7 Stories of the World’s Rarest Animals


In honor of Endangered Species Day, held each year on the third Friday of May, we found some of the world’s most elusive creatures in the Atlas Obscura archive. Meet Puerto Rico’s wide-eyed frogs, Finland’s freshwater seals, and Indonesia’s singing dogs—and the scientists and citizens working to protect them.

by Hannah Tomasy

Biologist Samantha Shablin is on a mission to learn more about the “cryptic” coquí guajón before it’s too late. This tiny and little-understood frog species, with a whistling call and huge eyes, which lives deep in the caves of Puerto Rico, is endangered. Habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and disease all threaten these adorable amphibians.

Pantaneiros are rounded up to be returned to the farm for milking and health checks in Aquidauana, Brazil.  
Pantaneiros are rounded up to be returned to the farm for milking and health checks in Aquidauana, Brazil.   COURTESY OF MARCUS VINICIUS MORAIS DE OLIVEIRA

by Sarah Brown

Pantaneiro cows (sometimes known as tucura or jofreano) evolved to survive in the harsh tropical wetland of Pantanal, which stretches over Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. But they have not survived the region’s demand for beef; they’ve been replaced by breeds that grow more quickly. Today only 500 Pantaneiro specimens remain. A number of researchers and ranchers have a plan to save the imperiled bovine: cheese.

by Stefan Lovgren

Cambodia’s Mekong River is home to the famous but rare Irrawaddy dolphins—today, only about 100 individuals remain in the 2,700-mile-long waterway. Could a beloved Cambodian folktale about a girl transformed into a dolphin help save the endangered mammals?

This photo, taken on Grand Bahama in 2018, is one of the last-known sightings of the Bahama nuthatch.
This photo, taken on Grand Bahama in 2018, is one of the last-known sightings of the Bahama nuthatch.  COURTESY OF MATTHEW GARDNER

by Shoshi Parks

What’s it like to “very probably” witness extinction? In two months of searching in 2018, researchers Matthew Gardner and David Pereira spotted only a handful of Bahama nuthatches on the eponymous islands, and they fear Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm which battered the Bahamas in 2019, may have spelled the end for the species.

by Isaac Schultz

Until 2018, scientists weren’t sure whether the rare New Guinea singing dogs still existed in the wild. That’s when a group of field biologists came across these distant cousins of the dingo at 14,000 feet, sniffing around a high-altitude gold mine on the island of New Guinea in the Papua province of Indonesia—far from the lowland where previous expeditions had looked for them.

The endangered Saimaa ringed seal has adapted over time to both fresh water and the presence of humans.
The endangered Saimaa ringed seal has adapted over time to both fresh water and the presence of humans. COURTESY OF JUHA TASKINEN

by Michael Hunt

For the last four decades, Juha Taskinen has been protector and publicist for the Saimaa ringed seals, Finland’s endangered freshwater seals. (Both the animals and the man who has turned them into a beloved national icon are known as “norppa.”) In recent years the seal population has increased from about 100 to roughly 430. But the animals’ future remains uncertain.

by Luke Fater

Few instruments of social change can match the power of pop music with a message. Just ask São Toméan pop legend João Seria. In 2017, Seria’s song “Mem di Omali,” or “Mother of the Sea,” raised awareness for the plight of a sea turtle species that once thrived—and could again—around the islands of São Tomé and Principe. The song helped to curb the local market for their meat.





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