Which plants have recently become extinct

Irretrievably lost

Portrait of extinct animal and plant species

Humans are responsible for the irretrievable extinction of numerous animal and plant species. Through habitat destruction, land use change, environmental pollution, climate change and the spread of invasive species, it contributes directly and indirectly to the fact that the extinction rate today is up to 1,000 times higher than natural.

Alien species died out in remote regions of the world by colonial Europeans as early as the 17th century. Islanders were particularly affected. But there are also countless losses on the European mainland.

The following overview shows a selection of some animals and plants that are considered to be extinct worldwide according to the Red List of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) (category "EX"). The species shown are examples of a whole group of living beings for whom there was never any protection effort or for whom any help came too late. Today species extinction is progressing even faster than before. NABU is helping to stop the species decline.


Quagga (Equus quagga quagga)

Quagga - Photo: Carola Radke / Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

The quagga was a subspecies of the plains zebra and was originally widespread in South Africa. It resembled the zebra, but its fur was only striped black and white on the head and chest, towards the back the stripes became lighter and then turned reddish brown.

If one had looked across the steppe of South Africa before the 17th century, one would have discovered not only zebras, antelopes and ostriches but also huge herds of quagga, because by then it should have been one of the most common large mammals. Excessive hunting began in the 17th century. The South African farmers hunted the quagga for its meat and skin from which they made leather, but mostly because they saw the quagga as a food competitor for their grazing animals, especially cattle. But it was not only the local farmers who followed the striped ungulates. In the 17th century South Africa became a popular travel destination for the wealthy upper classes from all over the world, who hunted thousands of native wild animals there for "sporting" reasons. The quaggas fur had become a popular hunting trophy.

In 1850 the quagga no longer appeared south of the Orange River. The last remaining stocks fell victim to the drought of 1877. In August 1883 the last specimen died in captivity at the Amsterdam Zoo. Only then did the people realize that it was probably the last of its kind. Without any protective efforts, the quagga had disappeared from the earth.

Tasmanian pouch wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

Tasmanian bagwolf - Photo: A. Dittmann / Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

The Tasmanian marsupial, also known as the marsupial because of its striking stripes on the abdomen, was the largest carnivorous marsupial that historically lived on the entire Australian continent, with a shoulder height of 60 centimeters and a body length of up to 130 centimeters. Its physique with the broad skull, the dentition with the long canine and the sharp molars and the rather short legs resembles that of many canine tigers. A special feature of the pouch wolf was that it could open its jaw very wide, up to 90 degrees.

The persistent runner mainly hunted mammals such as wallabies, wild rabbits and small kangaroos by either chasing them to exhaustion or by sneaking up on them and taking them off guard. With its powerful jaw, it could kill its prey with a single bite in the head. The nocturnal animal originally inhabited the open forest areas and grasslands of mainland Australia and New Guinea, but died there before the arrival of the Europeans, probably due to the displacement of the dingo introduced by humans. On the island of Tasmania, which the dingo never reached, the species was widespread until the beginning of the 19th century. When the sheep were introduced as farm animals in Tasmania, the farmers saw the pouch wolves as a threat to their herds and began to hunt them mercilessly. In the 1830s, the government even offered a reward of 25 cents for the head of a thylacine. In 1900 the species was already considered rare. Various zoos took the thylacine into their stock, but it never succeeded in breeding. The protection efforts came too late. In 1936, the Tasmanian thylacine was protected by law. But several subsequent expeditions found no evidence of the survival of this species. In the same year of protection, the last specimen died in captivity at Hobart Zoo.

Steller's Manatee (Hydrodamalis gigas)

Photograph of an exhibition at the Übersee-Museum Bremen - Photo: Gabrilele Warnke / Übersee-Museum Bremen

The Steller manatee was found in the northern Pacific in Russia and Alaska. It is named after its discoverer, the German doctor and natural scientist Georg Wilhelm Steller. When he discovered it in 1741, there were probably only around 2,000 specimens of the manatee, up to eight meters long and weighing around four tons.

