Amazing animals found after decades of 'extinction' – from the world's biggest bee to a chameleon hiding in a hotel

THE natural world is currently going through its sixth mass extinction event, with human activity pushing thousands of species of animals to the brink of total annihilation every year.

But amid the catastrophe, moments of hope come in the form of species once thought to have been lost forever being rediscovered decades later.

The most recent resurrection is the "lost" Voeltzkow’s chameleon which no one had seen for over 100 years.

Researchers found the colour-changing critters in the garden of the Chez Madame Chabaud hotel in the Madagascan town of Mahajanga.

The three males and 15 females are the first to be discovered by humans since 1913.

Voeltzkow’s chameleon is featured on the Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) list of the 25 "most wanted" lost species.

“The Voeltzkow’s chameleon adds colour and beauty to the planet, and reminds us that even when all seems lost, a great adventure can rekindle hope even for species we haven’t seen since Woodrow Wilson was president,” said Don Church, GWC president and a Search for Lost Species programme lead.

“Now we have so much to learn about this extraordinary reptile, including how we can best save it from extinction.”

But the rediscovered reptile is just one of many astonishing lost animals to be found in recent years – from tree-dwelling kangeroos to ancient tortoises.

Massive missing spider

News of the Voeltzkow’s chameleon rediscovery in a hotel comes just days after another lost animal was found in an even stranger place – a Ministry of Defence training base in Surrey.

The great fox-spider hadn't been seen since 1993 before it was found by Surry Wildlife Trust's Mike Waite this autumn.

He'd spent the last two years searching for the elusive arachnid with a torch late at night.

"As soon as my torch fell on it I knew what it was," Mike told The Guardian.

"I was elated. With coronavirus there have been lots of ups and downs this year, and I also turned 60, so it was a good celebration of that.

"It’s a gorgeous spider, if you’re into that kind of thing.”

The great fox-spider, which is one of Britain's biggest arachnids, is part of the wolf-spider family and can grow up to two inches in diameter, including their legs.

They hunt food like beetles and smaller spiders at night, injecting them with venom which liquifies internal organs.

Beastly bee with massive jaws

You'd think the world's biggest bee would be easy to spot.

But Wallace's giant bee wasn't seen between 1981 and last year, when a single female of the species was rediscovered on a remote Indonesian island.

The monster bee, which is the size of a human thumb and boasts the jaws of a stag beetle, was found by photographer Clay Bolt.

Eli Wyman, who joined Mr Bolt on the trip, said: "To actually see how beautiful and big the species is in life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible."

It's named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who first collected the bee back in 1859.

Turtle-y miraculous find

Bigger still is the Fernandina Galápagos Tortoise, which was thought to be extinct for over 100 years.

No one had seen the giant reptile since 1906 until a lone female was found in February 2019.

The 110-year-old tortoise, named Fern by her finders, was discovered surviving on a green patch surrounded by lava flows on the island of Fernandina.

Forrest Galante, the biologist and Animal Planet presenter who discovered Fern, even said she might be able to resurrect her species using decades-old sperm stored inside her from her last mating.

“It's incredible, but female tortoises are able to withhold viable sperm within them for decades, then produce offspring without having to mate a second time," Galante told The Mirror.

“Nobody knows anything about the Fernandina tortoise because it’s the first one ever found, but given the harshness of the environment and the uniqueness of the animal, it’s certainly possible that she is able to hold viable sperm for 100 years.”

The not-so-giant elephant shrew

Despite its formidable-sounding name, the Somali elephant shrew or sengi is tiny.

It's actually more closely related to elephants than true shrews, and it takes its name from the fact that it has a very long nose which it uses to suck up ants.

The Somali sengi was rediscovered in August after being missing for over 50 years.

Researchers from the GWC's Search for Lost Species initiative found a population of the tiny animals in Djibouti, the first found since 1968.

The speedy mouse-sized beast can run at speeds of up to 30km/h and was caught in the very first of 1,259 traps set in 12 locations by researchers searching for the missing sengi.

Biologist Steven Heritage realised he'd found the mysterious elephant shrew as soon as he saw its distinctive tail.

We just looked at one another and couldn’t believe it

“It was amazing,” Heritage says.

“When we opened the first trap and saw the little tuft of hair on the tip of its tail, we just looked at one another and couldn’t believe it.

