Did you know that there are extinct African animals? In this guide, you’ll discover the stories behind some of Africa’s disappearing wildlife.
The coming and going of species is a natural occurrence. Darwinism states that the strongest organisms survive while the weaker ones die out.
This isn’t cruel or unfair – to paraphrase Tennyson, nature is red in tooth and claw.
What is unnatural, however, is when a species is forced into extinction, not by their own incapabilities but when they are robbed of the opportunities to survive.
In short, when animals become extinct via natural disasters or as a result of an overpowering food chain, it’s natural.
But when it is caused by human interference – more specifically, interference with habitat or hunting for sport or fashion – it is a tragedy.
Home to some of the most iconic species in the world, Africa has seen a massive loss in biodiversity over the past few centuries and even very recently.
Here are seven extinct species in Africa, as well as the cause of their tragic end.
7 Extinct Animals in Africa
Wondering what are Africa’s extinct animals? From the dodo to the Zanzibar leopard, here is everything you need to know.
A famous beginning to this deathly list, the dodo was a flightless bird that wandered the island of Mauritius.
The last of these cute, goofy-looking birds perished in the 1700s shortly after Dutch sailors landed on its shores. It’s widely believed that the bird was hunted to extinction for food by the sailors.
The dodo’s flightlessness made it incredibly easy to catch and eat. Also, these innocent birds (given that they were one of the biggest creatures on their island – hence their flightless evolution), were mysteriously unafraid of humans.
If you consider how friendly ducks by a pond can be, it’s rather sad to envision their deaths. The extinction of the dodo was so famous that a phrase was coined from the event – ‘as dead as a dodo’.
2. Atlas bear
Bears are not something you would usually associate with Africa, but they were once plentiful throughout the continent.
The Atlas bears (native to the Atlas mountains) were the only species of bear in Africa that survived into modern times.
They were said to be around 9 feet tall and weighed approximately 450 kg. Its closest living relative, in terms of stature, would be the polar bear.
These mammals were initially hunted during the time of the Roman Empire. However, the hunting methods employed in this era were not effective enough to kill off the species – though not through a lack of trying.
It wasn’t until modern firearms were introduced to Africa that the Atlas bear met its extinction. Also hunted for their fur and sport, similar animals may face the same fate, including the Cape buffalo and lion.
Although there are stricter laws regarding hunting as well as new technology (employing drones to aid animal conservation), poachers are still active across the continent.
3. Elephant bird
Once galloping across the island of Madagascar, this flightless bird is yet another majestic species to be wiped out at the hands of mankind.
Standing in a very similar manner to an ostrich, the elephant bird stood at an impressive 3 m in height and weighed up to 400 kg. It was once the largest bird on the planet.
Its eggs, which were approximately 160 times larger than a chicken’s egg, were gathered and eaten relentlessly by humans, causing the bird’s extinction in the late 1600s.
4. Western black rhinoceros
Another extinct African species is the western black rhinoceros. The rhino, once a majestic creature that roamed the African savannas, was officially declared extinct in 2011 by the International Union for Conservation of Nations (IUCN).
These rhinos were the continent’s gentle giants. They weighed 800 to 1400 kilograms, measured 3 to 3.75 meters in length, and stood an impressive 1.4 to 1.8 meters tall.
Another prominent characteristic of this beautiful animal was its large double horns. This, unfortunately, made them a target for poachers.
Between 1900 and 2011, overhunting and poaching drastically reduced the western black rhinoceros population, leading to its demise.
The tragic loss of this magnificent creature is a reminder of the importance of conservation. With several species becoming increasingly threatened and the recent extinction of the northern white rhino, we should do everything we can to protect the remaining rhinos.
Tip: For more information on the protection of African wildlife, check out this guide on conservation NGOs.
Is it a striped zebra or a uniquely colored horse? No, it’s a quagga — a fascinating creature that once grazed the plains of South Africa.
Similar to zebras, these animals had distinctive stripes. The difference, however, is that the quagga only had stripes on its head and neck, and its coat was more brown in color.
With its short legs and stocky bodies, the quagga was significantly smaller than a zebra, measuring around 1.2 to 1.4 meters tall.
Sadly, locals killed these interesting animals for their meat and hides, leading to their extinction. The last remaining quagga died in an Amsterdam zoo on 12 August 1883.
The bluebuck, also known as the blue antelope, was an elegant antelope species endemic to southern Africa.
Like its relative, the sable antelope, the bluebuck had a slender body with long, narrow legs and small hooves. However, it was slightly smaller, standing around 1 to 1.2 meters tall.
It also had a beautiful gray-blue colored coat and two long, black curved horns that measured around 56.6 centimeters in length.
The bluebuck was one of the first large mammals to face extinction in historical times. European settlers hunted the animal, and it became extinct around 1799.
7. Zanzibar leopard
The Zanzibar leopard was a small but mighty animal that once lurked in the forests of Zanzibar’s Unguja Island.
While lesser in size than its mainland counterparts, these beautiful cats were the largest carnivores and apex predators on the island.
The spotted leopards were solitary creatures and generally active at night. Their diets comprised a wide range of animals, including primates, ungulates, and birds.
The Zanzibar leopard became extinct in 2008 due to local hunting, which stemmed from the superstition associating the animals with witchcraft and evil doings.
While officially extinct, camera trap footage posted by Animal Planet showed a similar-looking leopard. Researchers suspect that this was a Zanzibar leopard; however, little information came from this sighting.
Conserving Africa’s Disappearing Wildlife
While several animals have sadly gone extinct, Africa is still home to an abundance of beautiful creatures.
This does not mean that we can relax, as many African animals are endangered. As such, conservation and protection is more important than ever!
A good way to help conservation efforts is to support African safaris that prioritize the protection of the continent’s wildlife.
You’ll also get to see plenty of animals in their natural habitats.