14 Extinct Animals: Past and Present

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: September 19, 2022
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We hear the word extinction, and for most of us, it conjures up pictures of the dinosaurs. However, they make up just a fraction of the animals that have gone extinct over time. What are 14 of the animals that have gone extinct in the past and the present?

Throughout earth’s history, animals have come into being and gone extinct. There are myriad reasons why animals come and go on our planet. The most common reasons are climate change and varying ocean levels though humans are to blame for the mass extinction occurring today.

While we’re currently in the midst of the 6th mass extinction on planet earth, other animals were wiped out in other world-altering catastrophes. This list will address animals from millions of years ago as well as list some of the animals that have recently been declared extinct.

What are 14 must-know extinct animals from our present and the past? We’ll go over a few details now.

14 Extinct Animals

The following 14 animals are extinct:

  1. Dodo Birds
  2. Passenger Pigeons
  3. Chinese Paddlefish
  4. Tasmanian Tigers
  5. The Quagga
  6. West African Black Rhinoceros
  7. Meganeuropsis
  8. Chinese River Dolphins
  9. Steller’s Sea Cows
  10. The Archaeopteryx
  11. Giant Ground Sloths
  12. Giant Rodents
  13. Caribbean Monk Seals
  14. Rocky Mountain Locusts

1. The Dodo Bird is Extinct

Dodo birds went extinct in the late 1600s.

Dutch School, 17th Century – Public Domain

The dodo went extinct within 100 years of humans discovering the isolated island of Mauritius. Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean about 500 miles east of Madagascar and its isolation allowed for the evolution of unique animals and plants.

The dodo is a relative of pigeons and doves, and these birds made their way across the oceans and landed in Mauritius. There were no predators on the island, and food was accessible.

They evolved for a more terrestrial lifestyle and became flightless and large. Their range was also tiny, and they were centered on one small area on the island.

Because they had no predators, they didn’t know to fear humans. They were easily preyed upon by invasive animals that settlers brought with them. Dodos were also considered dumb because they were killed so easily.

They went extinct in the late 1600s.

2. The Passenger Pigeon is Extinct

Passenger Pigeon
By 1914, the passenger pigeon had been hunted to extinction.

ChicagoPhotographer/Shutterstock.com

Passenger pigeons existed in huge flocks before Europeans settled the Americas. There were up to 5 million individuals before their population was decimated to extinction. Habitat destruction and hunting are the two primary factors to blame.

It wasn’t until the start of the 1900s that people noticed they were going extinct. In 1914, the last known individual died.

3. Chinese Paddlefish are Extinct

Chinese paddlefish in museum
The Yangtze River is quickly losing endemic species (like the Chinese paddlefish) due to development.

Alneth / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Chinese paddlefish were among the world’s largest freshwater fish while they were around. It went extinct between 2005 and 2010. It was in its prime about 34 to 75 million years ago.

They were endemic to the Yangtze River, but a lot of the ecosystems along this river have been destroyed by human development.

4. Tasmanian Tigers are Extinct

Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, (juvenile in foreground) pair in Hobart Zoo.
A few believe the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct.

public domain – License

The Tasmanian tiger was a marsupial predator from the island of Tasmania off the coast of Australia. They were first seen by Europeans in 1803.

In the 1890s, imported sheep were threatened by the Tasmanian tiger. In response, humans waged war against the Tasmanian tiger and drove it to extinction.

These animals were gone by 1936, though some think they might still be around. There have been no legitimate sightings in over 70 years. Australia has lost about half of its endemic species, and the Tasmanian tiger is one of those victims.

There is interest in trying to revive Tasmanian tigers in a process called un-extinction. It may be possible as there are enough genetic samples in museums of wild-caught individuals to create a complete genome. Genomes refer to every bit of DNA from an animal. 

5. The Quagga is Extinct

The 1880s hosted the death of the last known captive quagga.

Frederick York (d. 1903) / public domain – License

The quagga is an extinct animal that disappeared sometime in the 1870s. The last known quagga died in captivity in the 1880s.

The quagga looks like a cross between a zebra and a horse. It’s also closely related to these animals, and it’s a subspecies of plains zebras. As a lot of these stories go, the quagga was hunted to extinction.

It roamed the deserts of South Africa.

6. West African Black Rhinoceroses are Extinct

Extinct Animals: West African Black Rhinoceros
West black rhinos were declared extinct about a decade ago.

2630ben/Shutterstock.com

Not all black rhinos are extinct, but the west black rhinoceros from Africa is one of the extinct subspecies. It was declared extinct in 2011.

Its last holdout was a small range in Cameroon, but the last individuals were found by poachers. Conservation efforts existed, but it wasn’t enough in time.

7. Meganeuropsis Has Been Extinct

Meganeuropsis
Meganeuropsis were the largest insects ever.

Werner Kraus / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

These are the biggest insects that ever lived, as determined by reconstructions of fossils found in America. Meganeuropsis had a wingspan around 2.5 feet in size, and it looked a lot like a dragonfly.

