Establishing whether or not a species is extinct is a tricky thing to prove. When dealing with megafauna with a relatively limited range it’s not so bad, but keeping tabs on a small flapping bird among a rich ecosystem of flapping birds is a little trickier. That said, science was relatively certain that the Black-browned Babbler (Malacocincla perspicillata) was confined to the history books, which is why birders were blown away to recently discover a living specimen, 172 years after it was first seen. The finding was published in the journal BirdingASIA.
In Banjarmasin, Indonesia, Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan discovered what’s being hailed as the “greatest enigma in Indonesian ornithology.” Both local residents in Indonesia’s South Kalimantan Province, they were gathering plant materials when they spotted a bird they didn’t recognize. Curious as to what it was, they caught it, took some photographs, and then let it go.
The pair reached out to local ornithology experts BW Galeatus and Birdpacker and it was at this point that the enormity of their discovery became apparent. Experts consulted with the pair and on the photo, and it was confirmed to indeed be the long-missing Black-browned Babbler bird.
“It feels surreal to know that we have found a species of bird presumed by experts to be extinct,” Fauzan said in a statement. “When we found it, we didn't expect it to be that special at all – we thought it was just another bird that we simply have never seen before.”
The Black-browed Babbler made its debut back in the 1840s when a specimen was collected and later identified by French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1850. This would be the last Black-browned babbler bird described for 172 years as the species quite miraculously escaped the clutches of science to live out its evidently very elusive life. The species has been shrouded in mystery since the moment it was named, as those responsible for the first-ever specimen weren’t entirely clear as to which island it had come from.
“The sensational finding confirms that the Black-browed Babbler comes from south-eastern Borneo, ending the century-long confusion about its origins,” said lead author on the paper Panji Gusti Akbar of the Indonesian bird conservation group, Birdpacker. “The discovery also confirms that this species remains extant despite the massive deforestation and habitat conversion in this little-known part of Borneo. There is therefore a very high possibility of it being severely threatened by habitat loss.”
A similar disappearing act that was also found in Indonesia involved the Nose-horned dragon lizard who was seen strutting about in the wild after being MIA from science for over 100 years.