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On Rediscovering “Extinct” Species: The Lost and Found Project —Guest Post—

This is a guest post by Dr. Diogo Veríssimo at the University of Oxford, describing a project recently supported in part by The Alongside Wildlife Foundation.

It’s easy to feel a bit down if you follow environmental news from around the globe. Every day there seems to be a new tragedy, a more recent disaster, a more pressing crisis. This is not without reason. The natural world is under threat and in need of more attention, but perhaps there should also be room for some more inspirational stories? 

Photo by E.J. Keller Baker (Public Domain)
As a child, I was consumed by the story of the Thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, a predator marsupial found only in the island of Tasmania, in Australia. Although this is no doubt a spectacular animal, being the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. It is different to any other existing animal on earth today, representing a unique branch of our planet’s tree of life. But what mesmerized me about this species was the uncertainty around its extinction. While the mainstream narrative is that the last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936, there have been dozens of sightings of this species, leading to several expeditions to attempt to rediscover it. What if this amazing creature was still out there? What if this unique animal was after all not lost forever? 

I started reading up on these cases, where a species thought extinct was eventually rediscovered. It seemed that the Tasmanian tiger was not alone, and while it seems increasingly unlikely that it will ever be rediscovered, other species have. Many of these rediscoveries are truly inspirational stories, not only of how some amazing biodiversity “came back from the dead”, but also of the incredible commitment, selflessness and courage of the scientists, park rangers and nature enthusiasts involved. Here was my antidote to the doom and gloom that dominates so much of the environmental news. The Lost & Found project was born.

On Earth Day 2017, at the Earth Optimism Summit in Washington DC, the Lost & Found project was launched, with the goal of telling the most surprising, exciting and serendipitous stories of species rediscoveries. We currently cover 20, soon to be 25 species, from craneflies to turtles and newts to flying squirrels, from five continents. We present our stories in both written format and comics to allow for different audiences to enjoy these rediscoveries.

Thanks to a grant from The Alongside Wild Foundation, we were recently able to make important changes to our website, including the addition of five more species and the possibility to translating the content to other languages. So what’s next? We are currently working on five new stories, this time featuring plants, and are hoping to raise funds to have video animations of each of our stories, opening up our content to even more people.

So if you haven’t heard the story of how David Wingate moved his family to a desert island to save the Bermuda Petrel, how the rediscovery of the Bulmer’s fruit bat almost did not happen due to the appetite of a dog, or how Peter Zahler had to resort to a local collector of squirrel poo to rediscover the Woolly flying squirrel, then I challenge you to pay us a visit and get to know some of these incredible tales.