Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Animals That Went Extinct in 2012

Not a cheery subject to ponder as we begin 2013 but perhaps it will inspire us to do what we can to ensure next year's list is shorter. If our way of life is incompatible with the persistence of wild animal species, we should reevaluate our way of life...not only for the benefit of wildlife but for our own well-being.

This is not a complete list, I'm sure. I was surprised that there doesn't seem to be a definitive list of species that went extinct by year (Wikipedia's is incomplete). I have included here some extirpations (i.e., local extinctions), if they occurred at a relatively large scale (such as a state or country) and extinctions of subspecies. Please let me know what I have overlooked.

The Copper Striped Blue-tailed Skink, Emoia impar, was once found throughout Hawaii. It is now officially extirpated from this island chain. The species can still be found on some other Pacific islands. But, it is no longer a component of Hawaii. Read the article describing the process behind the official decision here. Cause of extinction: murky, but could involve exotic and invasive species.



The Pinta Island Tortoise, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoniiwas a subspecies of Galapagos Tortoises, native to one island (you can probably guess which one). The subspecies was relatively famous because for about the last forty years it has been represented by a single male (Lonesome George). But, George died in June. Interestingly, after George's death, researchers (including my former MS advisor) reported that they found some Pinta Island Tortoise genes in tortoises on Isabela Island. It's possible that sailors a century (or more) ago moved some tortoises around. No purebred Pinta Island animals were found in the study but follow-up missions are planned. Cause of extinction: overhunting.

The Japanese River Otter, Lutra lutra whiteleyi, (a 
subspecies of the Eurasian Otter) was officially designated as extinct in 2012; it has not been spotted in the wild for thirty years. John Platt provides an excellent summary and also notes that another Japanese subspecies, the Least Horseshoe Bat, Rhinolophus pumilus miyakonis, was also officially designated as extinct in Japan this year. John Platt continues, "The Japanese subspecies of the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus) was declared extinct on the island of Kyushu, where it has not been seen since 1957 (it persists elsewhere in Japan). One bird species, one insect species, one shellfish species and two plant species were also listed as extinct. The names of those additional groups were not immediately available." Cause of extinction (otter): overhunting for fur and destruction of habitats.

The Siamese Crocodile, Crocodylus siamensis, is now considered extinct in Vietnam. John Platt again reports on the sad story and notes that there are probably 100 animals left in the wild (the majority are in Cambodia) and many more in captivity (where they are raised for the skin/leather trade). Cause of extinction: likely a combination of habitat loss and overhunting.


The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, is likely extinct. Although there was much excitement a few years ago after some reported sightings of the animal, the lack of repeat observations and additional analyses now suggest this giant bird is gone forever.

What did I miss and what are your predictions for 2013?

Update at 11:24 AM 1/2/12: John Platt (@johnrplatt) responds via Twitter that, "It's tough to say what went extinct in any given year. The death of the last of a species is rarely witnessed." This made me realize that I should clarify that this post is about animals that people decided were extinct in 2012, even if the last of the species may have disappeared years ago.


Relevant Scientific Articles:

Fisher, R., & Ineich, I. (2012). Cryptic extinction of a common Pacific lizard Emoia impar (Squamata, Scincidae) from the Hawaiian Islands Oryx, 46 (02), 187-195 DOI: 10.1017/S0030605310001778

Edwards, D., Benavides, E., Garrick, R., Gibbs, J., Russello, M., Dion, K., Hyseni, C., Flanagan, J., Tapia, W., & Caccone, A. (2013). The genetic legacy of Lonesome George survives: Giant tortoises with Pinta Island ancestry identified in Galápagos Biological Conservation, 157, 225-228 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.10.014

Gotelli NJ, Chao A, Colwell RK, Hwang WH, & Graves GR (2012). Specimen-based modeling, stopping rules, and the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, 26 (1), 47-56 PMID: 21797923

Solow A, Smith W, Burgman M, Rout T, Wintle B, & Roberts D (2012). Uncertain sightings and the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, 26 (1), 180-4 PMID: 21967229

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