This week there were reports that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, a bird thought extinct1, might still be out there. It was last officially seen in Louisiana in the 1940s. There have been alleged sightings since, but they are disputed. Some scientists believe they now have proof the bird is out there, but the footage is grainy.
The process of declaring a creature extinct has ramifications: for one, it is removed from any legal protections as an endangered species. But keeping it on the protected list also comes with a cost.
“Whether or not limited federal conservation funds should be spent on chasing this ghost, instead of saving other genuinely endangered species and habitats, is a vital issue,” said Richard O. Prum, a professor of ornithology at Yale.
Nonetheless, the idea of a creature surviving, against the odds, has a natural appeal.
The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, is another notable (probable) extinction. Discussion continues over whether it still survives somewhere out there in the Tasmanian wilderness (a prospect surely less and less plausible in these days of satellite photography and drones), or even that it survived a few decades longer than the last official sighting (more possible).
Tigers were hunted for sport, for fur, and for the idea that they preyed on livestock. Their numbers dropped before the idea of conservation really caught on, and they limped into the twentieth century with the last survivors dying in zoos.
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