Top 10 Most Beautiful Extinct Animals

Humans have contributed to the extinction of many beautiful animals.
Humans have contributed to the extinction of many beautiful animals. | Source

In the last ten thousand years, humanity's impact on the environment has caused the extinction of many beautiful animals. This article will provide pictures and facts for ten extinct creatures that are likely to captivate our attention.

There have been two eras of anthropogenic extinction in modern times. Around ten thousand years ago, the early Holocene extinction event was caused by retreating ice, which adversely affected the habitats of a number of animals. However, humans also contributed by hunting several large species (megafauna).

The second era coincides with the human age of exploration and colonization that began around 500 years ago. Numerous species were unprepared for the introduction of humans and farm animals to their environments, leading to their extinction through hunting or habitat destruction.

While many smaller species have died out, it is the larger species that invoke our imagination most prolifically. For this list of extinct animals, the approximate extinction dates are given in brackets.

10. Irish Elk (5,200 B.C.)

A model of an Irish Elk.
A model of an Irish Elk. | Source

Megaloceros giganteus - From Ireland to Siberia, Irish Elk populated much of northern Europe at the end of the last glacial period. As they have little in common with extant elk species, they are more precisely known as `giant deer'. They could grow up to 7 feet tall at the shoulder, and weigh up to 700 kg. Their antlers were the largest of any deer species, reaching 12 feet in width. It is likely that the sizable antlers evolved through sexual selection, as males would have used them to intimidate rivals, and impress females.

Irish Elk evolved around 400,000 years ago, and died out approximately 5,000 years ago. It is likely that hunting by humans contributed to their extinction. However, the retreating ice would have allowed different plants to flourish, which could have led to a lack of dietary minerals. In particular, a good supply of calcium was needed to grow the animal's massive antlers.

9. Quagga (1883)

A Quagga photographed in London Zoo in 1870.
A Quagga photographed in London Zoo in 1870. | Source

Equus quagga quagga - This striking half zebra, half horse, creature is actually a subspecies of zebra that diverged around 200,000 years ago, and became extinct in the 19th century. Quagga lived in South Africa and got their name from the sound they make (onomatopoeic). It was hunted to extinction in 1883 to preserve the land for agricultural animals, and for their meat and hides.

8. Japanese Honshu Wolf (1905)

A stuffed Honshu wolf in Ueno zoo.
A stuffed Honshu wolf in Ueno zoo. | Source

Canis lupus hodophilax - The Honshu wolf lived on the Japanese islands of Shikoku, Hyushu and Honshu. It was the smallest species of wolf in the canis lupus family, growing to about 3 feet in length, and 12 inches at the shoulder. After rabies was introduced to the Honshu wolf population in 1732 (either deliberately or through domesticated dogs), the disease killed off a large number of animals, and made them more aggressive towards humans. Given their increased contact with humans following the deforestation of their natural habitat, their aggression led them being prolifically hunted until their extinction in 1905.

7. Great Auk (1852)

The Great Auk had a similar appearance to present day penguins.
The Great Auk had a similar appearance to present day penguins. | Source

Pinguinus impennis - The Great Auk was a flightless bird that resembled a present day penguin. Like the penguin, it was a powerful swimmer, stored fat for warmth, nested in dense colonies and mated for life, however, it also had a heavy hooked beak. It could grow to almost 3 feet in height and lived in the north Atlantic ocean until its extinction in the 19th century. Beginning in the 16th century, Europeans hunted the Great Auk to acquire its treasured down feathers for pillows. The bird was later hunted in North America for fishing bait, and commonly endured atrocities such as being skinned and burned alive for feathers and food. After it became rare, museums and collectors desired their own (dead) specimens, finally forcing the Great Auk to extinction.

