Scientists have made an “incredible find” after a species of holly tree, thought to have been extinct for nearly 200 years, was rediscovered in Brazil.
The tree, known as Ilex sapiiformis, is one of the top 25 “most wanted species” and was found in the Brazilian city of Igarassu, an urban centre once home to dense rainforest, 186 years after it was thought extinct.
The discovery was made by a research expedition connected to the ENGO Re:wild and experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Described as “an incredible moment,” the expedition is part of the ‘Search for Lost Species’ program, which has sent scientific expeditions worldwide to some of the most remote and uncharted wild places.
“These species include quirky, charismatic animals and plants that also represent tremendous opportunities for conservation,” said Robin Moore, director of communications for Re:wild and conservation biologist.
Re:wild is committed to biodiversity conservation and runs programs focused on restoring wildlife and engaging with global guardians.
“The rediscovery of any of these elusive species will help unlock its mysteries, providing us with the valuable information we need to understand and best conserve the species, its habitat and the wildlife that share its habitat,” Mr Moore said.
“While we’re not sure how many of our target species we’ll be able to find, for many of these forgotten species, this is likely their last chance to be saved from extinction.”
Expedition leader Gustavo Martinelli said the group now hope to launch a breeding programme for the species.
“The search for more Pernambuco Holly trees isn’t over yet! The team is hoping to organise additional searches with other local partners to find more individuals of the species,” he said.
“The goal is to collaborate with partners to protect better the forests where the Pernambuco Holly was found and establish a captive breeding program for the tree.”
According to Re:wild, the tree “is the 9th of our most wanted lost species,” and involved sending international experts to a Brazilian city for a six-day expedition to locate the species.
The experts have compiled a list of more than 2,200 missing species across 160 nations; all species are thought to have been lost to science for at least ten years.
Its tiny white flowers identified the trees, and according to team member Juliana Alencar, “it seemed that the world had stopped turning its gears.”
Meanwhile, the search for more species continues, with “expeditions for lost species are going to take scientists across the planet from the dark depths of the ocean to the bottom of rushing freshwater rivers, from the lush jungles of the tropics to the seemingly barren wastelands of the desert,” according to Don Church, GWC president and director of conservation.
“The hope that we can preserve as much of Earth’s beauty and wonder as possible will drive the adventurers to overcome the elements, logistical mishaps and the race against time.”
Since the program launch. Re:wild has confirmed the rediscovery of the Jackson’s climbing salamander in Guatemala, both Wallace’s giant bee and the velvet pitcher plant in Indonesia, the silver-backed chevrotain in Vietnam, the Somali sengi in Djibouti, the Voeltzkow’s chameleon in Madagascar, the Fernandina giant tortoise in the Galápagos, and the Sierra Leone crab in Sierra Leone.
For more information about the program, visit the dedicated lost-species website.