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8 Extinct Animals That Really Weren't

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Mickey Samuni-Blank, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Most of the time, when a species has been declared extinct, it's truly gone. Occasionally, however, a species that has been declared kaput, sometimes for hundreds of years, can appear in the most unexpected places. These creatures are known as “Lazarus species” since they seem to have made a miraculous return from the dead, much like the biblical story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus. Here are some of the species we’ve declared gone a little too soon.

1. Hula Painted Frog (Latonia nigriventer)

Believed to have died out 60 years ago, this frog with the polka-dotted belly was the first amphibian to be declared extinct—so you can imagine a park ranger’s surprise when he glimpsed one hopping across the road in 2011. The species dwindled in the 1950s when the Hula marshlands in Israel were drained to prevent malaria. An additional 10 frogs have been spotted since the initial discovery four years ago, leading researchers to hope that the little guys are on the rebound.

2. Myanmar Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre)

One of the most recent additions to Lazarus society, a bird called Jerdon’s babbler, was last seen in Myanmar in 1941, leading researchers to conclude that degrading grasslands had sent the little brown bird the way of the dodo. But in 2014, a team from the Wildlife Conservation Society was surveying the grasslands near the two of Myitkyo when they happened to hear the call of a bird that sounded like the babbler’s song. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t just a couple of Jerdon’s babblers—it was a whole slew of them. The babbler’s grassland habitat is still threatened, so conservationists are now working on systems to help the birds thrive and repopulate.

3. Yellow-Tailed Woolly Monkey (Oreonax flavicauda)

Wikimedia Commons // Platyrrhinus

For nearly 50 years, scientists thought the yellow-tailed woolly monkey had been eradicated from the planet. Then, in 1974, one of the little primates was found in Brazil—not in the wild, but being kept as a pet. It’s estimated that less than 250 of the monkeys remain, making it one of the most endangered primates in the world [PDF].

4. Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii)

Also known as the rat kangaroo, this teeny-tiny marsupial flew under the radar for more than a century, disappearing in the 1800s. In 1994, a Ph.D. student studying quokkas on the South Coast of Western Australia managed to accidentally trap a couple potoroos. The nocturnal mammals somewhat resemble quokkas, though much smaller—so at first blush, the student thought she had captured baby quokkas. These days, it’s estimated that there are only 30 to 40 potoroos left in the wild, with an additional 90 to 100 in two conservation colonies. This tiny population makes it the world’s rarest marsupial.

5. Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa)

Wikimedia Commons // Eoghanacht

The Arakan forest turtle was last seen by a British explorer in 1908—and even then, it was just a single specimen. The semiterrestrial turtle then dropped out of sight until 1994, when several of them were found in a Chinese food market. Though they’re still considered one of the world’s rarest turtle species, five of them were observed in the wild for the first time in 2009.

6. Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti)

As if it wasn’t bad enough that we thought the forest owlet was extinct for decades, we also managed to lose one of our only stuffed specimens of the bird—or so we thought. It turned out that ornithologist Richard Meinertzhagen had stolen the forest owlet from the British Museum of Natural History sometime after 1925. He later submitted that exact owl to another museum, claiming he found it in India in 1914. When researchers could find no evidence of the owlet in India, they concluded that it must be extinct. Meinertzhagen was later exposed as a fraud, but it took until 1997 to find the forest owlet in the wild again.

7. Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis)

Often called “the world’s most mysterious bird,” the night parrot stayed in the shadows for more than 100 years. Though there were a couple of sightings of the Australian bird reported in 1979 and 2005, no one was able to capture it on film for proof. A couple of dead parrots also turned up occasionally—insert your own Monty Python joke here—but the first hard evidence we had of their continued existence didn’t occur until 2013, when Queensland ornithologist John Young captured video of two of the elusive birds.

8. Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Dryococelus australis)

Wikimedia Commons // Granitethighs

Most of us probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to stumble upon this 5-inch stick insect, but most of us aren’t entomologists. And don’t worry—you’re not going to find one of these so-called “tree lobsters” in your house. They’re found in the wild only on Ball’s Pyramid near Lord Howe Island between Australia and New Zealand—and even then, only under a specific bush. It was assumed that a population of black rats had eaten all of the giant insects sometime after 1920, but scientists found a small colony of them living around a single plant in 2001.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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