Extinction is a natural part of any species’ timeline on Earth. The nature of evolution is that the species with the most valuable advantages is usually the species most likely to survive. That means, of course, that many species fail to thrive and naturally go extinct. There are also animals that have gone extinct due to deforestation.
But there have been five mass extinction events on Earth, and some scientists believe that we’re currently in the middle of the sixth. In fact, one recent study concluded that three-quarters of the animal species currently living on Earth could be extinct in the next 300 years.
The most tragic part is that this event is entirely human-caused. From habitat destruction in the form of deforestation to the introduction of invasive predators and diseases, humans are the biggest threat to any animal species. But that means we also have the power to save them.
Table of Contents
- Defining “Extinction”
- 13 Animal Species That Are Extinct (or Nearly Extinct) Due to Deforestation
- 1. Formosan Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura)
- 2. Paradise Parrot (Psephotellus pulcherrimus)
- 3. St. Helena Darter (Sympetrum dilatatum)
- 4. Hawaiian Crow (Corvus hawaiiensis)
- 5. Pygmy Raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus)
- 6. Kāmaʻo (Myadestes myadestinus)
- 7. Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelli)
- 8. Kākāwahie (Paroreomyza flammea)
- 9. Darwin’s Fox (Lycalopex fulvipes)
- 10. Cryptic Treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti)
- 11. Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
- 12. Mount Glorious Torrent Frog (Taudactylus diurnus)
- 13. Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a species as extinct when the last member of a species has undoubtedly died. On the surface, extinction seems like a relatively simple determination. Either a species exists, or it doesn’t, right?
In reality, it’s a much more complicated and nebulous concept than you might believe at first glance. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no living members of a species in the wild requires exhaustive surveys repeated multiple times over a period of several years at least.
Even then, declaring that there’s not a single living member left is nearly impossible. Even if an entire species were isolated on an island of fewer than 100 square miles (as some species are), thoroughly combing the area would take years, during which time animals could migrate.
The result is that it takes years and sometimes even decades before scientists can confidently say that every member of a species has died in the wild. The issue is complicated even further because a species extinct in the wild may continue to exist in captivity.
The Spix’s Macaw, as you’ll see, has been entirely extinct in the wild for years. However, in captivity, the species is thriving as an exotic household pet. Other species may continue to exist and even reproduce in conservation zoos long after their wild relatives have gone extinct.
Until the IUCN can say with certainty that a species has ceased to exist in captivity, in the wild, or both, they may classify it as Critically Endangered. They may also say that a species is Possibly Extinct, a tentative subclassification that falls under Critically Endangered.
The result is that researchers may continue to classify a species as Critically Endangered after the last member of the species has died. In September 2021, the United States declared 23 species extinct, including the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which was last seen 80 years ago.
The last member of that species almost certainly died decades ago, yet it was only recently classified as extinct. This is just one of many known examples of species last seen years ago that have yet to be declared extinct. There are almost certainly more examples than we know.
Even if a species still has a few thousand members left in the wild, though, that doesn’t guarantee its survival. There must be enough members of a species within a specific geographic range to reproduce faster than predators, and other threats can cause them to die.
In some cases, groups of animals are so widely spread out that they don’t encounter each other enough to reproduce. In others, the outside threats to the species are so overwhelming that their extinction is inevitable.
Finally, as you’ll see, species can be brought back from extinction through captive conservation programs. These programs attempt to reintroduce a species into the wild – but faced with the same threats that caused their extinction in the first place, the animals often die.
For that reason, this list of extinct animals includes species that are definitely extinct, probably extinct, nearly extinct, and inevitably on their way to extinction because the official label isn’t as important as the fact that an entire species is or will soon be lost.
These thirteen animal species are either already extinct or threatened to the point where their extinction is all but assured. For some, conservation efforts tried but failed to save them. Others were so nearly extinct when they were discovered that they were already beyond saving.
This range of scenarios demonstrates the complexity of declaring a species extinct. It also highlights the importance of conservation efforts to prevent the ripple effect that leads a species to be completely decimated.
The one thing that each of these species has in common is that humans are the primary threat to their existence. Whether development has destroyed their habitat or the trees have been taken as commodities, deforestation is entirely a human problem.
The good news is that there are still plenty of species in existence, and we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. With the latest scientific advancements and those to come in the future, we can reduce the human impact on the animals around us.
1. Formosan Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura)
Despite its name, the Formosan clouded leopard is a distant relative of other leopards. Large cats like the tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard are part of the Panthera genus, while clouded leopards make up their own genus – Neofelis.
The Neofelis genus is further subdivided into two species of clouded leopard.
The mainland clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, occupies the Asian mainland, while the Sunda clouded leopard, Neofelis diardi, occupies the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The Formosan Clouded Leopard was a subspecies of the Mainland Clouded Leopard only found in Taiwan.
Deforestation due to logging degraded its habitat, forcing it into the mountains. The last official sighting of the Formosan Clouded Leopard was in 1983, though that photo may actually have been of Neofelis diardi in Borneo.
