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The 15 Most Beautiful and Amazing Extinct Animals

Updated on October 02, 2013
A painting by James Gurney depicting the difference in size between an Irish Elk and a person.
A painting by James Gurney depicting the difference in size between an Irish Elk and a person. | Source

Irish Deer

More commonly known as an Irish Elk, this massive beast stood an intimidating 2.1 metres tall, or almost seven feet. It is the largest known deer ever to have lived, and it had equally impressive antlers, reaching around 3.6 metres wide (12ft).

Although it is called the Irish Elk, it was not found exclusively in Ireland, nor is it closely related to North American elk. Remains have been uncovered as far away as Siberia.

As it tends to be, human interaction may have played a role in the extinction of this animal. However, some have suggested that the unwieldy antlers of the males made movement difficult, and this may have contributed to its decline.

A rare xerces blue butterfly specimen
A rare xerces blue butterfly specimen | Source

Xerces Blue

The Xerces Blue was a type of gossamer butterfly known for it's blue wings and white spots.

It lived primarily in the deserts of San Francisco, and it remains as the first known example of butterfly extinction as a direct result of human development.

The Xerces butterfly is believed to have held a symbiotic relationship with a native ant population, which was subsequent;y destroyed by an invading ant species, which itself had been accidentally introduced by humans.

This painting of a cave lion was originally made to illustrate a card collection from the 1920s, to show the difference in size between a reindeer and a cave lion.
This painting of a cave lion was originally made to illustrate a card collection from the 1920s, to show the difference in size between a reindeer and a cave lion. | Source

Cave Lion

The cave lion was one of the most feared predators in the Pleistocene epoch, about 2.6 million years ago. It was for all intents and purposes a giant version of the lion you see on the TV today, except it likely feasted on elephants and horses instead of antelope.

Odd but True! The cave lion was not named because it lived in rocky caverns, but rather because it preyed heavily on cave bears, (which did in fact, actually live in caves), and many lost their battles. Hence, many of the first skeletons of the cave lion, were found in caves.

Interestingly, this giant cat became extinct not because it kept fighting bears, but because of rapid climate change and dwindling food supply.

A picture taken in Washington D.C. depicting some of the last Thylacine alive, around 1902.
A picture taken in Washington D.C. depicting some of the last Thylacine alive, around 1902. | Source

The Last Tasmanian Tiger

Thylacine

Just between you and me, we've probably all heard of the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger. If you hadn't, you still might recognise the photo above, which is fairly common. I have a soft spot for this animal, as it hailed from my native Australia, and it's disappearance was relatively recent.

Now, to the facts. The Tasmanian Tiger was never really going to make it far in a fast-moving human world. It had a slow, awkward gait, and an equally strange type of bark, which made it both an easy and desirable target for farmers and bounty hunters.

It's ill-gotten reputation as a chicken-hunter, and the introduction of modern dogs would be it's doom. Because the creature was nocturnal, rumour spread quickly that the animal preyed on livestock, so it was hunted relentlessly by European settlers. For a brief period, the Tasmanian government even offered a bounty for the heads of the Tasmanian Tiger.

All too late, there was just one thylacine remaining in captivity, known as Benjamin.

A hand-coloured photograph of a male Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, published in 1935.
A hand-coloured photograph of a male Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, published in 1935. | Source

Ivory Billed Woodpecker

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was (or possibly, is) one of the largest woodpeckers in the world. It is possibly extinct, but forgive me for adding it to the list anyway. The last one was seen in 2004, and reports have suggested that their no longer exists a forest large enough to sustain a population of this bird.

However, if you have seen one of these birds very recently around the south-eastern United States, there is a $50,000 reward. Just in case.

In the faint hope that the bird still remains, people in the struggling eastern Arkansas area have taken to turning the bird into a source of tourism, with the inception of a woodpecker "festival" in Brinkley, Arkansas.

Source

Pyrenean Ibex

For a brief period of seven minutes in 2009, this type of mountain goat was the first to become "de-extinct" due to the efforts of cloning. It died soon after as a result of lung defects, which are common in clones.

The Pyrenean Ibex once roamed throughout Southern France and Spain, but by the early 1900s, there remained only 100 of the animal in the wild. It likely died not only as the result of hunting pressures, but also because of increased food competition from sheep and introduced species of goat.

