18 Animals That Came Back From Extinction

Extinction is a natural process by which species die out due to environmental change, increased predation/competition, or insufficient food sources. Sadly, mankind is often responsible for such losses. But there is a glimmer of hope—here are 18 impressive stories of animals that clawed their way back from the brink thanks to conservation, protection, and successful reintroduction.

Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes)

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This North American mustelid was thought to be extinct in the 1970s due to habitat loss, sylvatic plague, and poisoning from pesticides used to control prairie dogs (their main food source). When a small number were rediscovered in the ‘80s, captive breeding and reintroduction successfully saved the species; the wild population now numbers around 500.

American Bison (Bison bison athabascae)

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These huge plain mammals were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century for their hides and meat. In the 20th century, conservationists (with the backing of President Roosevelt) began efforts to save the species. The DOI now states, “Conservation and restoration efforts have increased the number of wild bison in the United States from fewer than 500 to more than 15,000.”

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

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Habitat loss, lead poisoning from carrion (their primary food source), and DDT insecticide contamination decimated the California condor population to just 22 individuals in the mid-1980s. Since then, a captive breeding and reintroduction program has seen success, with a current population of around 500 condors, although the species remains critically endangered.

Scimitar-Horned Oryx (Oryx dammah)

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These long-horned antelope were extinct in the wild by the 1960s, primarily due to overhunting for their meat and remarkable horns. Breeding programs in zoos and wildlife parks have led to its reintroduction into protected wild areas in Tunisia and Chad. This proved successful, and the population has since risen to over 1,000 individuals, offering hope for the species’ future.

Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus)

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Native to China, this large species of deer was hunted to extinction in the 19th century for its meat and antlers. Thankfully, captive breeding programs preserved the last remaining animals in European zoos, and the offspring of these individuals were reintroduced to their native habitat— the subtropical river valleys of China. Today, over 2,000 of them roam protected areas.

Przewalski’s Horse (Equus przewalskii)

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The National Zoo says this small equid was the last truly wild horse species until hunting and competition with livestock eliminated it in its native Mongolia during the 1960s. A dedicated captive breeding program kept hope alive, and over 2,000 Przewalski’s horses now roam the steppes after a successful reintroduction program.

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

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The most endangered rhinoceros species on Earth, black rhino populations plummeted from an estimated 65,000 in the 1970s to only 2,500 after poachers targeted them for their horns to sell as valuable ivory. Intensive anti-poaching efforts, wildlife reserve creation, habitat protection, and community involvement have stabilized populations; there are now around 5,600 in the wild.

Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)

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Habitat loss and poaching for their fur threatened the gentle panda in the 20th century. As the national animal of China, the government wanted to protect this iconic species, and conservation efforts began, including the creation of protected areas, anti-poaching patrols, and captive breeding. Pandas are now classified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, with over 1,800 individuals in the wild.

Guanaco (Lama guanicoe)

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This wild ancestor of the llama was hunted heavily for its meat and hides in the 1900s, leading to a population decline. However, successful conservation efforts and habitat protection have allowed guanaco populations to rebound, with current estimates exceeding 600,000 individuals worldwide, with 90% of those living in Argentina and smaller populations in nearby countries.

Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata)

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Excessive hunting for food and sport, coupled with habitat degradation, led to a decline in wild populations of this large North African bird. Hunting restrictions were enforced, and captive breeding also helped to regenerate their numbers. The exact population size is not currently known, but houbara bustards are no longer considered critically endangered.

Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

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Sometimes, being large can make you vulnerable to extinction and the largest animal on Earth was almost hunted to extinction in the 20th century, thanks to its valuable oil and meat. Although still endangered throughout its range, the NOAA reports that “blue whales received complete legal protection from commercial whaling in 1966,” prompting a recovery to 15,000 individuals.

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

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In the 1900s, alligator hides were valuable material for bags and shoes, and their wild population plummeted. Legal protection, like the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and successful habitat management led to a remarkable recovery. Today, alligators are listed as “least concern” by the IUCN, with an estimated population of over 1 million in the southeastern U.S.

Black Robin (Petroica traversi)

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This small songbird from New Zealand is a remarkable example of how successful dedicated conservation efforts can be. By the 1960s, only one female black robin remained in the wild. An intensive captive breeding program and predator control measures helped reintroduce and protect the species. Today, there are over 250 black robins living in their native habitat.

Addax (Addax nasomaculatus)

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This critically endangered antelope native to the Sahara desert faced total decimation due to overhunting and habitat degradation. Conservation efforts focused on creating protected areas and captive breeding and have been largely successful. The exact population size is unknown due to their evasive nature, but estimates suggest there could now be over 1,000 wild addax.

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

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Humpback whales were another victim of the 20th-century whaling industry. Large, gentle, and forced to surface to breathe, they were easy prey for commercial whalers. A global ban on commercial whaling in 1986 offered them a chance to rebound and populations have recovered significantly. Today, an estimated 80,000 live worldwide, even exceeding pre-whaling numbers!

Grévy’s Zebra (Equus grevyi)

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The largest living zebra species was almost wiped out by habitat loss and hunting for meat and skins. Conservation efforts (protected areas and anti-poaching patrols) have shown results. The Grevy’s Zebra Trust also states that community involvement is vital and 90% of its staff are local people. While still endangered, 3,000 now live in the wild, and the species is no longer close to extinction.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

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This large-billed shorebird faced extinction in the 20th century due to wetland habitat loss and the illegal international pet trade—only 23 breeding pairs remained by the early 2000s. Efforts to save them focused on habitat protection, nest monitoring, and raising chicks in captivity for release into the wild. Current estimates are now at 400 breeding pairs!

Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica)

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This unique Eurasian antelope, with a distinctive bulbous nose, roamed the steppes of Central Asia. A 2010 outbreak of bacterial disease linked to climate change killed 90% of the population in a single year. Conservation efforts (disease control, habitat protection, and anti-poaching measures) have helped stabilize populations, with an estimated 150,000 antelopes remaining.

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