An exhaustive survey from 2001-2004 concluded that there was no evidence of clouded leopards in the region, and in 2013, the Formosan clouded leopard was declared extinct. In 2019, several people reported sightings of the Formosan clouded leopard, but those have not been confirmed.
To complicate things even further, scientists are discussing the possibility of reintroducing clouded leopards to Taiwan. The confusing status of the Formosan clouded leopard is a perfect example of the complexities of declaring a species “extinct.”
2. Paradise Parrot (Psephotellus pulcherrimus)
Paradise parrots were a species of parakeet native to Australia. These birds were unusually beautiful, with their tail making up nearly half of their ten-inch size. Their colorful feathers were turquoise, green, orange, and brown. Paradise parrots nested in pairs, and they occasionally made small family groups in hollowed-out termite mounds.
Due to a combination of land clearing, hunting, and predation by cats introduced by humans, what was once a relatively common bird on the Australian mainland became rarer and rarer. By 1915, the species was believed to have been extinct. But on December 11, 1921, almost exactly 100 years ago, Cyril Jerrard of Gayndah, Australia, spotted a mating pair of paradise parrots.
Over the next twenty years or so, there were reports of sporadic pairs of paradise parrots spotted. Though there was quite a lot of publicity around the critical status of the birds, there were few known solutions to protect them at that time. Sadly, the last official sighting of one alive was in 1927, and they are certainly extinct today.
3. St. Helena Darter (Sympetrum dilatatum)
The St. Helena Darter was a dragonfly species endemic to St. Helena Island, a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Brazil in South America and Angola in Africa. It had no other known habitats prior to its extinction.
The exact cause of the extinction of the St. Helena Darter is unknown, but it was likely a combination of factors. St. Helena Island was colonized in the late 16th century, and habitat destruction from colonization was likely a primary cause of extinction. Other invasive aquatic species were also introduced, further contributing to population loss.
The last official sighting of the St. Helena Darter was in 1963, and it was declared extinct some time after that. However, in 2011, it became apparent that there had been no comprehensive surveys of St. Helena Island since 1963, and it was reclassified as Data Deficient and later Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). It was declared extinct again in 2020.
4. Hawaiian Crow (Corvus hawaiiensis)
The Hawaiian crow was once considered relatively abundant on all of the Hawaiian islands, but especially in western and southeastern Hawaii. It had a call that sounded a lot like a cat’s meow, along with a variety of others, and was known to use sticks instinctively to extract food from holes in logs.
It played a critical role in the proliferation of seeds of many native Hawaiian plants. The Hawaiian crow distributed the seeds and germinated them as they passed through its digestive tract. Many such plants have no other means of dispersing their seeds.
The colonization of the Hawaiian islands introduced multiple threats to the Hawaiian crow. Deforestation led to habitat loss, and the lack of tree cover exposed the birds to predators from above and below. Humans illegally hunted them, believing they were a threat to crops. The last members of the species were seen in the wild in 2002.
There are approximately 115 individuals in captivity. In 2016, scientists released 30 captive Hawaiian crows into the wild, hoping that the reintroduced birds would repopulate the island. Unfortunately, only five remained four years later, and they were taken back into captivity to protect them. Scientists are currently re-evaluating the program in hopes of trying again.
5. Pygmy Raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus)
The pygmy raccoon, also known as the Cozumel raccoon, lives only on the island of Cozumel, Mexico. They are the smallest of the Procyon genus, weighing around 7.7 pounds on average, about half the size of their nearest mainland relative, and have yellow rings instead of black.
Though not technically yet extinct, there are believed to be only 189 adult pygmy raccoons in the wild on the entire 486 square-mile island, and that number is declining. Pygmy raccoons face many threats to their survival as a species, but the most significant threat is tourist development.
Though considered critically endangered, little is being done to protect them from non-native predators and diseases brought by invasive species. Meanwhile, as the tourism industry goes, more and more of their habitat is being destroyed, and they have no way of escaping the island.
Conservationists are considering several options to save the species. Preserving the mangrove forests where the pygmy raccoons live would halt the island’s tourist centers from expanding further into their habitat. Conservation zoos may also begin captive breeding programs.
See Related: Endangered vs Threatened vs Extinct
6. Kāmaʻo (Myadestes myadestinus)
The Kāmaʻo, also commonly known as the Large Kaua`i Thrush, lived only on the island from which it got its name. They were the largest of Hawaii’s native thrush species and were reddish-brown with olive-colored feathers.
In the late 1960s, there were believed to be around 350 adult Kāmaʻo on the island of Kaua`i. Sadly, humans destroyed their habitat to clear the way for farming and ranching. Deforestation combined with invasive pests and introduced predators ultimately drove them to extinction.
7. Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelli)
The Sumatran orangutan’s geographic range is limited to the mountainous forests in the northern part of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. They’re completely arboreal, living only in the trees and rarely coming to the ground, making them particularly vulnerable to deforestation.