"A number of small mammal surveys since the 1970s did not find the Somali sengi in Djibouti—it was serendipitous that it happened so quickly for us.”

'Golden wonder' discovery

Jackson's climbing salamander was first discovered in the misty forests ofGuatemalan mountains in 1975. 

Nicknamed the "golden wonder" for its brilliant colour, the salamander's common name is taken from its original American finder, Jeremy Jackson, who spotted the unusual creature while exploring the jungle with pal Paul Elias.

After it was found, Jackson's climbing salamander was then lost to science for 42 years.

It even eluded Jackson and Elias when they retraced their steps on an expedition to find the salamander again in 2014.

But in 2017, a guard at the Finca San Isidro Amphibian Reserve in Ramos León found a young specimen at the edge of the reserve while out on a patrol.

It was only the third ever sighting of a Jackson's climbing salamander.

"We all held our breath hoping that this exceptional phantom would reappear,” Elias said.

“The rediscovery of this rarest of the rare shows how important habitat preservation is to the persistence of these special animals in these exceptional places, and for me personally it is a moment of sheer joy.”

Cat-sized fanged deer

Jackson's climbing salamander was the first of the GWC's 25 most wanted lost species to be rediscovered – but the silver-backed chevrotain was the first mammal on the list to be found.

Also known as the Vietnam mouse-deer, the rabbit-sized creature had only been seen once since its discovery in 1910.

They are shy and solitary creatures which have two tiny fangs and appear to walk on the tips of their hooves.

The tiny deer-like animal was finally caught on camera for the first time in southern Vietnam in November 2019.

For so long this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination.

"I was surprised and overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a chevrotain with silver flanks,” said An Nguyen, associate conservation scientist for GWC and expedition team leader.

"For so long this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination.

"Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there, is the first step in ensuring we don’t lose it again, and we’re moving quickly now to figure out how best to protect it.”

Tree kangeroo found by Brit on holiday

The incredibly rare wondiwoi tree kangeroo was so obscure that, when scientists set out to find it, they only had drawings to go on.

It was last recorded by scientists in 1928 – before being rediscovered by an amatuer British botanist on holiday in 2018.

The bizarre monkey-like kangeroo lives high in the canopies of trees in the remote Wondiwoi Mountains of West Papua, Indonesia.

Michael Smith from Farnham, Surrey, set out to find the fantastic beast with the help of locals.

As the expedition was drawing to a close, they spotted one about 90 feet up.

"After a lot of scrambling around trying to get my lens to focus on the animal peeking out from behind the leaves, I got a few half-decent shots," Smith told National Geographic.

He added: "On holidays over the years, I’ve discovered all kind of weird bits of archeology and ethnography.

"The general belief that there’s nothing more of interest to discover is quite mistaken.”

Mystery moth 'vanishing rapidly'

The oriental blue clearwing moth gave a researcher an incredible buzz when she rediscovered it 130 years after it was thought to have been lost to science.

Polish lepidopterist Marta Skowron Volponi found the mysterious moth in the Malaysian lowland rainforest in 2017.

Before her discovery, the only knowledge we had of the oriental blue clearwing came from a single damaged specimen collected in Indonesia in 1887.

Skowron Volponi, of the University of Gdańsk, rediscovered the moth when she noticed bright flashes of blue light on a river bank.

Along with her husband Paolo, Skowron Volponi found and documented just 12 oriental blue clearwings across three field trips, indicating the species is very rare.

And as Malaysia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, the beautiful creature might not be here for long.

“These highly vulnerable ecosystems are vanishing rapidly,” Skowron Volponi warned in her findings.

“Given the current rate of habitat loss and species extinction, it is of crucial importance to study and catalogue both species new to science and those that have been discovered many years ago and not seen since that time.”

Still out there?

Although many amazing species have been rediscovered in recent years, there are still weird and wonderful beasts that scientists haven't given up hope of finding.

These include Attenborough's long-beaked echidna, also known as Sir David's long-beaked echidna, which is known from a single specimen collected in Indonesia's Cyclops Mountains in 1961.

It was named in honour of the BBC naturalist, but it wasn't discovered by David Attenborough.

Echidnas are notable because, along with platypuses, they're among the very few mammals to lay eggs.

Tracks found by researchers and reports from locals give the scientific community hope that Sir David's long-beaked echidna could one day be rediscovered.

Likewise, hope remains for the pink-headed duck, not seen since 1949 in India.

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