They weren’t dragonflies, however. They were predators that existed before the dinosaurs. They flew earth’s skies around 290 to 248 million years ago. They had mandibles with teeth, and they probably ate gigantic beetles.

They went extinct during the third and largest mass extinction event the planet has ever seen, called the Permian Mass Extinction. 90% of marine life and 70% of terrestrial life disappeared at the same time, about 248 million years ago.

8. Chinese River Dolphins are Extinct

Chinese River Dolphin
A few hold out hope that there will be remaining Chinese river dolphins they can transport to a sanctuary lake.

iStock.com/EarthViews Productions

These dolphins were almost blind and used sonar to get around. They lived in the Yangtze River found in China. They are the first cetaceans (whales, porpoises, and dolphins) to go extinct because of modernization.

While some hold out hope that there are a few individuals in the wild that can be captured and transported to a sanctuary lake, they are functionally extinct. That means that any remaining individual will not be able to sustain a viable population.

9. Steller’s Sea Cows are Extinct

Steller's Sea Cow
Steller’s sea cows were already going extinct before humans hastened the process.

Nicolas Primola/Shutterstock.com

These fully aquatic mammals were first described in 1741 when they were found in the Bering Sea around Commander Island. They went extinct 27 years later.

Their historical range used to be huge but glacial movements about 11,700 years ago forced them into a small corner of the world. It’s believed they were around for 2.5 million years.

They were up to 30 feet long and weighed up to 11 tons. They didn’t have true teeth and used bristles and keratinous plates to eat kelp. They were fully buoyant and couldn’t swim underwater.

The genome of these animals has been sequenced, and they are up for un-extinction should it ever prove viable. While they were killed off by humans, they had been in the process of going extinct for quite some time. There were an estimated 1,500 individuals upon first discovery.

10. The Ancient Extinct Archaeopteryx is Important

The Archaeopteryx may be the most important fossil ever discovered.

Mark Brandon/Shutterstock.com

The Archaeopteryx is believed to be the most primitive bird that ever existed. It existed during the Jurassic Period, about 150 million years ago. It is probably the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds.

It had wings with claws on end, and while it could fly, it probably spent most of its time climbing and gliding. It had teeth like dinosaurs, and its tail was bony.

In some people’s eyes, the Archaeopteryx is the most important fossilized animal ever discovered.

11. Giant Ground Sloths Have Been Extinct

Megatherium
Giant ground sloths were among the biggest mammals ever.

Esteban De Armas/Shutterstock.com

Giant ground sloths were endemic to South America from 2.5 million years ago up until the end of the last Ice Age. These sloths were giant, and they hold the reputation as one of the biggest land mammals ever. They were about as big as elephants.

These animals probably didn’t have any hair, and they were herbivores that ate fruits and leaves that no other animal could reach.

Like a lot of the megafauna at the end of the last Ice Age, it’s believed by many that the giant ground sloth was hunted by humans to extinction.

12. Giant Rodents Have Been Extinct

Josephoartigasia monesi
Giant rodents were endemic to South America.

Andrés Rinderknecht & Ernesto Blanco; Illustration: Gustavo Lecuona / CC BY-SA 2.5 – License

It was recently discovered that giant rodents weren’t as big as we once thought. They were still huge compared to modern rodents at about the size of a pony. However, there is no clear-cut answer as to exactly how big they are because there aren’t enough recovered fossils.

They were around about 2-8 million years ago. Giant rodents lived in the wetlands found in South America and are distant relatives of today’s guinea pigs.

The largest giant rodents weighed upward of 1 ton.

13. Caribbean Monk Seals are Extinct

Caribbean monk seal
Caribbean monk seals were officially declared extinct in 2008, though they probably disappeared in the 20th century.

New York Zoological Society / public domain – License

By 1500 CE, the monk seal was restricted to fragmented pockets in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Most believe it was hunted to extinction by humans, which was probably already rare before humans began documenting it.

These monk seals and others closely related to them have been a target of hunters for years because of the oil from their blubber. They could grow to about 8 feet long, and they weighed as much as 600 lbs.

Caribbean monk seals probably went extinct in the middle of the 20th century, but it was officially declared in 2008. They liked to feed in tropical and subtropical reefs and lagoons.

14. The Rocky Mountain Locust is Extinct

Rocky Mountain locust, Melanoplus spretus
Crops used to be decimated by the Rocky Mountain locust.

Julius Bien (1826–1909) / public domain – License

Rocky Mountain locusts were grasshoppers that roamed western North America. They disappeared right before the start of the 20th century. They used to exist in huge swarms, with the largest being the size of California.

The last known individual seen in the wild was in 1902. Their main habitat was the prairies on either side of the Rockies though they weren’t contained to this area.

Rocky Mountain locusts were a plague to farmers and could decimate crops. This led to a campaign against them as agriculture swept across the continent. For a variety of reasons related to humanity, these locusts lost the fight.

Dodo bird model display in The Natural History Museum on JUL 16, 2011 at London
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About the Author

I'm an animal lover with an eye for detail and a love of words. I enjoy delving into in-depth research on a variety of topics and AZ Animals is the perfect outlet.

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