Everyone knows that pandas, tigers, and any animals with ivory are endangered; but what about the animals in your backyard? The ones you see in movies or claim as your spirit animal? They’re in trouble too.
In the millions of years of life on Earth there have been surprisingly few extinctions; yet 90 percent of all of the plants and animals that have ever lived on this planet are now extinct. Of the five mass extinction events, the one that sticks out in everyone’s memory is that of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. No one knows exactly what wiped out the dinosaurs, but there are many theories ranging from volcanic eruptions to colossal meteors. Even though the dinosaurs vanished, life on Earth did not; mammals thrived in the new environment and here we are today.
Scientists are claiming that a sixth mass extinction event has begun, and it’s not an unreasonable claim considering the number of species that have disappeared in the last 100 years. Some of these extinctions were due to natural selection or natural events, but many were directly related to human actions. By 2100, scientists horrifyingly estimate that over half of the species on Earth will be gone.
The species most at risk are the largest, and often scariest, creatures of them all. Most of these species are at the top of their food chain with no natural predators, only succumbing to human activity and the related environmental disasters.
10 Great White Shark
Hundreds of millions of years old, the great white shark is one of the largest predators in the world and, as popularised by Jaws, a villain of the ocean. The great white’s enormous size and lethal bite guarantee that it is has no natural predators and is most at risk from fisherman. For years, sharks of all kinds have been hunted for their teeth and fins which are later used in jewellery and soup in fancy restaurants. Other fisherman are focused more on pride than profit and hunt great white sharks as trophies. When great whites are not directly targeted, they are caught and entangled in deep sea fishing nets.
9 Grey Wolf
The grey wolf, also known as the timber wolf, has recently been removed from the endangered species list but could quickly slip back onto it. Hunted to near extinction during by the 1960s, grey wolves are now roaming throughout North America; but only occupying about 5 percent of their former territory. Vilified by classic children’s stories like Little Red Riding Hood and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, grey wolves were often shot on sight out of fear that they would attack families or livestock. Once grey wolves were no longer protected by law, unregulated hunting continued and within months hundreds of wolves had been killed again.
8 Polar Bear
Polar bears are the largest land predator and a symbol of the north used in numerous marketing campaigns. Despite building dens and raising their young on land, polar bears are considered a marine animal because they spend most of their time in the water. In order to support their 1,000 pound weight, polar bears spend about 50 percent of their time hunting seals and fishing for other prey. Most of this occurs on the sea ice which is fast melting in their arctic habitats. As the climate heats up and continues to melt northern ices, polar bears lose access to their food supply as seals and fish seek new environments.
7 Blue-and-Yellow Macaw
Native to the rain forests of South America, there are over a thousand different species of macaw; the most popular of which is the blue-and-yellow macaw. Vibrantly coloured and highly intelligent with the ability to speak, these exotic birds have been desirable pets for centuries and came with high price tags. This is a little surprising since they are a large, loud bird with destructive chewing habits; and they can easily live to be 60 years old. In any case, the illegal pet trade has caused macaw populations in the Amazon serious threat as their flocks dwindle.
6 Monarch Butterfly
Every year, monarch butterflies make an epic journey across the United States to Mexico in order to avoid cold Canadian winters. They travel in huge groups and take over entire forests during their migration, the longest and most complex performed by any insect. Despite their astounding inner sense of direction, monarch butterflies are extremely fragile and very susceptible to climate change. Usually, a butterfly only needs to worry about natural predators and children with nets on their travels. But now, monarchs are faced with hotter, drier summers and colder winters that are killing adult butterflies before they can breed.
By human standards, sloths are very lazy; so lazy that one of the seven deadly sins takes its name from the animal. Lounging in the treetops, sleeping up to twenty hours a day, and spending their waking moments eating, it’s no wonder that they have a slow and silly reputation. While sloths are slow on the ground, they are quick and confident in the forest canopy; so much so that they rarely leave its protective branches. With devastating deforestation throughout their habitats in South America, sloths are forced out of their tree top homes to wander defenseless and hungry on the ground. As they are solitary creatures, they are easy prey.
4 Emperor Penguin
At almost four feet tall, emperor penguins tower over their other flightless cousins. March of the Penguins and Happy Feet featured the trials and joys of emperor penguins’ Antarctic struggles in their narratives, bringing new attention to this far-away bird. Much like polar bears, emperor penguins are heavily reliant on the sea ice for their survival. The ice creates a perfect habitat for the emperor penguins main food source: krill. Researchers predict that by 2100, the emperor penguin population will be half of the size that it is today.
Sharing 98.3 percent of their DNA with humans, gorillas are intelligent with complex behaviours and emotions that reflect our own. Humans are the largest threat to the gorilla population, which is critically endangered in the Congo. As forest habitats are destroyed and people encroach on gorilla populations, gorillas come into contact with humans and are hunted for bushmeat. The poaching isn’t the main problem though, it’s the diseases that poachers carry. Because gorillas share so many similarities with humans, they often contract and spread the same diseases – like the Ebola virus and tuberculosis.
2 Bald Eagle
An iconic symbol of the United States, the bald eagle was hunted to near extinction by the 1970s. They were hunted for sport and under the pretense of protecting fish populations, a main food source for bald eagles. While decades of hunting threatened bald eagle numbers, it was the use of the pesticide DDT that devastated their population. Before the horrors of DDT were discovered, it was sprayed all over North America to protect farmers’ crops. The harmful chemical was ingested by bald eagles, preventing them from reproducing and weakening the eggshells of their offspring so that they never hatched. With the banning of DDT bald eagles have begun to recover, but as they mate for life this is a slow recovery.
1 American Crocodile
Native to the southern United States and Central America, the American crocodile has been around almost as long as the great white shark. Managing to survive several mass extinctions throughout history, this species is currently on the decline. As cities grow throughout Florida and Mexico, crocodiles are forced to live alongside humans in their shrinking swamps and coastal habitats. Already illegally hunted for their skin and out of fear, crocodiles have nowhere left to hide.