Australia & New Zealand’s extinct animals – are they all as dead as we think?

Some people don't think so.

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For every species of Australian and New Zealand’s fauna that sadly goes extinct, there are hundreds who insist these creatures are still very much with us, with numerous blurry, unconfirmed sightings adding weight to these claims – at least to believers.

A recent run of Tasmania Tiger sightings have renewed interest in the elusive beast, with many experts reassessing their earlier thoughts on the animal’s extinction. We explore a number of similar specias who are assumed extinct, the reported sightings, and how true these tales of resurrection might be.

South Island Kokako

Image © Te Papa

The conventional belief is that the beautiful orange-wattled kokako died out in 1967, with the bird finally declared extinct in 2007 – forty long years since the last sighting. Despite this seeming like an overly-cautious level of time to wait before writing a species off, it would appear that even this was too hasty, as NZ authorities admitted in 2013 that the bird probably isn’t extinct.

Experts at the New Zealand Ornithological Society have cited eleven sightings that range from “possible” to “probable”. Due to these scattered sightings, the bird’s status has since been upgraded from “extinct” to “data deficient”. It’s a start! In the meantime, advocates are calling for better pest control on the South Island just in case the bird is made extinct (again) by rats and possums.

The Lithgow Panther

Despite seemingly being not-at-all native to our country, there have been rumours of panthers lurking in bushland up and down the East Coast of Australia for decades now, with the most popular of these mythical/real cats being dubbed the Lithgow Panther, due to numerous sighting around that area. Today Tonight ran a feverish story on the beast back in 2010, and a sighting in 2015 suggests the big guy might be raising a pup.

Blue Mountains has a similar panther on the loose, while the Hunter Valley in NSW is also home to several sightings. It seems clear there is certainly a species of dark, panther-like creatures prowling our bushland. But what exactly is it?

The Tasmanian Tiger

The Tasmanian Tiger was considered such a nuisance to sheep farmers in the late 1800s that there was a bounty on its head. Not surprisingly, it was driven into near extinction soon after, and a half-hearted effort to stop the culling/killing was made far too late. The final Tiger was captured in 1933 and died unceremoniously in a zoo after a couple of years, proving to be the end of the road for the species, despite a smattering of unconfirmed sightings and blurry photography “evidence” over the decades since.

Yet, whether it’s the advent of clearer, more widely-carried camera phones, or the changing environmental conditions, over the past two years, there have been a rush of what researchers at James Cook University call “plausible sightings” of the Tasmanian Tiger – enough to warrant further investigation. The researchers have mounted cameras at the site of many of these sightings, and if they end up proving the furry creature is still around – it’ll be a game changer. We remain hopeful.

The Queensland Night Parrot

Image Credit: Steve Murphy

Perhaps the most elusive of all the Australian native birds, what was dubbed the Night Parrot was thought to have become extinct around the 1920s, with the only existing specimen of the animal collected in Western Australia in 1912. Then almost a century later, in 2007, a dead Night Parrot was found on the side of the Albany Highway in WA. Another dead bird was found in Queensland the following year, causing a ripple of excitement among scientists and conservationists. It wasn’t until 2015 that an ornithologist captured and tagged one of the parrots while it was actually alive, causing the editor of Birdlife Magazine to breathlessly describe the discovery as akin to “finding Elvis flipping burgers in an outback roadhouse.”

Other parrots were subsequently found (alive) due to the radio tagging of the initial bird, leading to the development of the Pullen Pullen reserve, to protect and slowly breed the species. Interest is such that Bush Heritage Australia refuse to reveal where the reserve is located, to avoid poachers stealing the rare bird.

– Posted by Nathan Jolly

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