Locally extinct bird ‘rediscovered’ after 178 years

By Shannon Verhagen 27 May 2016
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It’s estimated 99 per cent of all species that have ever existed on Earth are now extinct, but for some, the term is revoked after being rediscovered decades – or even centuries – later.

NEPALESE ORNITHOLOGISTS ARE twitching with excitement after a bird believed to be locally extinct was spotted for the first time in 178 years. 

Tikaram Giri, a senior field ornithologist, was on a bird watching holiday with a group of friends and local tour guides from the Nepalese Ornithological Union and Bird Education Society in Nepals’ Chitwan District, when they made the chance discovery.

Tikaram said the group was trekking through the dense mountain forest of Upardang Gadi, when they first saw the distinctive red plumage of the red-faced liocichla (Liocichla phoenicea).

red-faced liocichla

The red-faced liocichla had not been spotted in eastern Nepal for almost 200 years, but it is distributed throughout much of South East Asia. (Image: Jason Thompson/Flickr)

Although widely distributed throughout Vietnam, Bhutan, Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal, Tikaram said the species had not been recorded in eastern Nepal for almost 200 years.

“When we confirmed it was the red-faced liocichla we all felt so happy – we were so excited,” Tikaram said. “We never thought and never expected to see it so easily.”

They initially saw just two individuals, but upon returning to the area the next day spotted eight, including a male-female pair. 

“We had a very good view,” Tikaram said.

Back from the dead

While exciting, discoveries like this are not as uncommon as you may think.

In Australia, several species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and plants have been rediscovered, after decades passing with no sightings.

University of Queensland (UQ) Fellow Dr Diana Fisher said it is extremely difficult to determine whether a species is truly extinct, with about a third of all mammals ever feared to be extinct having been rediscovered – 13 of those Australian.

gilbert's potoroo

Gilbert’s potoroo was only rediscovered in 1994. (Image: Bill Hatcher)

“There are large numbers of poorly known species around the world only known from a single museum specimen as well,” Diana said. “So it is hard to know anything much about them or where they exist.”

These rediscoveries have important implications for the survival of the species, providing much-needed information for biologists and management officers.

“In Australia, most of the rediscovered mammals have survived because we have been able to intervene to help them once we know where they are,” Diana said.

Tikaram said he hopes the discovery will assist in putting conservation measures in place to protect the population and its habitat and promote further research into the species distribution.

Notable rediscoveries in Australia

Gilbert’s potoroo

Presumed extinct since the 1900s, a small population of less than 40 individuals was discovered in 1994 in the south-west of Western Australia. Read more.

Bridled nailtail wallaby

Once abundant, this species’ population saw significant decline in the 1900s, and was not seen for more than 30 years following 1937. However, it was rediscovered on a number of agricultural properties in Queensland in 1973.

Central rock rat  

This medium-sized rodent was rediscovered in the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in 1996, after not being recorded for 25 years between 1970 and 1995. Read more.

Night parrot 

This ground-dwelling, nocturnal species was presumed extinct after seemingly disappearing about 100 years ago, with no confirmed sightings from 1912 to 1979. Unconfirmed sightings throughout the last 30 years led to extensive research in its presumed range in central Australia, and a live specimen was captured in 2013. Read more.

Noisy scrub bird

This elusive bird endemic to WA’s Great Southern region was presumed extinct until a small population was rediscovered in 1961, over 70 years since the last recording in 1889.

Short-nosed sea snake and leaf-scaled sea snake 

These two critically endangered species were spotted for the first time in 15 years off the coast of Shark Bay in Western Australia in 2015. Read more.

Lord Howe Island Stick Insect 

The worlds’ rarest insect, this stick insect was not seen for over 40 years after 1920, until a population of 24-40 individuals was discovered on a single shrub on Ball’s pyramid in 2001. Read more.

Leichhardt’s Grasshopper 

Very few sightings of this species were recorded since its description in 1845, with it seemingly disappearing for the first 70 years of the 20th century before it was rediscovered in the Northern Territory in 1971. Read more.