10 Big Animals Discovered Since 1900


By saving a group of Congolese Pygmies from a German show-man who wanted to take them to the 1900 Paris Exhibition, Sir Harry Johnston gained their trust. He then began hearing stories about the okapi, a mule-sized animal with zebra stripes. In 1901, Sir Harry sent a whole skin, two skulls and a detailed description of the okapi to London, and it was found that the okapi had a close relationship to the giraffe. In 1919, the first live okapi were brought out of the Congo River basin, and in 1941, the Stanleyville Zoo witnessed the first birth of an okapi in captivity. The okapis, striking in appearance, are now some of the most popular attractions at the larger, more progressive zoological parks of the world.


First discovered in the high mountains of southern Ethiopia in 1910, the mountain nyala remains a relatively unknown species. The male has gently twisting horns almost 4 ft long and can weigh up to 450 lb. The coat is a majestically greyish-brown, with white vertical stripes on the back. After it was described by Richard Lydekker, the eminent British naturalist, it was ruthlessly hunted by field biologists and trophy seekers through some of the most inhospitable terrain in existence. The mountain nyala lives in the Artissi and Bale mountains at heights above 9,000 ft, where the sun burns hotly in the day and the night temperatures fall to freezing. Its existence is presently threatened by illegal hunting.


Karl Hagenbeck, a famous German animal dealer, established a zoological garden near Hamburg that was the prototype of the modern open-air zoo. In 1909, Hagenbeck sent German explorer Hans Schomburgk to Liberia to check on rumors about a 'giant black pig'. After two years of jungle pursuit, Schomburgk finally spotted the animal 30 ft in front of him. It was big, shiny and black, but the animal was clearly related to the hippopotamus, not the pig. Unable to catch it, he went home to Hamburg empty-handed. In 1912, Hans Schomburgk returned to Liberia, and to the dismay of his critics, came back with five live pygmy hippos. A full-grown pygmy hippopotamus weighs only about 400 lb, a tenth of the weight of the average adult hippopotamus.


These giant monitor lizards are named for the rugged volcanic island of Komodo, part of the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia. Unknown to science until 1912, the Komodo dragon can be up to 12 ft long and weigh over 350 lb. The discovery of the giant lizard was made by an airman who landed on Komodo island and brought back incredible stories of monstrous dragons eating goats, pigs and even attacking horses. At first no one believed him, but then the stories were confirmed by Major P.A. Ouwens, director of the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens in Java, who offered skins and photographs as proof. Soon live specimens were caught and exhibited.


Some animal discoveries are made in museums. In 1913, the New York Zoological Society sent an unsuccessful expedition to the Congo in an attempt to bring back a live okapi. Instead one of the team's members, Dr James P. Chapin, brought back some native headdresses with curious long reddish-brown feathers striped with black. None of the experts could identify them. In 1934, Chapin, on another of his frequent visits to the Congo, noticed similar feathers on two stuffed birds at the Tervueren Museum. They were labelled 'Young Indian Peacocks', but Chapin immediately knew that was not what they were. A mining company in the Congo had donated them to the museum and labelled them 'Indian peacocks', but Chapin soon discovered that they were a new species. The following year he flew down to the Congo and brought back seven birds. Chapin confirmed them as the first new bird genus discovered in 40 years. They were not peacocks at all, but pheasants. The Congo peacock is now commonly found in European and North American zoos.


The kouprey is a large wild ox that was found along the Mekong River in Cambodia and Laos and has been the source of much controversy. It first came to the attention of Western scientists in 1936, when it showed up as a hunting trophy in the home of a French vet. The following year, the director of the Paris Vincennes Zoo, Professor Achille Urbain, went to northern Cambodia and reported that a new wild ox, unlike the gaur and the hanteng, was to be seen in Cambodia. Other naturalists felt he was wrong and suggested that the kouprey might be just a hybrid of the gaur and the banteng. Finally, in 1961, a detailed anatomical study of the kouprey proved it to be so different from the area's other wild oxen that it might belong in a new genus, although many scientists continue to insist that it does not. Urbain's 1937 discovery was upheld. The Vietnam War was responsible for the death of many koupreys. A 1975 New York Zoological Society expedition was unable to capture any, although they did see a herd of 50. The kouprey has not been observed by scientists since 1988, although kouprey skulls occasionally show up at local markets. It is now considered critically endangered.