6. Pinta Island Tortoise (2012)

Lonesome George, the last pinta island tortoise, died in 2012.
Lonesome George, the last pinta island tortoise, died in 2012. | Source

Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii - The Pinta Island tortoise was a subspecies of giant tortoise that lived on the Galapagos Islands. It was hunted prolifically for food in the 19th century, and its habitat was destroyed in the 1950s when goats were brought to the island. Efforts were made to conserve the animal, but by 1971 only one remained: the famous Lonesome George. Despite attempts to mate other tortoises with George, none of the eggs hatched, and he died in 2012, the last of his kind.

5. Steller's Sea Cow (1768)

A Steller's Sea Cow, relative in size to a human. Image adapted from:
A Steller's Sea Cow, relative in size to a human. Image adapted from: | Source

Hydrodamalis gigas - Steller's Sea Cow was a huge, plant-eating, sea mammal similar to the manatee in appearance. However, it could grow up to 9 meters long (30 feet). It was discovered by Georg Wilhelm Steller, and within three decades was hunted to extinction by Europeans. This owed to its complete tameness, and its presence in shallow waters where it would feed on reeds. It lived in coastal regions of the north Pacific ocean, and became extinct in 1768 after being hunted for food, fat for oil lamps, and skin to line boats. These sailors and hunters followed Steller's route to find the animal.

4. Smilodon (10,000 B.C.)

The Smilodon had huge canine teeth.
The Smilodon had huge canine teeth. | Source

Smilodon - The Smilodon (saber-toothed cat) lived in North and South America at the end of the last glacial period, though it evolved as a separate species around 2.5 million years ago. The largest subspecies, smilodon populator, could reach 400 kg in weight, 3 meters in length, and 1.4 meters tall at the shoulder. Despite being called a saber-toothed tiger, it was actually built more like a bear, with short powerful limbs that were not designed for speed. Its notable canines could reach 30 cm (1 foot) in length, but were fragile and mainly used for biting into soft neck tissue after its prey had been subdued. It could open its jaws 120 degrees, but had a relatively weak bite.

The Smilodon mainly hunted larger prey such as bison, deer and small mammoths, though it was also a scavenger, suggesting it was a social animal. It would have found smaller, nimbler prey more difficult, and this may have contributed to its demise. However, the Smilodon's extinction coincides with the arrival of humans who were known to have hunted many native species.

3. Woolly Mammoth (2,000 B.C.)

A model of the majestic Woolly Mammoth.
A model of the majestic Woolly Mammoth. | Source

Mammuthus primigenius - The Woolly Mammoth inhabited much of the arctic tundra regions of the northern hemisphere in the early Holocene period. These massive creatures could reach 11 feet in height and weigh 6 tonnes, which is about the same as African elephants, though their closest relative is the Asian elephant. Unlike the elephant, it was covered in brown, black and ginger fur. It also had a shortened tail to minimize frostbite.

The Woolly Mammoth had long tusks for fighting and foraging, and these were sought after by humans. They were hunted for food as well, but it's likely that their extinction was expedited by climate change at the end of the last glacial period. The retreating ice saw most of their habitat disappear, reducing their population enough for humans to wipe them out through hunting. While most died around 10,000 years ago, small populations continued in remote areas up until 4,000 years ago.

2. Moa (1400)

A reconstruction of a moa hunt.
A reconstruction of a moa hunt. | Source

Dinornithiformes - The moa was a huge species of flightless bird native to New Zealand. They could grow to almost 4 meters in height (12 feet) and weigh 230 kg. Despite their incredible height, the bird's vertebrae suggest they spent much of their time with their necks pointed forward. These long necks likely produced low-pitched, resonant calling sounds. Moa were traditionally hunted by Haast's eagle, though this changed when the Mãori people arrived in 1300 A.D. In less than a century, hunting by humans drove them to extinction, which in turn saw the extinction of the reliant Haast's eagle.

1. Tasmanian Tiger (1936)

The last Tasmanian Tiger, photographed in captivity in 1933. It died in 1936 after being locked out of its enclosure during a heat wave.
The last Tasmanian Tiger, photographed in captivity in 1933. It died in 1936 after being locked out of its enclosure during a heat wave. | Source

Thylacine - The Tasmanian tiger was the largest carnivorous marsupial of the modern era, evolving around 4 million years ago. It became extinct in the 1930s due to excessive hunting by farmers who blamed it for killing sheep and poultry. Other factors were a loss of habitat to agriculture, disease, and the introduction of dogs. This remarkable creature lived in Tasmania, Australia and New Guinea, and could grow to almost 2 meters in length from head to tail.

