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27 Prehistoric Animals That Are Still Alive Today

Far & Wide logo: MainLogo Far & Wide 16 hrs ago Lindsay VanSomeren

Awe-inducing creatures like mastodons, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed cats and even dire wolves (yep, they were a real thing — not just a “Game of Thrones” fantasy) have sadly gone extinct since the last ice age ended about 11,700 years ago. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck in seeing prehistoric animals today. There are still plenty of wildlife species that predate recorded history, and they even exist as they did when roaming with our loincloth-clad ancestors.

Komodo Dragon © Getty Images Komodo Dragon

Some of these animals can only be found in zoos and protected nature preserves because their populations are starting to fall, or they are already endangered. Others can still be found in the wild — and maybe even in your own backyard.

Wherever you see them, these ancient animals are sure to inspire wonder.

Gharial

All crocodiles, caimans and alligators are ancient species, and they look the part. But one species of crocodilian — the gharial, sometimes called a gavial — beats them all in the prehistoric-looking beauty contest. Gharials have long, narrow, sword-like mouths full of buzzy teeth. Males develop a huge bulbous nose at the end of their snout, making them look rather comical.

Gharials in some form or another have been around for tens of millions of years, but the modern gharial is the last remaining species of this lineage. Alas, it too is heading towards extinction, with fewer than 200 individual reproducing gharials left in the wilds of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The IUCN has listed it as a “critically endangered” species.  

Fortunately, the Kukrail breeding center at Kukrail Forest Reserve in Lucknow, India has been playing a massive role in gharial conservation efforts, by breeding the creatures and sending them out to zoos all over the world. The center is also open to the public, so you can get up close and personal with these spectacular beasts. Small populations are also present at Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park in Nepal.

Komodo Dragon

You can find Komodo dragons in Indonesia today, but that might not be where these iconic lizards came from originally. Scientists recently unearthed a series of Komodo dragon fossils in eastern Australia dating back as far as four million years ago.

These gigantic lizards can weigh as much (or more) than a human — and, in fact, they have been known to attack humans. Which is not ideal, since these giant reptiles are somewhat venomous.

However, if you’re still feeling brave, you can see Komodo dragons by booking with one of several outfitters leading excursions to Komodo National Park. The small Indonesian islands that make up this park are stunning, and offer many amenities for curious tourists.

Shoebill Stork

No one’s quite sure how the shoebill stork is related to other birds since different collections of data point to different living relatives, but one thing scientists agree on is that this is a very, very old bird. And it looks the part: Grayish and big-beaked, it looks like it walked right off the set of "The Flintstones.”

Shoebill storks are classified as “vulnerable to extinction” due to habitat destruction and poaching. But you can still see them in a protected area of the Mabamba Bay Wetland in Uganda, where several outfitters offer bird-spotting tours. As you paddle through the shallow lakes and ponds reminiscent of prehistoric swamps, you just might forget your place in time.

It may not be easy to get there, but this is an unusual animal you have to see before you die.

Bactrian Camel

Camel © Getty Images Camel

You already know about the one-humped camels used as transport in the Middle East before automobiles existed. But did you know that they evolved from the two-humped Bactrian camel, which still roams the wilds of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia?

Bactrian camels — which sort of look like a cross between Chewbacca and a llama — evolved to withstand temperatures below 0°F and above 100°F some two million years ago. Its two humps are used to store fat, which the camel breaks down into energy and water to sustain it during long, dry, food-free periods (if only we could lose fat that easily too).

Bactrian camels are critically endangered in the wild, with fewer than 1,000 left, according to the IUCN. However, domesticated Bactrian camels are an important part of Mongolian culture, and numerous tour operators offer camel-riding expeditions. In addition, visitors can check out the annual Thousand Camels Festival, held in early March in Umnugovi, Mongolia.

To continue reading, check out the original article on Far & Wide.

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