somewhere,
the balance has to be struck between finding
out more and leaving the damned thing alone.”
A similar history of unconfirmed
sightings hints that a giant flightless bird called
a moa may persist in remote parts of New
Zealand. Whether or not it does, an orange
wattle feather found earlier this year suggests
the possible survival of another New Zealand
bird, the South Island kokako, last confirmed
about 30 years ago. Unconfirmed sightings
resumed about five years ago, after a long hiatus,
but have perplexingly come from locations
ranging from Nelson, at the extreme
north of South Island, to Stewart Island, at
the extreme southern end.
Ironically, three of the most recently
rediscovered “extinct” species were found
alive in captivity. Giant tortoises unique to the
various islands of the western Indian Ocean
were hunted to extinction in the mid-19th century,
despite the personal pleas of Charles
Darwin, whose friend Lord Walter Rothschild
saved one species, the Adabran, by leasing
the entire island of Aldabra. However, in
1995 some apparent Seychelles granitic tortoises
were discovered in private collections.
Their identity was recently confirmed by herpetologists
Justin Gerlach and Laura Canning.
Geneticist Les Noble of Aberdeen University
in Scotland then established that the survivors
actually represent two different species. The
Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles is now
forming a breeding program for the tortoises,
and is seeking more in other collections.
The black-maned Barbary lion,
hunted by the Romans, was extirpated from
Libya by 1700, from Egypt by 1800, from
Tunesia in 1891, from Algeria in 1912, and
from Morocco in 1921––a year after it was
deleted from the World Encyclopedia of
Animals as already officially extinct. The similar
Cape lion of South Africa was extinguished
circa 1850. But unknown to science,
black-maned lions lived on, and bred, in the
private menagerie of the late Ethiopian emperor
Haile Selassie. After Selassie was overthrown
in 1974, the menagerie became the
Addis Ababa Zoo, rarely visited by nonEthiopians
during the many years of civil war
that followed the Selassie regime. Some were
sold from time to time. The remaining 11
Barbary lions were finally recognized in 1976
by South African veterinarian Hym Ebedes,
who initially thought they were Cape lions.
“Over the past 35 years I have seen
hundreds of wild lions,” Ebedes told media,
“but I have never seen anything so majestic
and magnificent. The sight of a black-maned
lion pacing around his cage had an indescribable
spine-chilling effect on me.”
A few months later, Jan Creamer of
the London-based Animal Defenders discovered
a black-maned male lion––a Barbary––
among the starving menagerie of a defunct
Egyptian circus that was seized by humane
authorities in Maputo, the capital of
Mozambique. Also in 1976, Animal
Defenders helped authorities seize four lions
from an allegedly abusive private collector in
Italy. Two appeared to be Barbary hybrids.
Altogether, believes P a r c
Zoologique National de Rabat z o o l o g i s t
Haddane Brahim, as many as 40 Barbary lions
may remain in various zoos and circuses. One
is reputedly somewhere in Missouri.

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