As a species, we’re slowly getting better at sharing the planet with the other species in it, thanks to a growing awareness of the effect we have on the ecosystem we live in. However, despite efforts, there are still animals that are facing the threat of extinction. The IUCN Redlist categorizes a critically endangered species as one that fits any of the following criteria: lives only in an area of less than 100 kilometers squared, shows a sharp decline (at least twenty-five percent in three years) in its population, or has a fifty percent chance of going extinct in the next ten years. Here are ten animals that are teetering on the brink of extinction, and what we’re doing to try and stop it.
Saola (Pseudoryx Nghetinhensis)
Discovered in 1992, the Saola is a reclusive mammal found only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos. The species is reclusive, and a genetic cousin to cattle and antelopes. Conservationists are not sure of its exact population, with the most optimistic guesses checking in at several hundred, and the most pessimistic at a few dozen. The danger to the Saola comes from loss of habitat, as the wet forests that it makes it home in are cut down to make room for agriculture and infrastructure. Save Our Species notes that a major concern is that as the Saola’s preferred habitat is reduced in size, they become easier prey for hunters, or may become caught in snares meant to protect farms from nuisance animals. Conservation efforts include ensuring key sites and habitats are protected, as well as funding for enforcement of conservation-centric laws, such as patrols of the conservation landscape and removal of and reduction of the use of snare traps.
Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Diehli)
The Cross River Gorilla is an incredibly reclusive species that lives in an area stretching to around 3,000 square miles in the Congo Basin. Since these gorillas are so wary of humans, it has been difficult to study their exact numbers. Scientists, through painstaking study of indirect signs, like nest counts, estimate their numbers to be between 200 and 300. Like with other species on this list, one of the main threats to the Cross River Gorillas is loss of habitat, compounded by illegal hunting. However scientists are also worried about inbreeding amongst the Gorilla population, leading to a loss of genetic diversity, which may make them less suited to dealing with threats in the future. For the Cross River Gorilla, conservation efforts focus on increased population monitoring, strengthening nature reserves, promotion of sustainable forestry and further research into the species. The Cross River Gorilla conservation group, alongside conservation efforts like those listed above, also takes volunteers on its conservation efforts, where people spend two to four weeks observing and documenting signs of Gorilla habitation and receive training in GPS and scientific survey techniques.
Vaquita (Phocoena Sinus)
The smallest member of the porpoise family, the vaquita is distinguishable by the dark markings around its eyes and mouth. Discovered in 1958, the vaquita lives in the northern waters of the Gulf of California, where conservationists fear there are less than two hundred surviving members of the species. Conservation efforts have been in place since 1992, where one of the major goals was to create a reserve for the species, which was realized in 1993 with the Biosphere Reserve of the Upper Gulf of California. While vaquitas are consumed by sharks, the main threat to the species is bycatch- a term used by the fishing industry to denote animals caught in gillnets meant to catch shrimp and other small fish. CIRVA (the comite international para la recuperacion de la Vaquita) stated the following goals for conservation in 1997: elimination of bycatch (and research into gillnet alternatives), effective fishery regulation, and expansion of the conservation area to include all known vaquita habitats. Many of these goals are still works-in-progress, especially the elimination of bycatch, since there was little in the way of compensation plans for artisanal fishermen who depended on gillnet fishing for their livelihood. However, the Vaquita Refuge Zone was established in 2005, which covered most of the vaquita’s habitat, so conservationist goals are being met, albeit more slowly than they’d like.
Leaf-Scaled Sea Snake (Aipysurus Foliosquama)
The Leaf-Scaled Sea Snake, named for the distinctive shape of its scales, lives in the Ashmore and Hibernia Reefs of the Timor sea, an area that covers less than ten kilometers squared. The species’ small habitat range makes it very susceptible to any environmental changes. In the nineties, the leaf-scaled sea snake made up fifty percent of the sea-snakes in those reefs, but 2001 studies show a decline of at least ninety percent of the population. The exact cause of the massive drop in the Leaf-Scaled Sea Snake’s population is unknown, but suspected culprits include degradation and bleaching of the coral reefs it lives in, as well as climate change raising sea temperatures beyond their liveable limits. Ashmore Reef has been a nature reserve since the eighties, and biodiversity website Arkive.org lists other conservation efforts like management plans for the protection of habitat quality and biodiversity, which have been actively enforced since 1998.
