For some species, time on planet Earth is running out. Human beings are the greatest threat to the survival of endangered species with poaching, habitat destruction and the effects of climate change causing a lot of the problems. Read on to learn about some of the beautiful creatures most in need of our help, protection and conservation.
Gorillas are fascinating creatures that share 98.3% of their DNA with humans! They are capable of feeling emotions like we do and even behave like us sometimes – did you know they can laugh?
There are two species, the Eastern Gorilla and the Western Gorilla, and they both have two subspecies. Three out of four are Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The only one that isn’t is the Mountain Gorilla, a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla, which is considered Endangered.
At the time of writing (June 2020), there are only around 150 to 180 adult Cross River Gorillas left in the wild. Like many endangered animals, their decline is mostly due to poaching, habitat loss, disease, and human conflict. Gorillas are also slow to recover as they have a low reproductive rate, meaning females only give birth every four to six years. One female will breed three or four times in her lifetime.
The name Rhinocerous comes from two Greek words Rhino and Ceros, which when translated into English mean nose horn! It’s a very fitting name, don’t you think? Unfortunately, though, poaching for their distinctive horns is their biggest threat. They are used in Traditional Chinese medicine and displayed as a status symbol and demonstration of wealth. They are so highly prized that a Javan rhino horn can sell for up to $30,000 per kg on the black market.
Because of this, three of the five species of rhinoceros are among the most endangered species in the world: the black rhino, the Javan rhino, and the Sumatran rhino. The Javan rhino is the closest to extinction with only between 46 to 66 individuals left, all of which are in Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia.
8. Sea turtles
Next on our endangered species list are sea turtles. Two species of sea turtle are critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Hawksbill Turtles and Kemps Ridley Turtles. Leatherback sea turtles are classified as Vulnerable, though the population is decreasing and several subpopulations are facing extinction.
Hunting is one of the biggest threats to sea turtles, with poachers targeting their eggs, shells, meat and skin. They are also at risk from habitat loss, bycatch, and pollution as well as climate change. Sand temperature determines the sex of hatchlings with eggs developing as females in warmer temperatures. That means even small temperature changes could skew the sex ratio of populations. Furthermore, breeding beaches could disappear underwater with sea-level rise.
The Saola is one of the rarest large mammals on Earth. It was first discovered in 1992 in the Annamite Range in Vietnam, an event so exciting it was hailed as one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century.
The Saola is elusive and so rarely seen it’s known as the Asian unicorn! Population numbers are hard to determine with any accuracy, but it is considered critically endangered, and it is one of the rarest large terrestrial mammals on Earth.
6. North Atlantic right whale
It was whalers that gave the North Atlantic right whale its name. They are gentle giants that stay close to coasts and spend a lot of time at the surface skim feeding on zooplankton, all of which makes them an easy target and the ‘right whale to hunt’. They were almost wiped out by hunters after their meat and oil-rich fat known as blubber, and are now one of the most endangered large whales. There are currently only around 400 of them left, and only about 100 breeding females. They are now protected, and hunting is illegal, but population recovery is slow. Females don’t breed for the first ten years of their life and then will give birth to a single calf every six to ten years.
They are still very much at risk of extinction, with boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear some of the biggest threats. Vessel traffic also creates noise that interferes with their ability to communicate. Whales use sound to find mates, locate food and avoid predators, as well as to navigate and talk to each other. It really is an essential sense. Finally, climate change and changing sea temperatures may affect food availability, which will have a knock-on effect on survival and reproductive rates.
5. Tooth-billed pigeon
Following the example of their relative the extinct dodo, tooth-billed pigeons are disappearing at an alarming rate. They only live on Samoa and there are currently 70 to 380 left in the wild, with no captive populations to aid conservation efforts. Very little is actually known about tooth-billed pigeons. They are elusive and very rarely seen.
In the past hunting has played a big part in their decline and has killed thousands of individuals. It is illegal today, but tooth-billed pigeons are still killed accidentally during hunts for other species. Currently, one of their main threats is habitat loss. Large areas of their home have been cleared to make space for agriculture, destroyed by cyclones or taken over by invasive trees. They are also at risk of predation from invasive species, including feral cats.
Gharials are fish-eating crocodiles from India. They have long thin snouts with a large bump on the end which resembles a pot known as a Ghara, which is where they get their name. They spend most of their time in freshwater rivers, only leaving the water to bask in the sun and lay eggs.
Unfortunately, Gharial numbers have been in decline since the 1930s and, sadly, this large crocodilian is now close to extinction. There are only around 100 to 300 left in the wild. Their decline is due to several issues, though all human-made. Habitat loss, pollution and entanglement in fishing nets pose some of the biggest threats, along with poachers that target them for use in traditional medicine.
Kakapos are nocturnal ground-dwelling parrots from New Zealand, and yet another example of an animal brought to the edge of extinction by humans. They are critically endangered with only around 140 individuals remaining, each one with an individual name.
They were once common throughout New Zealand and Polynesia but now inhabit just two small islands off the coast of southern New Zealand. One of the main threats to Kakapos is predation from introduced species such as cats and stoats that hunt using scent. A kakapo’s natural reaction is to freeze and blend in with the background when threatened. It is effective against predators that rely on sight to hunt but not smell. Females also leave the nest unattended when finding food, leaving the eggs freely available to predators.
Intensive conservation measures mean the population is on the increase now, which is positive. But, genetic diversity is low among the remaining kakapo, which could affect survival in the future, especially if they are struck by a disease.
2. Amur Leopard
Unfortunately, Amur leopards are one of the world’s most endangered big cats. They are as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and between 2014 and 2015, there were only around 92 Amur leopards left within their natural range. That number is now estimated to be less than 70.
Like all species on our endangered list, humans are their biggest threat. Their beautiful coats are popular with poachers as are their bones which they sell for use in traditional Asian medicine. They are also at risk from habitat loss due primarily to natural and human-made fires. Climate change is also changing Amur leopard habitat and leading to a decrease in prey availability.
The vaquita is both the smallest and the most endangered marine mammal in the world. It has been classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN since 1996, and in 2018, there were only around 6 to 22 vaquitas left. The latest estimate, from July 2019, suggests there are currently only 9.
Their biggest threat is from the illegal fishing of totoaba, a large fish in demand because of its swim bladder. Vaquitas accidentally end up entangled in the gillnets set for totoaba and drown because they can no longer swim to the surface to breathe. Conservation efforts led to the introduction of a ban on gillnets in vaquita habitat back in July 2016, but illegal fishing continues, and the threat remains. Efforts now focus on enforcing the ban on gillnets and persecuting those that use them. Conservationists are also working to decrease demand for totoaba, which is a protected species.
This page was last updated in June 2020 by OneKind writers Stephanie Rose and Jane Warley.