lost species found
Eight wild and whimsical lost species from around the world have been found from Re:wild’s original top 25 most wanted lost species since the Search for Lost Species kicked off in 2017. Those that have been rediscovered often catalyze conservation actions. Each new rediscovery has reminded us that we can find hope in even the most unlikely situations and that these stories of overlooked, but fascinating species can be a powerful antidote to despair.
In 2017, the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander, aka the “golden wonder,” became the first of Re:wild’s top 25 most wanted lost species to be rediscovered. After partners at FUNDAECO hung up posters and educated park guards at the Yal Unin Yul Witz Reserve about the salamander, one of those guards happened to catch sight of one during his lunch break. The reserve itself had been established only two years before by a consortium of international groups, including Re:wild, in part to help protect the Finca Chiblac Salamander and Long-limbed Salamander, which had both been rediscovered there in 2014. After the rediscovery of Jackson’s Climbing Salamander on the edges of the reserve’s border, Re:wild helped support an expansion of the reserve.
Jackson’s Climbing Salamander had not been seen since Paul Elias discovered the species in the mid-1970s and named it after colleague Jeremy Jackson. The salamander, an elusive cloud forest species that is adept at escaping human attention, eluded a 2014 expedition that Re:wild launched with Elias and Jackson to retrace their steps four decades later.
Wallace’s Giant Bee was the second of the Search for Lost Species' top 25 "most wanted" species to be found. An independent search team that set out to find and photograph the bee—including natural history photographer Clay Bolt--rediscovered the species in 2019.
Wallace's Giant Bee, with an estimated maximum wingspan of two and a half inches, is the largest bee on Earth. It was believed extinct until it was rediscovered in 1981 by American researcher Adam C. Messer, who found six nests on the island of Bacan and other nearby islands. It hasn’t been seen since. A 1984 paper touched on the life history of the bee, which exhibits uncommon communal behavior, and rediscovery offers the possibility of greater insight into the life of this fascinating creature. The species was originally collected by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859.
In 2019, Re:wild confirmed the exciting rediscovery of this species by an independent team of botanists who trekked to a mountain in the most remote, true wilderness in Borneo in search of the Velvet Pitcher Plant.
Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that use a deep cavity filled with digestive enzymes—a trap set for unsuspecting insects—to catch their meals. The Velvet Pitcher Plant was known only from the original specimens discovered in 1918.
The Silver-backed Chevrotain, a deer-like species the size of a rabbit or small cat, was the first mammal on our list of 25 most wanted lost species to be rediscovered. It was rediscovered by Re:wild and partners Southern Institute of Ecology and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. Scientists published the rediscovery in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution in November of 2019. Re:wild, GreenViet, Southern Institute of Ecology and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research have since found two more small populations of the species.
Finding the chevrotain—also called a deer-mouse—had been one of the highest mammal conservation priorities in the Annamite Mountains. Before 2019, there had only been one record of the species since 1907.
The field team is studying how large and stable these populations of Silver-backed Chevrotains are, the exact distribution of the species, and the threats to its survival. They are using the information that they gather to develop and implement a conservation action plan that strengthens enforcement and protection of the species across its range, building on the increased enforcement already put in place at the site of rediscovery.
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In 2020, scientists published a paper in PeerJ announcing the rediscovery of the little Somali Sengi, one of Re:wild’s original top 25 most wanted lost species, which made headlines around the world. The year before, a team of scientists including Steven Heritage, the late Galen Rathbun, and Houssein Rayaleh set out to Djibouti in search of the eccentric insectivorous mammal. Using interviews with local communities and results from scat analysis, the team set a total of 1,259 live traps at 12 locations. They caught a Somali Sengi in the very first trap they set, saw 12 sengis in total, and took the first-ever photos and video of live Somali Sengis. The species had not been documented since before 1968 in Somalia.
This sengi species was among the least well-known of the world’s 20 species of sengis, making it one of the last big mysteries of African mammalogy. It was previously known to science only from 39 individuals collected up to hundreds of years ago and stored today at museums.
Sengi are very swift small mammals that don’t belong to the family of true shrews, but are in their own family that is more closely related to elephants than shrews. They have long noses (thus the elephant part of their name) that they use to probe for insect prey.
In 2021, scientists at Yale University, with support from Re:wild and other partners, confirmed a genetic match between the only individual Fernandina Galapagos Tortoise (or Fernandina Giant Tortoise)—collected in 1906—and a single female tortoise found during a 2019 expedition to Fernandina Island. The finding marked the seventh rediscovery of one of Re:wild’s original top 25 most wanted lost species and the longest lost on that list.
When the animal was found in 2019 on an expedition led by the Galápagos National Park Directorate and Galapagos Conservancy and supported by Discovery’s Animal Planet, the main question the team had to answer was whether she was, in fact the possibly extinct Fernandina Galapagos Tortoise or a different tortoise species in the form of an individual translocated from another island.
With that mystery solved, researchers will be trying to determine if there are other individuals on the island and, if so, whether they are also Fernandina Galapagos Tortoises. Fernandina Island is the youngest and least explored of the Galápagos Islands.
The Sierra Leone Crab is restricted to freshwater habitats in the Upper Guinea rainforest zone and known only from three crabs collected in 1955. Relatives of these crabs were recently rediscovered and have striking orange and purple coloration, an unusual inflated carapace and an unusual ecology—they climb trees! A search for this crab could also include a search for two other lost species in the Upper Guinea rainforest zone, Afzeli’s Crab (Afrithelphusa azfelli), which is known from two individuals collected before 1800, and Gerhilda’s Crab (Afrithelphusa gerhildae). All three species are likely lost because they live in obscure, out-of-the-way places such as trees, caves, mountain streams and cracks in rocks.
Re:wild is working with the University of Yaounde 1 in Cameroon and Northern Michigan University to rediscover these species.
An expedition team’s two-week trip to northwestern Madagascar in 2018 in search of the lost Voeltzkow’s Chameleon (Furcifer voletzkowi) not only resulted in the successful rediscovery of the species, but the discovery that females are very colorful. The Voltzkow’s chameleon was the sixth of Re:wild’s top 25 “most wanted” lost species to be rediscovered, and its rediscovery is helping unlock the many secrets surrounding the cryptic species first described in 1893 and last seen in 1913 in Madagascar.
Frank Glaw, head of the Department of Vertebrates at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München, who led the expedition, which also included chameleon asset management ltd, the Swiss sponsor, represented by Carlos Zanotelli, and the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar.
Zoologische Staatssammlung München, chameleon asset management ltd