Though their range once spread across the entire island, deforestation and habitat destruction have ultimately cornered the remaining Sumatran orangutans. They’re critically endangered, not yet extinct, and roughly 16,000 of them remained at the last survey in 2016.
Though that number sounds promising, it includes subpopulations that aren’t believed to be viable long-term. In reality, there may be only 13,000 adults remaining in the wild, and that number is on the decline.
Their primary threat is habitat loss due to deforestation. Despite conservation efforts, forest fires, land clearing, timber logging, and agricultural development are driving the remaining Sumatran orangutans higher and higher into the mountains.
See Related: Sumatran Tiger
8. Kākāwahie (Paroreomyza flammea)
The Kākāwahie was once endemic to the island of Moloka’i, Hawaii, but was last seen in the wild in 1963. Sadly, not much is even known about this bird, as it was last seen commonly in 1907 and was rare by the 1930s.
The likely causes of the kākāwahie’s extinction were habitat destruction in the form of deforestation and the introduction of diseases to which they had no resistance. Surveys since 1979 have failed to locate any individuals of the species, and it was declared extinct in 1988.
The kākāwahie is a perfect example of how long it can take to declare a species extinct, even when it hasn’t been seen in decades. Despite last being seen in the 1960s, it was nearly 1990 before it was officially declared lost.
9. Darwin’s Fox (Lycalopex fulvipes)
This fox species is endemic to Chile. Though once thought to only inhabit an island off the country’s southern coast, a mainland population was discovered in a national park in 1990. Their habitat consists of old-growth forests and temperate rainforests.
Known for their short legs and bushy tails, these solitary canids pair off just long enough to reproduce and raise their young together. Researchers have reported several Darwin’s foxes living up to seven years old.
Though not yet wholly extinct, the destruction of their habitat had reduced the total population of Darwin’s foxes to as few as 700, and that number is decreasing. They were previously classified as Critically Endangered until the mainland population was discovered.
They are now classified merely as endangered. Their primary threats are deforestation due to wood and pulp plantations and hunting and trapping. They’re also heavily plagued with disease and are expected to see a population decline of 20% over the next two generations.
10. Cryptic Treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti)
In 2014, two ornithologists discovered a new species of bird in northeastern Brazil. They called it the cryptic treehunter. Its black head, brown body, and orange tail looked similar to another known bird species, causing it to go undiscovered as its own independent species.
It quickly became apparent that it was one of the rarest birds in the world, known to inhabit only two locations in Brazil. Even when it was first discovered, researchers estimated there were a maximum of ten breeding pairs living, and likely fewer than that.
The species was classified as Critically Endangered, and ornithologists held out hope that they would find more. Sadly, the forests where they lived continued to decline due to deforestation for sugarcane plantations and ranching. What little forest remained was scattered and remote.
Last seen in 2007, the cryptic treehunter was declared extinct in 2019. Because of its recent discovery and limited numbers at the time of discovery, none exist in the wild. The species is almost certainly lost forever due to logging and agriculture.
11. Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
The rarest of the rhinoceros genus is only found in a single national park in Indonesia. They’re primarily solitary creatures that live in the lowland rainforests of Indonesia. Today, their primary threat is poaching, though their numbers first dwindled because of habitat loss due to logging.
Though the population there has mostly stabilized, it has been slow to increase despite conservation efforts. They reproduce slowly, with females giving birth only once every four to five years. Their small population size makes them particularly vulnerable to disease.
The Javan rhinoceros is not yet extinct; though its numbers are so low, it’s almost impossible to conceive of the species making a comeback. The last localized population in Vietnam went extinct in 2010, and fewer than 75 adults are living in the wild today.
See Related: Black Rhino
12. Mount Glorious Torrent Frog (Taudactylus diurnus)
This species of tree frog native to Queensland, Australia, was first discovered in 1966 and last seen in the wild in 1979. Though it was abundant when first discovered, it declined rapidly and was soon declared Endangered, and Critically Endangered species shortly after.
Many threats contributed to the amphibians‘ precipitous population collapse, from habitat loss due to logging, mining, tourism, and water management combined with water contamination to invasive species and diseases that completely wiped out the Mount Glorious torrent frog.
Although it hadn’t been seen in decades, scientists continued to try to locate members of the species until 2004, when it was finally declared extinct.
13. Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii)
The Spix’s macaw was made famous in the animated film Rio, where the main character set off to Brazil looking for the last wild member of his species. However, by the time that movie was released, Spix’s macaws had been lost in the wild for more than ten years.
These beautiful blue birds were captured and traded as pets for decades, decimating their numbers as humans destroyed their habitats for agriculture and energy production. There are still many living in captivity, as pets, and in conservation programs.
Currently, a colony of captive Spix’s macaws is being prepared for release in the wild in hopes of reintroducing the species. Two conservation areas have been prepared specifically for their release, and scientists are hopeful that the program will succeed.