Have you ever wondered what life was like when dinosaurs roamed the earth? Well, it turns out, there are remnants of that life everywhere today. The Mesozoic era brought forth more than 180 million years of dinosaurs until their extinction 65 million years ago. About 50 percent of the planet’s animal and plant life survived the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction. Here are some of the animals whose ancestors walked (or swam) alongside dinosaurs, and who still exist today. Though breathtaking creatures like mastodons, giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers and ancient dire wolves have been extinct for about 11,700 years, that doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance to see some awe-inspiring prehistoric creatures today. The history of our planet is like a carnival of screams. Looking back through the fossil record, we’ve had everything from carnivorous swimming tanks to giant flesh eating goats. Fortunately, nature has seen fit to kill most of history’s monsters with evolution and extinction events. So we’re in the clear, right? Sure, if you stay on land.
Sadly, this species falls into the category of prehistoric animals which are critically endangered. The gharial, otherwise known as the gavial, boasts a terrifying mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. It has been reported that fewer than 200 gharials are left in the wilds of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
These gigantic and often dangerous lizards can weigh as much as the average man. The venomous reptilian species can be found in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. The small islands that make up this park are stunning and offer a wealth of magnificent flora and fauna which continue to dazzle many curious tourists.
With its large, sharpened beak, fierce gaze and impressive wingspan, the shoebill stork is one of the oldest birds to still walk the planet. Due to habitat destruction and poaching, the species has been noted as vulnerable to extinction. You can still catch a glimpse of these majestic birds in protected areas of Uganda.
You might already be familiar with the one-humped camels that are still used as a mode of transport in the Middle East, but did you know that they evolved from the two-humped bactrian camel? These camels still roam the plains of the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Bactrian camels have been around for the last two million years. With their fat- and water-storing humps, these animals are able to withstand long, dry, food-free periods. There are said to be only 1,000 of these creatures left in existence.
Echidnas look like a cute cross between a porcupine and an anteater. The species are one of the few monotremes, meaning they are categorized as mammals but still produce eggs instead of giving birth to live young, just like their equally adorable relative, the platypus. These nocturnal animals are notoriously difficult to find in the wild. The highly endangered species have been roaming the earth for an estimated 17 million years. They can be found in captivity in multiple zoos across New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania.
Musk oxen have been walking the snowy Alaskan slopes for an estimated 187,000 years. Though their populations have been slowly declining in recent years, there are still several thousand musk oxen in Alaska. The species are most commonly spotted in Nome, Alaska, where they have been noted to wander near the neighboring tundra town. The oxen’s wool is some of the warmest and finest in the world and is said to be even rarer and considered more valuable than cashmere.
The vicuña is the ancestor of the modern-day alpaca. The two relatives look similar but vicuñas have a distinctive color pattern, with a white underbelly. Revered by the Incas, once the empire fell the species almost fell to extinction due to extensive hunting. Fortunately, thanks to the dedicated work of conservationists, the population now thrives in the wild. They can be found in the tropical mountain ranges of Peru.
The chambered nautilus can be still be found on the ocean floors of Australia and Indonesia. These otherworldly-looking animals are amongst the oldest sea creatures in the world. Fossils of this particular species have been found from 500 million years ago.
Unlike the more common hog, Babirusas boast an impressive pair of curled tusks. The species have made many appearances in 35,000 year old Indonesian cave paintings. Today, you can venture on babirusa-watching excursions in the Nantu Forest and Tangkoko Nature Reserve in Indonesia.
Tapirs largely resemble pigs except for one key characteristic: they have a short, elephant-like snout used for roping food into their mouths. Tapirs are apt swimmers who use their snouts as snorkels when traversing the local waters. Bizarrely, the species is closely related to horses and rhinoceroses. After 23 million years on earth, there are now only five remaining tapir species that can be found in in Asia, and more commonly in Central and South America.
There are two sub-species of this ancient mammal, the Northern White Rhinoceros and the Southern White Rhinoceros. Tragically, the Northern White Rhino population has dwindles to only include a few females, meaning the species will inevitable become extinct in our lifetime. The Southern White Rhino has been more successfully conserved, with 17,000 rhino still in existence. Both sub-species are under constant threat of poaching. The sought-after horns are used for traditional African and Asian medicinal uses. Conservationists have even gone as far as to remove the animals horns in an attempt to reduce the incentive for poaching. You can see the Southern White Rhino today in Kruger National Park in naturally-rich South Africa.
One of the great sightings of a tropical Pacific reef dive is the reclusive wobbegong shark. The creatures are spectacularly camouflaged to look more like an algae-covered rock than a fish. These sharks are 11 million years old. A few wobbegong shark attacks have been reported in recent years, though no fatalities have occurred. If you’re not up for a dive in the Pacific reef, these sharks can be seen in the Sydney Aquarium in Australia.
Horseshoe crabs are one of the oldest species on earth, having been around for 445 million years. The inconceivably old species were scuttling across the earth’s coasts before the continents had formed. Today, you can find millions of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay each May as they gather for the annual breeding season.
Though everyone is familiar with glacier-wandering polar bears, few people know fossilized bones of the species revealed that the animal is 120, 000 years old. Churchill, Manitoba in Canada is one of the spots for tourists to potentially sight the rare and increasingly endangered creatures.