We are looking at more than 2,100 species. They are not extinct, but we have no trace of them

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In this immense world, and proof of this is that every year we discover more than 15,000 new species of animals, plants or other living things. But in the immensity sometimes it happens that we lose track of some that we already knew. Not finding potentially vulnerable species is such a problem that there are those who offer rewards to those who spot them.


What does it mean to lose species?
There is no exact definition of what it means to lose a species. This happens when the experts stop bumping into her. A certain amount of time must pass from the last sighting until the species is considered lost, a period that is not defined but lasts a minimum of 10 years (and up to 50).

The loss of a species is closely linked to its conservation status (the greater the risk of extinction, the easier it is to lose a species from our radar), but it would correspond to a separate category. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species It has the main database that catalogs species from various taxonomic kingdoms based on their conservation status.

The IUCN red list does not have a specific category of lost species, but many of them are listed as data deficient or critically endangered, such as the White’s blind salamander (Eurycea robusta). Parallel to this list, the NGO Re:wild produces and updates a data base in which it has some 2,100 species of animals, plants and lost fungi. The database also has a list of “most wanted”.

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In search of the lost salamander.
The lost animals may not be the most “charismatic”, Benji Jones pointed out, a journalist who launched himself in search of Blanco’s salamander. Perhaps that is why they are so easily lost, due to the low interest they generate. Blanco had Andy Gluesenkamp, ​​director of conservation at the San Antonio Zoo, who has turned the search for the amphibian into his “white whale.”

Blanco’s salamander is one of the species on this sublist. Last seen in 1951, it is an amphibian discovered in the same year in the Blanco River, Texas and of which only one specimen is preserved in a laboratory in the United States.

A small salamander without eyes or lungs may well represent what Jones meant by the animals’ lack of charisma. The problem is that the ecological value of animals is not related to their appearance. Salamanders are good indicators of water quality, so their disappearance can be compared to the silence of a canary in the mine.

Animals from all over the world.
It is not necessary to go to the Blanco River in search of lost animals. In the Iberian Peninsula we have one: the spider nemesia berlandi, discovered in Portugal, was also discovered and lost 91 years ago. Few will be eager to go out in search of this animal, but it is still on Re:Wild’s most wanted list.

Some of these “fugitives” also have a price on their heads (preferably alive, of course). The reward for finding the kokako (Callaea cinerea) amounts to $10,000. Last seen in New Zealand in 2007. The animal had been declared extinct by the New Zealand authorities since it had not been seen since 1967. And it has not been detected since then.

The list includes other critically ill animals, such as Sir David’s shaggy (Zaglossus attenboroughi), named after the British popularizer David Attenborough, last seen in 1961 in Indonesia; the dwarf hutia (Mesocapromys nanus), which has not been found since 1937, in Cuba; or the Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi), absent since 1981 and last seen in India.

And not just animals.
In the list of the NGO not only animals are catalogued. Although these predominate in the category of the most wanted, in it we can also find representatives of the other two kingdoms that Re:Wild includes in its database, fungi and plants.

a mushroom, Austroomphaliaster nahuelbutensis or Nahuelbuta Austroomphaliaster, is one of the species described and lost in the same year: 1988. It owes its name to the area where it was found: the Cordillera de Nahuelbuta, in Chile. It is also known as the great jaguar fungus, a translation of the name of the mountain system.

Pernambuco holly (Ilex sapiiformis) for its part is a critically endangered plant of which we have had no trace for 184 years. This Brazilian plant has been missing since the first half of the 19th century and is therefore the member of the list that has been missing the longest.

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Difficult to protect what has been lost.
Find these species, many of them in danger of disappearing completely, otherwise we would be forced into a blind fight for biodiversity. Even so, it is likely that we will never find many of these species before their extinction. Every time we have more techniques to look for them. One of them is environmental DNA (eDNA).

The analysis of eDNA is based on the analysis of any element of an environment, such as the leaves of a crop. Upon contact with the element of the environment, animals can leave traces of residual DNA, coming from their saliva, excretions or skin. Experts can do DNA sweeps to detect which animals have passed through the analyzed area.

Do not lose hope.
Sometimes species are rediscovered. This is the case of a species of mouse deer, Tragulus versicolor. This diminutive relative of deer had been missing for almost three decades, but was rediscovered in 2019 in Vietnam. More recently, and after more than a century unaccounted for, the Voeltzkow chameleon (Furcifer voeltzkowi) “resurrected” in Madagascar. The rediscovered species also include plants, such as the Nepenthes mollisa carnivorous plant that also reappeared in 2019 after more than a century without being sighted.

Image | Santa Marta hummingbird, a species lost and rediscovered on several occasions. Yurgen Vega/SELVA/ProCAT

In this immense world, and proof of this is that every year we discover more than 15,000 new species of…

In this immense world, and proof of this is that every year we discover more than 15,000 new species of…

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