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What does it take for an entire species to vanish from this world? Does it take horrific mass killings from bloodthirsty hunters? Does it take a major shift in natural climate? Does it take a terrible disease to wipe out millions of creatures?
Some studies dictate that for tons of animals, mass extinction is imminent. Heck, humans even have a place on extinction lists if you listen to people who research the topic at length.
Is it disease, hunting, or habitat destruction that drives the final nail into the coffin? In many cases of extinct species, it was a combination of all three. Or, in the case of this cold-blooded animal humans drove into existence, it was the issue of gross overhunting.
Even so, it's amazing how often life finds a way.
The most difficult thing about declaring an animal extinct is being certain that they actually are extinct. Over the years, many people have claimed to see animals that were long gone. Here are some "extinct animals" that might actually be around.
Yeah, it's true. The woolly mammoth was one of the largest mammals to ever walk the earth, and it was known for having the body of an elephant with thick brown fur and massive, curved tusks. It's a pretty unmistakeable creature, all things considered.
It's hard to imagine that humanity could just overlook a small cadre of mammoths, but it seems to be possible. One explorer from the 1920s wrote about seeing one in Siberia:
“It was a huge elephant with big white tusks that were very curved. Its hair was a dark chestnut color as far as I could see. It had fairly long hair on the hindquarters, but it seemed shorter in the front. I must say, I had no idea there were such big elephants! A second beast was around . . . it seemed to be at least as big as the first.”
Even as late as the 1940s and 1950s, woolly mammoths have been discovered with meat that was still fresh enough to eat. Additional elephant-like sightings have been reported throughout remote regions of Siberia.
So, maybe these extinct animals are still around. Somehow.
Passenger pigeons were once so plentiful that the sky would go dark simply due to the sheer number of birds flying in a single flock. The pigeons, which were known for being major nuisances, also happened to have the problem of being excessively easy to hunt.
When the US decided to try to cull the populations, they were very successful. In fact, they were so successful that they ended up wiping out the passenger pigeon in a matter of 50 years. The last of its kind, a female by the name of Martha, died in captivity in 1914.
This would be the end of the story, but it wasn't. Martha may have not been the last of her kind at all. President Roosevelt claimed to have seen a small flock of the birds in 1907, and many people in urban areas have claimed to see birds that look like them.
Maybe they adapted to the hunting parties, and aren't really extinct animals after all.
Also known as the Tasmanian tiger, thylacine were dog-like marsupials that were known for their massive jaws, vicious attacks on livestock, and for insanely voracious appetites. Because these striped creatures were so hungry for cattle, farmers actively hunted them down during the 19th and 20th centuries.
By the 1930s, there was only one thylacine left—and he died of neglect in a zoo. Overhunting killed it off, and that is pretty impressive considering that they lived in some of the most remote parts of Australia.
Since the declaration of extinction, dozens of reports have come from people claiming to see thylacine wandering around Australia. Some have even videotaped what appears to be a Tasmanian tiger doing its thing; and if this isn't necessarily the case, it may at least be one of the species that may return from extinction soon.
The Yangzte River dolphin, or the baiji, is one of the most recent extinct species to die out, and the entire reason for its death has been attributed to a mix of habitat destruction and overhunting.
The outlook for this creature was very grim from the get-go, since the Yangtze River is its only home. The baiji was declared extinct in 2006 after the Three Gorges Dam was built, dooming its fate.
Only a year later, a single baiji was spotted by scientists. Since then, others have come forth claiming to see the rare dolphin. Is it really gone, or has it just gotten rarer?
This beautiful creature was the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that was known for its beautiful feathers and red-crested head. The woodpecker was a favorite trophy of hunters in the Appalachian area.
No one knows what caused this pretty bird to die out. Like many extinct animals, it was greatly over-hunted. It also could have been a victim to particularly cold winters, or to disease.
Either way, the woodpecker was assumed to be extinct in 1920... until a verified sighting happened in 1950. Then, it was assumed dead again. But, then it was seen again.
Well over a dozen sightings of the bird being catalogued, it's pretty safe to say that it probably isn't dead yet.
Megatherium, or the giant ground sloth, was a prehistoric creature that really seems terrifying. Towering in at over 23 feet tall, this sloth walked on its knuckles, chewed tons of leaves, and had claws that easily surpassed six inches.
However, it was a gentle giant that died out with the Ice Age. It's considered to be one of the most notable extinct animals of its age, and rightfully so. Megatherium were weird looking things.
Or did it?
In South America, tribesmen have legends of a terrifying monster. It towers far above the heads of men, has backwards feet, and has a mouth on its stomach. This sounds totally bizarre, until you think about the Megatherium.
Megatherium, as well as many sloths, have a gland on their stomachs that releases odor. The "knuckle walking" of megatherium also would make it look like it has its feet on backwards. Could this be the legendary monster that tribes talked about?
Gigantopithecus Blacki is an animal that was so rare, the only evidence we even have of its existence is a fractured skull and jawline. That being said, from what we can tell, Gigantopithecus Blacki was the largest ape in history.
Towering at well over 10 feet tall, this furry ape-like creature was believed to feast on vegetation and possess incredible strength. That's all we really know about it, making it one of the most mysterious extinct animals to be related to humans.
People who know about G. Blacki believe that this creature may have been spotted around the world. Most people, though, would call him Bigfoot.
The Eastern cougar, also known as the North American cougar, was a big cat that died out due to overhunting—and not too long ago, either. The last Eastern cougar was officially trapped in 1938 in Maine. Since then, big cats really haven't roamed the East coast of the United States.
Though the cat wasn't spotted for decades, the cougar was officially declared extinct in 2011. However, dozens of sightings have been catalogued throughout the East coast.
Fur, scat, footprints, and reports of cougar calls have all been noted in recent years. So, while they may have been elusive, it's safe to say they may not be as dead as people assume them to be.
Like many extinct animals, the Javan tiger was a victim of its own beauty. Hunters and poachers would regularly hunt down these big cats for their pelts—not to mention bragging rights.
As Javans needed more and more land, hunters began to kill tigers as they were beginning to become pests. It seems they were a bit too successful. The last official sighting of the Javan tiger was in 1976.
Though it was declared extinct a while ago, sightings have been reported as recently as 2009. The tigers' footprints, fur, and scat have also been found in natural surroundings on Java Island.
Many locals believe that they are still around—albeit, in much smaller numbers than before.
This tawny-hued relative to the grey wolf was one of the most common critters in Japan. It was the second smallest wolf in existence, with adults only being a foot tall, and squeaking in at just less then three feet long.
Though hunting played a role in its extinction, the first major dip in wolf population occurred in the 1700s when rabies became a major problem in Japan. However, hunting and disease ravaged on, and the Honshu wolf ended up extinct by 1905.
Even though they've been extinct for over a century, people still claim to see them quite a bit. More impressively, people still hear their yips and yowls from time to time.
Mexican Grizzly Bear
The Mexican grizzly bear was the largest mammal to ever live in Mexico, and it was known for being a special subspecies of the brown bear. Overhunting and habitat destruction ended up killing off the Mexican grizzly by 1964.
The last known Mexican grizzly bear was hunted down and killed by poachers in 1960. (Ugh, good going guys.) Despite the official declaration, multiple people have claimed to see these extinct animals.
More interestingly, it's looking like these bears may have actually gotten to Arizona, where they still have small groups alive. That being said, it's not confirmed.