This year, scientists have discovered animals that have been thought to be extinct for almost a century. Among them are amphibians, reptiles, and even mammals. Some were seen not in remote and inaccessible places, but in human settlements.
Surprise at the hotel (Madagascar chameleon Furcifer voeltzkowi)
Scientists last saw the Madagascar chameleon Furcifer voeltzkowi alive in 1913. Then the German herpetologist Oscar Betger took several pictures of a rare lizard and supplemented the description he made in 1893. Then any attempts by zoologists to find the reptile fail. At the end of the century, it was declared missing. However, some experts were inclined to believe that this species did not exist at all and was confused with another chameleon.
To understand the problem, researchers from the Zoological State Collection in Munich organized a scientific expedition to Madagascar. For a week, they unsuccessfully explored the most remote and uninhabited places in the province of Mahajanga in the northwestern part of the island – there, more than a hundred years ago, Betger first noticed the chameleon. But the elusive lizards were found not in hard-to-reach forests, but in the large garden of the hotel where the members of the expedition were staying.
Scientists estimate that the habitat of the newly discovered chameleons is probably more than a hundred kilometers off the coast of Mahajanga Province. It is true that it is still difficult to calculate the size of the population. The fact is that these lizards have very short lifespan – less than a year. According to scientists, the young hatch in October-November, grow quickly, multiply, and in early May they die, leaving behind eggs.
This, incidentally, explains why the rare reptile has not attracted the attention of experts for more than a hundred years. In October, rains began in Madagascar, flooding roads to chameleon habitats. And when the dry season comes and it’s easy to get to Mahajangi, all the adult reptiles are already dead.
Alive, numerous, and independent (Somali elephant shrew (Elephantulus revoilii))
The Somali elephant shrew (Elephantulus revoilii), a small insectivorous mammal that appears to still live in Northeast Africa, was also rediscovered this year. The animal has been thought to be extinct for almost half a century and has even been included in the list of the 25 most wanted species compiled by the Global Wildlife Conservation Organization. By the way, it also includes the chameleon Furcifer voeltzkowi, which was found in Madagascar.
Everything known about Elephantulus revoilii is the result of a study of 39 specimens captured in Somalia since the late 19th century. The latter fell into the hands of zoologists in 1973. Researchers have since seen neither living nor dead ones.
In search of this mysterious animal in 2019, a group led by American zoologist Stephen Heritage is leaving for Africa. They do not dare to enter Somalia, where a civil war is being waged, and are trying their luck in neighboring Djibouti.
Researchers set more than a thousand traps in various places and began to wait. Patience pays off in 2020 – they catch five males and three females from Elephantulus revoilii. They managed to capture a few more free individuals.
Judging by the data collected, Somali sengi have not only not disappeared, but are numerous.
Frogs lost in the desert (water frog of the Hall (Telmatobius halli))
Chilean zoologists were also lucky this year. In the spring, a group of scientists from the Catholic University of Temuco traveled to the Atacama Desert, hoping to find the miniature water frog of the Hall (Telmatobius halli). No one has met it since 1935, when American researcher Frank Gregory Hall captured six females, took pictures, and described the species.
In the following years, researchers decided several times that they had discovered the mysterious amphibian, but further research revealed the animals found as representatives, although related, to other species.
Now herpetologists have spotted several adult Telmatobius halli at once in hot springs in the Atacama Desert, at an altitude of over three thousand meters. A comparison of the frogs found with Hall’s photos confirms that we are talking about the same species.
According to scientists, these animals are extremely aquatic. If the sources disappear, they will follow. Therefore, researchers propose to assign the status of a species as “endangered” and to protect its habitat.
Singing in the mountains (singing dogs from New Guinea)
Until 2020, singing dogs from New Guinea were also thought to be extinct in the wild. Externally, they are similar to the Australian dingo, only smaller. They have unusual voices – they look like a mixture of wolf howls and whales singing. Today, these predators can only be seen in zoos. A total of about three hundred individuals are being held captive, most suffering from the effects of inbreeding.
An international team of researchers has been able to find a hereditary population of singing dogs in the mountains of western New Guinea. Scientists found out about their existence in 2016 but thought they were dealing with a different subspecies. Only now it’s possible to take blood samples from three adult specimens and isolate DNA from them.
The findings were compared to the genomes of 16 singing dogs in captivity, 25 dingoes, 1,346 domestic dogs of various breeds, and DNA from nine other canine species. The predators studied by researchers in New Guinea turned out to belong to the same evolutionary branch as the singing dogs.
The study’s authors suggest that modern singing dogs are the descendants of a small number of individuals belonging to the same population as the ancestors of the predators found in the mountains of western New Guinea. It is true that due to the closely related crossbreeding, they have lost a significant part of their genetic diversity. However, the animals found can be used to enrich the population of those in captivity.
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