Extinct Animal Not Extinct — Bird Last Seen In 1941 ‘Rediscovered’

An ‘extinct’ animal known as the Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) has been found to not actually be extinct after all, after being ‘rediscovered’ by researchers working in Myanmar.

I guess this means that even if you’re declared extinct, that perhaps you’re not necessarily actually extinct…. Well if you’re lucky anyways… And being a small, easy to not notice animal like a bird, probably helps as well. I can’t imagine a Stellar’s sea cow, or a European lion, or an aurochs, being ‘rediscovered’.

Extinct bird animal not extinct

The recent rediscovery occurred near to where the last sighting (in July 1941) occurred as well — in grasslands near the town of Myitkyo, Bago Region near the Sittaung River. Specifically, the rediscovery of the ‘extinct animal’ occurred on May 30, 2014, near an abandoned agricultural outpost that still contained some grassland habitat.

(Those interested in information on other near extinct animals (that aren’t quite ‘truly’ there yet either) are recommended to read: Near Extinct Animals, Mediterranean Monk Seal, Axolotl Mexican Salamander, Tiger Spider, Southern Bluefin Tuna, & Alabama Cavefish.)

A recent press release provides more:

After hearing the bird’s distinct call, the scientists played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon’s babbler. Over the next 48 hours, the team repeatedly found Jerdon’s babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and managed to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs.

The small brown bird, about the size of a house sparrow, was initially described by British naturalist TC Jerdon in January 1862, who found it in grassy plains near Thayetmyo. At the beginning of the 20th century, the species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains around Yangon. Since then, agriculture and communities have gradually replaced most of these grasslands as the area has developed.

Colin Poole, the Director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore, stated: “The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon’s Babbler extinct. This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well. Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them.”

There’s the possibility of course that the ‘rediscovered’ birds aren’t actually closely related to the animals previously presumed to have gone extinct back in the earlier parts of the last century — they could instead be recent migrant arrivals of other related subspecies. DNA evidence is expected to help make that determination.

Researcher Frank Rheindt, a key member of the field team and the leader of the genetic analysis, stated: “Our sound recordings indicate that there may be pronounced bioacoustic differences between the Myanmar subspecies and those further west, and genetic data may well confirm the distinctness of the Myanmar population.”

The rediscovery occurred as part of a broader initiative to research the genetics of Myanmar’s bird species, thereby determining the true distinctions between various populations and (what are currently considered to be) subspecies or species. After all genetics and appearance don’t always go hand in hand — determinations of relation based on superficial observation, and ones based on genetics, often tell very different stories.

The rediscovery was derailed in a paper recently published in Birding Asia.

Image Credit: Robert Tizard/WCS

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