The Tasmanian tiger was top of the food chain (apex predator), and nocturnally ambushed prey including kangaroos, wallabies, possums, birds and small mammals. Its jaws could open 120 degrees, and its stomach could distend to consume large quantities of food, meaning it could survive in sparsely populated areas. It was an unusual marsupial because both sexes had a pouch; the male using it to protect its genitals when running through the brush.

Lest We Forget...

Many other remarkable creatures were not included in this list. Some of these are the Pied Raven, Caspian Tiger, Javan Tiger, Yangtze River Dolphin, Cave Lion, Zanzibar Leopard, Toolache Wallaby, and of course, the Dodo.

It is tragic that humanity has caused the extinction of so many beautiful animals, and shameful that this has continued until the present day. Even when the cost of excessive hunting is known, greed can still invoke the darker nature of our species.

I hope you enjoyed this list of beautiful extinct animals. May our knowledge of these remarkable beasts preserve them in our memories and revive them in our imaginations.

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Comments 15 comments

Anna Haven profile image

Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

An interesting and well researched hub, voted up.

Deomar Pandan 3 years ago

The wooly mammoth and moa are definitely in my list. I would have liked to see the more recent saber-toothed tiger, too.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you Anna and Deomar for your comments.

Deomar, as far as I can tell, the Smilodon is the most recent saber-toothed cat, though Homotherium died out around the same time in North America. I can't find a record of one more recent than 10,000 years ago. Has a new fossil been discovered recently from another subspecies?

Deomar Pandan 3 years ago

I saw it on a Discovery Channel series about extinct animals. They had a video of the last saber-toothed tiger (which was its name) in captivity. People were just literally watching the species go extinct, since it was the last and had no partner.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

This is very interesting. I hope that in the future that many of the animals we find so enchanting today do not wind up in an article like yours. But rather in one that says...the ten most beautiful animals living today.

thanks for sharing

Sending Angels your way :) ps

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Deomar, I would be very skeptical of anything on the Discovery Channel. They frequently spread misinformation for entertainment value, and blur the line between fact and fiction. I couldn't find any information about a more recent saber toothed tiger.

pstraubie, I hope so too. Perhaps I should write a hub about endangered animals. I think there are only about 4000 tigers left in the wild; and many other great animals are also on the brink.

Elias Zanetti profile image

Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

Thank you Thomas for this informative hub. While extinction can be seen as a 'natural' course of evolution, we humans have played a huge role in many cases. I would really love to see a hub on endangered species. That perhaps would alert more people to the real danger of many more species getting extict in the near future.

GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 3 years ago from The High Seas

Great hub!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Getitscene and Elias!

I probably will do one endangered species. It's going to be quite a responsibility to pick 10 suitable animals for that one!

idigwebsites profile image

idigwebsites 3 years ago from United States

Lesson here is not to kill more animals, or else they would also exist only in the imaginations of future generations. Too bad we won't get to see interesting animals such as these anymore -- I would've loved to see a living moa. Voted up and interesting, awesome.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting idigwebsites. I would have loved to see one too!

samowhamo profile image

samowhamo 3 years ago

The smilodon, thylacine, and mammoth have always been among some of my favorites. It really is a shame the thylacine is extinct now had it not been for human ignorance the might still be alive today anyway great article if you are interested I have just finished a similar article here.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks samowhamo, it looks great. In both our articles, it is the larger animals that are shown. The smaller animals don't get a look in! ...but then that's what people want to see.

cjarosz 2 years ago

You have captured a great list.

Clara 15 months ago

The Moa is so pretty it shouldn't be extinct same with the tasmanian tiger and mammoth. They are all pretty and gorgeous in their own ways.

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