This 5-ft-long, 127-lb, large-scaled, steel-blue fish was brought up in a net off South Africa in December 1938. The huge fish crawled around on deck for three hours before it died. The only problem was that the coelacanth was supposed to have been extinct for 60 million years. Ms M. Courtenay-Latimer and ichthyologist James Smith of Rhodes University, South Africa, identified the coelacanth after it was already dead and had begun to decay. Professor Smith then began years of searching for a second living coelacanth and was finally rewarded in December 1952, when a fishing trawler off the Comoro island of Anjouan, near Africa's east coast, brought up an excellent specimen. Dr Smith was soon shocked to learn that the local inhabitants of the Comoros had been catching and eating the living fossils for generations.


Brazilian scientists found the black-faced lion tamarin monkey in June 1990 on the island of Superagui, along Brazil's heavily populated Atlantic coast, where less than 5% of the country's original Atlantic forest still remains. The amazing discovery led biologist Dr Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, to say, 'It's almost like finding a major new species in a suburb of Los Angeles.' The monkey has a lion-like head and a gold coat. Its face, forearms and tail are black. Prior to its discovery, there were only three known species of the lion tamarin monkey. It is estimated that fewer than two dozen of the new primate species exist. In 1992, two years after this species' discovery, another new species of monkey, the Manes marmoset, was found in Brazil - this time in a remote part of the Amazon rain forest. First spotted near the Manes River, a tributary of the Amazon, by Swiss biologist Marco Schwarz, the tiny monkey has a pink koala-like face and faint zebra-like stripes.


According to British biologist John MacKinnon, who discov-ered the sao la in May 1992, the mammal 'appears to be a cow that lives the life of a goat'. Skulls, horns and skins of the sao la were found by MacKinnon in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve, a pristine 150,000-acre rain forest in northwestern Vietnam near the Laotian border. Known to the local Vietnamese as a `forest goat', the sao la - also called the Vu Quang ox - weighs about 220 lb. Smaller than a cow but larger than a goat, the mammal has a dark brown shiny coat and white markings on its face. It has dagger-like straight horns about 20 in. long and two-toed concave hooves that enable it to manoeuvre through slippery and rugged mountain areas. Scientists did not see a live example of the new species until June 1994, when a four month old female calf was captured. Unfortunately the calf, and another adolescent sao la that was subsequently captured, died in October 1994; both from an infection of the digestive system. Despite the illegality of hunting and trapping soa la, by 1998 their population was estimated at just 120-150, and they are threatened with extinction. This is partly due to the bounties offered local hunters by TV crews and scientists trying to capture or view live specimens of this popular species.


Muntjacs, or barking deer, are a common food in Vietnam. But in April 1994, the World Wildlife Fund and the Vietnamese Ministry of Forestry announced that a new species of the mammal - the giant muntjac deer - was discovered in Vu Quang Nature Reserve, the same rain forest where the sao la had been found two years earlier. One and a half times larger than other muntjacs, the deer weighs about 100 lb and has 8-in, antlers that are bowed inward. It has a reddish coat and large canine teeth. A live animal was captured in Laos by a team of researchers working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and in August 1997 another mountjac, the Truong Son or dwarf muntjac, was located in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve. Weighing only 30 lb, it has black fur and extremely short antlers. It is expected that other new species of animals will be found in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve, which miraculously survived bombing and herbicide spraying during the Vietnam War. British biologist Colin MacKinnon calls the area `a corner of the world unknown to modern science' and 'a biological gold mine'.

Article Source: Simon A He

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