We’ve all heard the news about global warming and about the ice caps melting. We’ve all heard about deforestation and how forests are being uprooted to make way for housing developments. And we’ve all heard about a variety of animals that are going extinct.
Polar bears, giant pandas, rhinos, snow leopards, and so much more. So many animals that we take for granted are teetering on the brink of extinction. If they go extinct, they’ll join the ranks of already extinct animals like the golden toad, the Zanzibar leopard, the Tecopa Pupfish, the Javan Tiger, and more. The most recent case of an animal going extinct was the West African Black Rhinoceros in 2006. Poachers hunted the rhinos down for their horns down to the last one. Now there aren’t anymore. Even more so, it’s quite possible that some animals that are around today could be extinct within the next few years.
Endangered and critically endangered animals are experiencing population decline for a variety of reasons—for the polar bears, it’s melting ice caps. For primates in Africa, it’s deforestation. And for many animals, it’s just plain old poaching. Like I said before, we all know about endangered animals like polar bears, giant pandas, rhinos, and snow leopards. But there are a lot more that we don’t know about but they still need our help.
If you want to see some of these wonderful creatures, then check out this list of 15 animals you didn’t know are going extinct.
15. Sumatran Elephant
The world’s most rapid rates of deforestation are happening in Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia, which spells trouble for the critically endangered Sumatran elephant. In 2012, the species was removed from the “Endangered” list and added to the “Critically Endangered” list after half of its population was reduced in one generation. The population size has diminished 80 percent within the last 25 years. Herds are forced into small forest patches and they aren’t expected to last in the long run. Due to the rapid development and deforestation in Sumatra, these elephants lose their habitats and are forced into contact with humans, inadvertently trampling homes and sometimes hurting and killing people. People affected by the elephants’ appearance strike back sometimes and poison or shoot the elephants, bringing their numbers down even more.
14. South China Tiger
Scientists have called the South China Tiger “functionally extinct” as one has not been spotted in the wild for more than 25 years. It is the smallest of the tiger subspecies and the one in the most danger of going extinct. During the 1950’s, the population of South China tigers was measured at about 4,000. Thousands of tigers were hunted over the next few decades as they were considered a pest by the Chinese government. In later years, the government would change its tune and they called for a ban on the hunting of these animals in 1979. However, it was already too late. By 1996, there were only about 30-80 tigers left. Nowadays, you can only find South China tigers in zoos. Fortunately, there are plans to re-introduce captive-bred tigers back into the wild where they belong.
13. Javan Rhinoceros
Out of the five rhinoceros species, the Javan Rhinoceros is the most vulnerable. There are only 60 left in the entire world and they all live in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia. These rhinos used to live in northeast India and the Sunderbans, throughout the mainland of southeast Asia and on the island of Sumatra. But by the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their numbers have severely declined. The final remaining Javan rhino in Vietnam was poached in 2010. During colonial times, Javan rhinos were the targets of trophy hunters. They were also hunted down because they were deemed “agricultural pests” and they were also hunted for their horns, which are highly valued in traditional Asian medicine. The World Wildlife Fund is looking to move some of the rhinos in Ujung Kulon to a sufficient habitat in Indonesia so that there can be two rhino populations.
12. Giant Otter
The giant otter is the world’s largest otter but also the world’s rarest otter. It is believed that there are only a few thousand living in the wild. Giant otters have been hunted down for their pelts, noted to be chocolatey brown and remarkably soft. Hunting giant otters led to a sharp decline in population size, and while these animals no longer have to face threats from poachers, they now have other things to worry about. A large percentage of their aquatic habitats which consists of rivers and lakes, have been destroyed. As a result, the fish they eat as part of their diet have decreased in numbers. Then, there are fishermen who think of the giant otters as nothing more than an annoyance. Gold mining also goes in the region where sea otters live, causing the waters to be tainted with mercury.
11. Mountain Gorilla
The Virunga Landscape, which stretches north and south from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, is known for a long and bloody conflict taking place there. It’s also known for its mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas live in forests high in the mountains, at altitudes of 8,000 to 13,000 feet. But as humans continue to keep pushing into their territory, clearing land for agriculture and livestock, these beasts are forced to move further into the mountains for longer periods, facing dangerous conditions that can turn deadly. Conflict in Rwanda and in the Democratic Republic of Congo have forced refugees into the gorillas’ land, leading to poaching and the destruction of their habitats. Not only that, but rebels have taken over parts of the Virunga National Park where many of the gorillas leave, making survey work and the conservation of this species quite problematic.
10. Peruvian Black Spider Monkey
The Peruvian Black Spider Monkey may have gotten its name from its prominence in the country of Peru, but it also inhabits the countries of Bolivia and Brazil. However, that may not be for long. In 2003, the Peruvian Black Spider Monkey was listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species under “Least concern” but is now listed under the “Endangered” species list. Over the past 45 years, their numbers have been reduced to 50%. These spider monkeys play an important role in the tropical rainforest ecosystem. Fruit is a major component of their diet, so they act as seed dispersers for various tree species. Unfortunately, the monkeys are hunted down for their large size and to satisfy the increasing demand for bush meat. The monkeys also have to worry about deforestation. Thanks to a slow reproductive rate, it will be very difficult for this species to keep going.
9. Bornean Orangutan
Like the Peruvian Black Spider Monkey, the Bornean orangutans are seed dispersers for different tree species, keeping forests healthy. In July of last year, the Bornean orangutan was added to the IUCN Red List of “critically endangered” species list. Since 1950, their numbers have decreased by 60%, and according to Scientific American, the numbers will drop another 22% by 2025. There are only about 104,700 of these orangutans left. Young orangutans are commodities in a growing pet trade and orangutan skulls are a hot commodity as well. Illegal mining and logging are detrimental to the habitats of this species, reducing their habitat 55% over the last 20 years. Because females only reproduce every six to eight years, conservation efforts are difficult. However, studies prove that if logging was reduced, hunting was controlled, and fruit trees were kept intact, Bornean orangutans could live in logged forests.
8. Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill turtles are an essential element in marine ecosystems because they help keep coral reefs healthy. In addition, they are a vital source of income for local residents in the Coral Triangle since many tourists like to come and see the turtles. Hawksbill turtles are a critically endangered species, jeopardized by the loss of feeding and nesting environments, pollution, coastal development, and other factors. Turtle eggs are taken by people who consider these eggs a delicacy. In spite of Hawksbill turtles being under the protection of many national laws, they are still a target of illegal trading for their shells. Eastern Asia yields a huge market for turtle shells, where they are made into jewelry and ornaments. The World Wildlife Fund works all over the globe to create protected areas for the turtles where they can safely and freely feed, nest, and migrate.
Out of all the marine animals, the vaquita is the rarest. In fact, it is highly likely that if illegal by-catching isn’t halted in the Gulf of California, vaquitas will go extinct by 2018. It wasn’t until 1958 that the vaquita was first discovered. Now they’re teetering on the brink of extinction. Within the last three years, most of the population was lost. 50% was lost just last year, and now only about 30 vaquitas remain on this earth. The primary reason for the near extinction of vaquitas is fishery by-catch. Almost one out of every five vaquitas get caught and drown in gillnets meant for other marine species. The countless deaths of vaquitas by by-catching is what made the creatures a threatened species by the mid-1970’s. The World Wildlife Fund is working with government representatives, Mexican scientists, and other partners to design and implement a long-term conservation plan for the vaquita.
6. Black-Footed Ferret
Twice the black-footed ferret was believed to be extinct. Recovery efforts from various federal and state agencies, Native American organizations, zoos, and other collaborators have helped rescue the black-footed ferret population. There are almost 300 black-footed ferrets spread out across North America. However, the maintenance of the species’ survival has been somewhat hindered by habitat loss and disease. Black-footed ferrets are reliant on prairie dogs for food, shelter, and raising their young. Efforts have been made in recent years to release the ferrets into prairie dog colonies. Plague management tools are also in place to prevent the spread of disease among the ferrets, which wiped out a sizable portion of the population in 1999. Biologists used drones to drop peanut-butter flavored, vaccine-laced bait into the habitat of the ferrets.
5. Sumatran Orangutan
Sumatran orangutans play an important role in the ecosystems they live in, dispersing seeds for various tree species, so if they were to die out, so would the trees. In past times, Sumatran orangutans were dispersed all over the island of Sumatra and into Java. Now, the orangutans are limited to the north of the island, mostly in the provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh. There are only about 14,600 of these orangutans left, and not all of them have a chance at long-term viability. Much of the orangutans’ habitat is being lost at a rapid rate due to fire and agricultural development. Forest fires are purposely started in order to clear out land for oil palm plantations, destroying the viable landscape and killing thousands of the animals. WWF is working with Indonesian non-governmental organizations to mediate human-orangutan conflict around the plantations to preserve the orangutans.
Commonly called the “Asian unicorn,” the Saola was recently discovered in 1992, and it’s already on the brink of extinction. There are none in captivity and the animal is rarely seen in the wild. In fact, scientists have documented saola in the wild only four times. It’s not really known how many Saola are left due to their extreme rarity and vulnerability. There could be as many as a few hundred left or there could be just a few dozen left. Saola can only be seen in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos. The habitat of the saola is being threatened by extensive development to clear land for agriculture, plantations, and infrastructure. WWF has been working on research on saolas, strengthening protected areas, and bolstering law enforcement. Within the last four years, they created two new saola reserves in the Thua-Thien Hue and Quang Nam provinces.
3. Amur Leopard
Also known as the Far Eastern leopard, the Amur leopard is one of the world’s most endangered wild cats. While many leopard subspecies thrive in the savannahs of Africa, this leopard is better suited to temperate forests, surviving in the Primorye region of southeastern Russia and the Jilin Province of China. While Amur leopards can be viewed in zoos all over the world, only about 60 remain in the wild, according to a study published last year. Potentially, Amur leopards could become extinct in the wild. The animal is poached mainly for its beautiful, spotted fur, which sells for hefty sums of cash in local villages. Workers at the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve work around the clock to prevent leopards from being poached.
2. Ili Pika
The Ili pika was discovered by accident in 1983, and it’s only been a spotted a handful of times since then, eluding scientists for years. Pikas are native to the Tianshan mountain range of the remote Xinjiang region of northwestern China, living at high elevations on mountains. Not much is known about the animal’s biology or ecology, but it’s been estimated that the population size has decreased by nearly 70% since its discovery in 1983, with less than 1,000 of these creatures left. Rising temperatures caused by global warming forced glaciers to shrink and the altitude of permanent snow in the Tianshan mountain range to rise, leading pikas to seek shelter on mountaintops. Even though the Ili pika was listed on the IUCN Red List as “endangered” in 2008, there is no official organization or team dedicated to studying it or protecting it.
One of the most highly trafficked animals in the world is the pangolin. Just between 2011 and 2013, more than 200,000 of them were killed by hunters. The eight pangolin species live in Africa and Asia. Two of the species appear under “Critically endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species but all eight species have protection under national and international laws. It’s hard to determine how many pangolins are left due to lack of information about these animals, but it’s believed that the population size is rapidly dropping due to poaching. Pangolin meat is eaten as a delicacy and the scales are used in folk remedies in Asia and Africa. The creatures are also in high demand in China and Vietnam. Last year, an international agreement was declared that would stop the illegal trade of pangolins and prevent them from going extinct.