Due to their high weight, the toothless herbivores were permanently occupied with feeding during their active time. They looked for their food, mainly seaweed and algae, in the shallow water and ground it with their horned pines. The diving time was four to five minutes, and the whole body was rarely under water. The massive animals were considered good but leisurely swimmers and generally avoided the open water. Excessive human hunting drove the manatees to the fringes of their inhospitable habitat and ultimately, only 27 years after their discovery by Steller, led to the extinction of the giant sea creatures.

The seafarers used the Steller manatees mainly as a fresh source of food. But the bacon, from which lamp oil was made, was also in great demand. Even the thick, tough skin of marine mammals was used, for example as a shoe sole. The last specimen was probably killed by fur hunters near Bering Island in 1768.

Aurochs / Ur (Bos primigenius)

Replica of an original drawing from the 19th century (Charles Hamilton Smith, 1927)

Aurochs, also called Ur, were originally widespread in large parts of Europe and Asia. With a head circumference of over three meters, a shoulder height of up to 1.88 meters for the bulls and a weight of up to a ton, the aurochs was one of the most powerful land animals in Europe until the last ice age. However, the descendants of these animals after the Ice Age were significantly smaller. Depending on the distribution area and subspecies, the size and appearance of the aurochs also varied. The coat color ranged from dark red-brown with a red-brown eel line to almost black with a beige or gray-white eel line. The horns were curved forward and were up to 80 centimeters long. The diurnal animals lived in open forests and ate mainly grass, leaves and acorns. The massive animals lived together in small herds, consisting of a bull, a few cows and their young.

The increasing colonization of Europe and the associated destruction of its habitat through the progressive clearing of the forests and the ever more intensive agriculture contributed to the extinction of the Ursus. The stocks were also heavily decimated by hunting. The last aurochs in Germany was shot in the Neuburg Forest in Bavaria around 1470. The species survived the longest in Eastern Europe, especially in Lithuania and Mazovia (Poland). At the end of the 16th century, the last existing specimens in the Jaktorów forest were placed under the protection of the sovereign. In 1564 there were 38 individuals there. The population was insufficient for the species to survive. In 1627 the last of the remaining Urs died. In the 1920s, the directors of the Hellabrunn and Berlin zoos attempted to breed back the aurochs from domestic cattle. Outwardly, the resulting Heck cattle actually looked very much like the aurochs, but genetically it was not one - the aurochs is finally lost.

Little rabbit nosebug (Macrotis leucura)

Illustration of the Little Rabbit Nose Beater (J. Gould for Victoria Museum)

The little rabbit-nosed whisker was at home in the arid interior of Australia. Despite his small size, he was stocky build. Characteristic of the small marsupial with the fluffy, soft fur were also the elongated snout and the large ears. With its strong front legs, it dug its food - insects, other small animals and roots - out of the ground. But its front legs were also perfect tools for digging the burrow, which could be up to two meters deep. The nocturnal animal hid in it during the day.

The little rabbit nosebags were hunted by the Aborigines, mainly because of their soft fur. A dramatic decline in the population only occurred with the colonization of Australia by the Europeans at the beginning of the 20th century, in the course of which many European animal species were introduced. From then on, the greatest enemies of the little rabbit nasal cones were red foxes and domestic cats, but also wild rabbits, which contributed to the extinction of the nosebuys by being displaced. But the people are also partly to blame. The Europeans took away the habitat of the little rabbit-nosed bucks by converting it into large-scale pastures.

The last documented sighting was in 1931. However, Aboriginal records suggest the species survived into the 1960s. Nevertheless, the little rabbit-nosed pooch is now considered to be definitely extinct.


Labrador duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius)

Photographed copy from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin - Photo: Carola Radke

This relatively small duck bird with a body length of 51 cm probably brooded along the east coast of North America, from Newfoundland / Labrador to Virginia. Even if the Labrador duck has probably always been very rare and its meat was considered less tasty, shot Labrador ducks were offered on the poultry markets in Baltimore, New York or Philadelphia, for example, until the middle of the 19th century. Little is known about the diet of the Labrador ducks, although it is assumed that they mainly lived on mussels. Hunting of this species was made easier by the fact that it was apparently only a little shy of humans. Excessive hunting is therefore to be cited as the primary reason for their extinction. The last confirmed individual of the Labrador duck was believed to have been shot on Long Island (USA) in 1875.

Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)

Wandering pigeon in the Museum of Natural History in Berlin - Photo: Carola Radke

The forest-bound species was originally found in North America, but it also occasionally migrated south to Mexico and Cuba. Living nomadically, they occurred in large numbers, especially on strong beech masts. Other sources of food were, for example, maple seeds or chestnuts. The birds brooded in large colonies up to 80 square kilometers in size from April / May.

It can be assumed that the causes of the extinction of the migrating pigeons lie in large-scale clearcuts for the timber industry, whereby the corresponding tree species fell victim as a source of food. The sprawl of their habitats through the construction of new railway lines or telegraph poles also played a part in their extermination, as finding the large-scale breeding habitats required here was made much more difficult. Excessive hunting was another important factor. The last confirmed occurrence of the passenger pigeon is dated to 1900. Efforts to find the species failed for the last time in 1911. The last bird living in captivity, named "Martha", died in 1914 in a zoo in Cincinnati (USA).


Bodensee-Kilch (Coregonus gutturosus)

Original drawing (Jurine 1825)

This freshwater fish once lived in the depths of Lake Constance. It laid its spawn at depths of up to 60 meters. Invertebrates living on the bottom of the water were its main source of food, mainly mussels and snails. This also explains its lower mouth opening. Its commercial use ceased in the 1960s. The reason for this was not just its overfishing. The rate of reproduction also decreased rapidly, as the agricultural eutrophication of Lake Constance meant that the eggs could no longer cope with the increasingly lower oxygen content in the water. Other Coregon species also suffered from this. Although the ecological status of the water has improved again and the populations of other conspecifics have recovered, this species could no longer be found even after several investigations. The Bodensee-Kilch has been considered extinct since the 1970s.

Gravenche (Coregonus hiemalis)

Original drawing (Jurine 1825)

Even if young animals were once sighted in the lake of Le Bourget (France), the Gravenche was considered an endemic species of Lake Geneva (France / Switzerland). With a body length of about 30 centimeters, it mainly fed on animal plankton and lived close to the ground in great depths of the water. Since the Gravenche was still considered one of the most heavily caught food fish on Lake Geneva at the end of the 19th century, it is not surprising that in a few years it was extremely rare and finally Verifiably last sighted at the beginning of the 20th century has been. Even extensive research projects could no longer prove any specimens. In addition to overfishing, the increasing eutrophication of the water is also seen as a cause of extinction.


Cape Verde Giant Skink (Macroscincus coctei)

Photo: Professeur Barbosa du Bocage, 1908

This species was originally endemic to the Cape Verde Islands in an area of ​​only 10 square kilometers. The community-living skink inhabited crevices in the rock, was crepuscular to nocturnal and mainly fed on the eggs of seabirds and their chicks.

The first direct cause of danger were the dogs, cats and rats brought in by humans. Indirectly, they are also likely to have stalked seabirds, which minimized their population and thus the nutritional basis of the skink. Hunting by humans also played a significant role in their population loss, as the skink served as a source of food, especially in dry seasons. However, the further processing of the hides for shoe production and the use for medical purposes endangered the species. Due to the low reproduction rate, the Cape Verde giant skink was not able to compensate for the losses. The last living specimen was seen in 1912. A study last carried out in 2006 could no longer find any individuals.

Reunion Island Giant Tortoise (Cylindraspis indica)

Scan of a photograph of the Réunion giant tortoise (Novitates Zoologicae, Vol. 1, 1894 (Hubert Jerningham))

Just as the entire genus Cylindraspis of the giant tortoise is now considered extinct, the existence of the Réunion giant tortoise has also been irrevocably wiped out. As the name suggests, it was found exclusively on the island of Réunion in the South Indian Ocean. With a body length of up to 110 centimeters, it was the largest representative of its species. When it was still found in large numbers on the island, it played an important role in the condition and regeneration of the native forests.

Her very slow movement and lack of shyness towards humans ultimately became her undoing: for the purposes of oil combustion and human nutrition, she was hunted so heavily that her population was already severely decimated by 1800. The last specimens to retreat to the higher elevations of the island were finally killed in 1940.