A close relative to the Queen of Sheba's Gazelle, as no confirmed photos exist of the animal.
A close relative to the Queen of Sheba's Gazelle, as no confirmed photos exist of the animal. | Source

Queen of Sheba's Gazelle

The Queen of Sheba's Gazelle (Also known as the Yemen Gazelle) was a species of gazelle originating from Yemen (no surprises here!) It is sometimes regarded as a species in it's own right, but is closely related to the Arabian Gazelle, which is also extinct.

While it was apparently common in Yemen in the 1950s, it has not been seen since by any local people for several decades.

It is surmised that the Queen of Sheba's Gazelle was hunted to extinction in part by army officers in and around 1951.

Only known illustration of a Great Auk drawn from life, Ole Worm's pet received from the Faroe Islands (1655)
Only known illustration of a Great Auk drawn from life, Ole Worm's pet received from the Faroe Islands (1655) | Source

Great Auk

The Great Auk was a large, flightless bird with a colourfully intertwined history with humans. The Neanderthals used them for food, the British for navigation, and various other cultures as a religious symbol.

Once believed to have a population in the millions, the Great Auk was hunted extensively for its down, and for its eggs, which became very popular as collectors items as the animal became extinct. Visitors to the barren islands these animals lived upon, used the penguin as food, then burned the oily carcasses as fuel, and skinned them alive for their down.

Around 50 of the last surviving Great Auks then lived on a volcanic islet that was inaccessible to humans. This islet then sank, so the penguins retreated to a nearby island, where they were killed over the next few years as specimens for museums.

A restoration of a painting of the woolly rhinoceros.
A restoration of a painting of the woolly rhinoceros. | Source

Woolly Rhinoceros

The woolly rhinoceros was a species of rhino that was common in Europe during the last ice age. It was supremely well-adapted to its environment, as it was covered in shaggy fur and had short stocky limbs suited to stepped environment it most often lived within.

It survived mainly on nutritious grasses, and went extinct during the same period of time that humans began migrating around Europe. This, changing climates, and higher competition for food, likely led to the extinction of this animal.

A real photo of the Laughing Owl, taken during 1892 by Henry Charles Clarke Wright
A real photo of the Laughing Owl, taken during 1892 by Henry Charles Clarke Wright | Source

Laughing Owl

The Laughing Owl was a type of owl found only in New Zealand in the early 1800's, but is now extinct. It was once common in New Zealand, before the settlement of Europeans.

It was believed that you could attract this type of owl with the playing of an accordion, and due to the similarities in the sounds of the two, this is possible, but unlikely.

The laughing owl is named as such because of it's cry, which has been described by witnesses as "a most unusual and weird cry, which might almost be described as maniacal."

A Falkland Island Wolf
A Falkland Island Wolf | Source

Falkland Islands Wolf

The Falkland Islands Wolf was a type of mammal closely related to the living Maned Wolf (found here), from which it separated around 6.5 million years ago. It was found only on the Falkland Islands, and studied for a time by Charles Darwin shortly before it became extinct.

This animal was noted for it's complete lack of fear towards humans. It's name in Latin means "foolish dog of the south" because of this apparent lack of fear. Also, when taken on a voyage to Europe by a Captain Strong, the animal jumped overboard, when it was frightened by cannon fire.

Charles Darwin once noted that it was easy to attract and kill this wolf simply by holding a piece of meat outstretched in one hand and a knife in the other.

Source

Sea Mink

The sea mink was a type of mink that was hunted to extinction for its fur. It was nearly twice as large as the common American mink, and had a slightly redder hue, so was highly prized by hunters.

Although it is called the sea mink, it was not truly a marine animal. It likely lived in semi-marine environments, such as coastal waters. It was well known to fur hunters before its extinction, but was not well-understood by science.

An artist's rendition of a Haast's Eagle attacking a pair of Moa.
An artist's rendition of a Haast's Eagle attacking a pair of Moa. | Source

Moa

The moa were a group of flightless birds living in New Zealand, that went extinct around 600 years ago. They were the dominant herbivores in New Zealand until the arrival of the Maori. These massive birds were speculated to have made a sound similar to swans and cranes.

It is currently believed that there were 9 distinct species of moa, though this number has ranged from one to twenty in recent years. This disparity has occurred because females were significantly larger than males, and were confused as separate species until DNA analysis.

After the moa were hunted to extinction, the massive Haast's Eagle died out soon after, as it relied wholly on the moa for food.

As recently as 2008, there have been unconfirmed sightings of moa in parts of New Zealand.