Amur Leopard (Panthera Pardus Orientalis)
Also known as the Manchurian and Korean Leopard, the Amur Leopard’s adapted to survive in the temperate forests of the Amur-Heilong region, which covers land in Russia and China. The Amur Leopard is chiefly solitary, and hides unfinished meals so that the carrion is not taken by other predators. Tragically, however, there are only an estimated thirty Amur Leopards left in the wild. Their population has been ravaged by prey scarcity and the illegal wildlife trade (the World Wildlife Foundation reports that a single Amur Leopard skin can fetch approximately $1000). Conservation efforts focus on population monitoring, stopping the trade and poaching of the animals and habitat protection. The Russian government established the Land of the Leopard National Park in 2012, a 650,000 acre reserve that covers the Amur Leopard’s breeding areas and around sixty percent of its habitat.
Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus Swinhoei)
The phrase ‘critically endangered’ doesn’t quite do the Yangtze giant softshell turtles’ situation justice. In 2008, there were only four of these turtles left: three males and one female. In the past, these turtles were common along the Yangtze river, China’s Yunnan province and parts of Vietnam. However, due to massive pollution, as well as the use of the turtle in food and traditional medicine, the population ended up in free fall. Obviously, at this point conservationists’ first goal is repopulation.The single mating pair stays at Suzhou Zoo, where they are tended to a team all desperately hoping for some baby turtles. In the six years that the two turtles have been together, there’s yet to be any, something researchers suggest could be due to the male’s age (around one hundred years) and ensuing poor sperm quality, and stress on the female. National Geographic explains that the scientists are barred from administering the tests that would pinpoint the source of the turtles’ infertility, since too much interactions could negatively affect the animals health. And with a population so small, they can’t afford to take risks.
White-Bellied Heron (Ardea Insignis)
Native to the Himalayan foothills of Bhutan and India, and to northern Myanmar, the White-Bellied Heron’s population is subject to debate. The hopeful say there are as many as 400 of the birds, while the doubtful suggest there’s only about 70. The rapid shrinking of the population is believed to be caused by wide-ranging disturbance and damage to their natural habitats, including over-use of resources, pollution. Birdlife, a website focusing on bird conservation, also points out forest fires and developing hydroelectric power systems as threats to the bird. Luckily, its breeding grounds occur in several protected areas, like the Namdapha Tiger Reserve. 2011 saw the first birth of a White-Bellied Heron in captivity, where it was later released into the wild. There is also a Save Our Species project underway along the Assam Bhutan border that engages local communities in heron conservation efforts, and there are plans to create buffer zones around protected areas. There are also groups considering satellite tagging individual herons to gain a better understanding of the species migration habits.
Franklin’s Bumblebee (Bombus Franklini)
Bees, as a species, have been going through a rough time for the past decade, with massive hive die-outs. But Franklin’s Bumblebee is somewhat worse off than its family members. Occurring only in California and Oregon, between the Coast and Sierra Cascade mountain ranges, it has the smallest range of any known bumblebee. The threats to its existence are similar to that of other bees, namely habitat change, disease and the use of certain pesticides in gardening (something that the ground-nesting Franklin’s Bumblebee is especially vulnerable to). The bee’s population has been declining since 1998, and is believed to be on the very brink of extinction. No Franklin’s bumblebees were found in surveys in 2004 or 2005, though a single worker bee was found in 2006, leading to hope that there was at least one hive in their habitat. Since tracking a single bee species is difficult, Xerces, a invertebrate conservation society, notes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has it listed as a species of concern, so there’s been no mandated conservation efforts.
Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus Pygmaeus)
This particular sloth is native to the red mangrove forests of Isla Escudo de Veraguas in Panama, and is the most endangered member of its family. The Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth has evolved a smaller body than its mainland cousins, and the dark band across its forehead. 2011’s survey found only seventy-nine of these sloths, far lower than was hoped. Due to its tiny habitat, any changes to the Isla Escudo de Veraguas can negatively affect the sloth population. The island has been named as a wildlife refuge, though the IUCN redlist has worries regarding both possible habitat damage done by seasonal visitors and also the damage done by illegal sloth hunting.
Tarzan’s Chameleon (Calumma Tarzan)
Native to Madagascar, Tarzan’s Chameleon is currently in crisis. It’s population has been split due to massive land clearance between their two known habitation sites, and the slash-and-burn agriculture and logging further endanger its habitat. Discovered only a few years ago, it was quickly added to the endangered species list thanks to its small (and shrinking) range of habitat. One fragment of their habitat yielded about sixty chameleons, so scientists remain hopeful that, despite challenges, the chameleons is capable of recovering. The IUCN redlist reports that one of the forests where it occurs is currently being set up as a protected area, but much more must be done to protect the species’ survival.