Harlequin frog (Atelopus ignescens)

Photograph of a specimen imported from South America (Dr. Peter Janzen, 2005)

The harlequin frog was at home in Ecuador. He lived there in damp forests in the mountains and high grass and scrubland at an altitude of 2800 to 4200 meters above sea level. The black frog with a yellow to greenish pattern belonged to the poison dart frogs and had a highly poisonous secretion that it secreted through the skin.

A change in the climate in Ecuador that has occurred in recent decades probably contributed to the harlequin frog's extinction. There was strong warming: 1987 was the warmest year since climate data began to be recorded, which also led to severe drought and recurring periods of drought.

The species was probably ultimately wiped out by the contagious fungal skin disease chytridiomycosis, which has led to an extreme extinction of many amphibian species, and which has also been proven in harlequin frogs. The last specimen was spotted in 1988. Subsequent searches were unsuccessful.

Pseudophilautus maia

Pseudophilautus maia - Photo: Meegaskumbura, Manamendra-Arachchi, Schneider & Pethiyagoda, 2007

This species belongs to the rowing frog family (Rhacophoridae), which owe their name to their ability to glide several meters through the air. They do this by using oversized membranes between their fingers and toes. The tree frog-like frogs live on trees and are excellent climbers. P. maia was found exclusively in the cloud forests of Sri Lanka, which thrive at around 1,400 meters above sea level.

Despite several attempts to rediscover this rowing frog between 1993-2003, it was last sighted in 1876. The only known specimens come from this year. The species is now considered extinct. The main reason for this is seen in the deforestation of the forests, which destroyed their habitats. The intensification of agriculture (through tea plantations) or grazing could also have played their part.


Tobias Caddis Fly (Hydropsyche tobiasi)

Photo of a specimen from the Museum für Naturkunde - Photo: W. Mey / Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

This caddis fly species is said to have had a dark brown body, lighter legs and relatively large eyes. Since it was found only in Germany at eight locations in the Middle Rhine Valley and on the Main, it can be assumed that it was an endemic species. Although it could already be seen in 1906, it was not scientifically described until 1977. The females of the nocturnal Tobias caddis fly preferred to lay their eggs in or above the water in "packages", which underlines their strong ties to water.

The main cause that led to the extinction of the caddis fly is seen in the massive pollution of the Rhine and Main. Despite intensive searches in 1979 and most recently in 2004, this species could not be rediscovered.

Stevens Island ground beetle (Mecodema punctellum)

Drawing of the Stevens Island Ground Beetle - Source: Britton, E.B. 1949. The Carabidae (Coleoptera) of New Zealand. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 77: 533-581

This species was a 38 millimeter long black ground beetle that was endemic to New Zealand and the surrounding islands and was unusually flightless. Little is known about its habitats, but it can be assumed that it preferred moist forests. He presumably a predatory snail diet. The ground beetle was last sighted in 1931. Several investigations between the years 1961-1997 were unsuccessful. The main cause of the extinction of this species is large-scale clearcuts, which destroyed its habitat.


Szaferi birch (Betula szaferi)

Leaf variations of the Szaferi birch - Source: Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae Vol. 55 (1986), Jerzy Staszkiewicz

The Szaferi birch belonged to the Betulaceae family and was native to Poland only. Although the hybrid B. oycoviensis, which originated from the crossing of B. szaferi and B. pendula, still occurs in several Central European countries, individuals of this birch no longer exist in the wild. The rumor circulating on the Internet that a specimen was planted in the Krakow Botanical Garden turned out to be flawed after research. The Szaferi birch has been considered extinct since 1970.

Violets (Viola cryana)

Photograph of some specimens from the herbarium (Herbier de l’Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 (LY) - CERESE)

In addition to the Latin name, there is only one French translation for this type of violet: Violette de Cry. It was first discovered in 1860 along the Canal de Bourgogne (France), where it was also endemic. As a heat-loving species, it preferred south-facing limestone slopes. Because of the limestone quarrying for cement production, but also because of the excessive collection by botanists, it can be assumed that this violet was already extinct in 1930. The last documented find dates from 1927.

The IUCN website provides more detailed information on animal and plant species that are on the Red List worldwide.



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