Scimitar Oryx

The scimitar oryx is a species of oryx that no longer exists in the wild. Formerly, it was spread across all of North Africa. Throughout history it has been domesticated by the Egyptians, hunted by the Europeans in the Middle Ages, and bred by the ancient Romans.

More recently, it was hunted almost to extinction for its horns and hide. Its horns are believed to have medicinal properties, whereas its hide was historically used to make shields, rope, and saddlery.

Fun Fact: It is believed that the myth of the unicorn may have originated from sightings of an injured scimitar oryx. From the right angle, it might appear that a scimitar oryx has only one horn. As they are hollow, a horn would not regrow if it were broken off. Hypothetically, a scimitar oryx could live the rest of its life with only one horn, possibly giving rise to the myth of the unicorn.

An artist's interpretation of the Passenger Pigeon, published around 1923
An artist's interpretation of the Passenger Pigeon, published around 1923 | Source

Passenger Pigeon

Not exactly beautiful, but it's definitely amazing.

The passenger pigeon is a now-extinct type of bird that once lived in enormous flocks, second in size only to the Rocky Mountain Locust. It is hypothesised that the bird once flew in flocks of 3.5 billion birds!

Despite its amazing size, the animal was slowly and systematically made extinct when Europeans first landed in North America. European settlement led to mass deforestation, and pigeon meat became a cheap food for slaves, leaving the world's population to die out within 100 years.

A Sombre Note To Finish

In conducting research for this article, it was brought to my attention that 784 species of plants and animals have been declared recently extinct as a direct result of human intervention.

http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/extinct_list.htm

Also, somewhat due to the discrepancy of statistics, experts believe we are losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the Background Extinction Rate! This makes me a little sad. It doesn't matter that they're mostly snails and fish, they're really all important.

Your homework is just to think about that...

Thanks for Reading!

Which animal did you like the most? Comment below

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great article about a sad subject. So many wonderful animals no longer to be seen. Nice job on this one, Jared!

    • Jared Miles profile image
      Author

      Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks Bill, that was a quick comment! It's not even gone through yet, haha. It did make me a little sad writing about this one at times, it is really a sad subject. It's worse that we only really realise the damage we've done when it's too late.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting once again, I appreciate the praise.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

      A great post indeed, Jared. All the animals in your list are spectacular but the most intriguing, I believe is the Thylacine. Unfortunately, if human activity continues to destroy the environment, the list will keep growing.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      What a brilliant hub Jared. I love anything to do with nature and this one was a treat for sure. I now look forward to so many more by you.

      Eddy.

    • profile image

      cjarosz 3 years ago

      Very informative hub! Enjoyed it very much. It was insightful but not boring. I liked that. Thank you.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Sad but well crafted.

      Anna

    • Jared Miles profile image
      Author

      Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

      Very true Mike, coming from Australia, we've all been taught about our mistakes in handling the Thylacine in particular, so it was a bit sad rehashing it all to write this article. But, in at least one way it's a good thing, because we can learn from our mistakes to ensure we keep the animals that remain. Thanks for commenting Mike

    • Jared Miles profile image
      Author

      Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for commenting Eiddwen, and also for the follow! I like writing about animals in particular so I'm sure we'll see lots of writing from each other

    • Jared Miles profile image
      Author

      Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks cjarosz, that's what I try mainly to achieve - something that's both educational and engaging - so it's good that I'm on my way to achieving that. Thank you for taking the time to read my article, and for commenting of course

    • Jared Miles profile image
      Author

      Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

      It really is sad, but as I said to Mike, I hope that the more we remember about our mistakes, the more we stand to learn from them. Thanks for commenting Anna

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting hub, Jared! Thank you for sharing all the details. The information is fascinating, even though it's sad. The saddest part for me was seeing the video of a living thylacine and knowing that it no longer exists.

    • Jared Miles profile image
      Author

      Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

      Hey again Alicia, it's funny that throughout the whole experience of writing this Hub, the thing that made me the saddest was actually looking for a video of the Thylacine, so you're very correct. Thank you in turn for reading my Hub, and for commenting

    • NonCopyBook profile image

      Nicholas Daly 2 years ago from NSW Australia

      Something haunting about animals that are no more... Even wish dinosaurs were still around (or do I?!). But we can't choose our history...

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      So sad! Hopefully one day soon we can learn from history and stop repeating he same mistakes. Great hub!

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