Yesterday, March 3, was World Wildlife Day. It seems only appropriate to continue Robby Robin’s celebration of the animal kingdom on Wildlife Wednesdays by spending some time getting to know the animal species on our planet whose very existence is under threat. In the next few weeks we’ll take a look at animals under threat, where they live, and why they’re under threat. There are many reasons, including illegal poaching, wanton killing, overfishing, loss of habitat due to logging and clearing for agriculture, ocean pollution, and – hugely significant for many – climate change.
There are many lists of endangered animal species to be found online, nearly all taken from the Red List of endangered flora and fauna kept by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission). Various organizations use different criteria to establish which animals to feature on their lists, with many to choose from considering that the full list kept by the IUCN runs to 5583 vulnerable species of animals and plants!
For this week’s Top 10 we are looking at choices made by the organization One Kind Planet.
For those of you who have enjoyed learning about national animals around the world, the answers to last week’s list of national animals can be found at the bottom of this post. Thanks for taking a look!
The Pangolin. This scale-covered little anteater, the size of a cat, is the most trafficked animal in the world (I know, amazing, eh) because of the demand for their scales in traditional Asian medicine, as well as for food. They are found in Asia and also in sub-Saharan Africa. Their survival is at risk because millions have been taken from the wild. Millions. We know about the danger to elephants because of the value of the ivory in their tusks, but it turns out that a bag of pangolin scales can sell on the black market for $3000/kg! That’s incentive. This little fellow has come to the attention of the western world recently because of its suspected link to the initial transfer of the coronavirus from wildlife to humans, as I wrote about in last week’s post The pangolin and Mike Pence.
Rhinos. Three of the five species of rhinoceros are on the critically endangered list. The estimated population of the Javan Rhino, shown here, is down to 60 animals in one National Park in Java, Indonesia. The Black Rhino in Africa has made a bit of a comeback from the brink of extinction, due in extreme measures like proactively removing the horns from the very large animals so they will not be poached for their horns.
The Tiger, my own favourite animal along with the polar bear, are under severe threat. Of the nine subspecies of tigers, three are already extinct. A fourth, the South China tiger, has not been seen since the 1970s and is thought to be extinct. The tiger shown here, a Sumatran Tiger, is one of about 500 that exist today. They are under threat because of loss of natural habitat and killing from conflicts with farmers and villagers, but also because of poaching for their magnificent skins.
The Vaquita, a small porpoise found in the northern part of the Gulf of California and only known as a distinct species since the 1950s, is thought to number as few as 100. The IUCN considers its extinction date to be near.
The Saola, a forest-dwelling deer-like bovine of Vietnam and Laos, is so elusive that it only became known to the scientific community in 1992. Rarely seen, but hunted for food by local tigers and human residents, it is thought that there are somewhere between 70-750 saolas left in the world.
The Sumatran Elephant. The Sumatran elephant has lost over 70% of its habitat to deforestation in the past 25 years, with the forest replaced by palm oil plantations and human settlements. The elephants have been on the IUCN’s critically endangered species list since 2011. About 2000 Sumatran elephants remain in the wild.
The Orangutan, also in Sumatra, has lost 80% of its natural habitat in the past 75 years. It is believed that about 6000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. The Indonesian government is planning to move their rapidly sinking capital city of Jakarta (sinking due to the rising seas of climate change) and its 10 million inhabitants to a new city to be built on the island of Borneo, home to these endangered orangutans. A prime example of how the wildlife on our planet is under siege.
The Hawksbill Turtle. A few sea turtles are on the endangered species list, including the well-known leatherback. However, none are as seriously threatened as the hawksbill turtle, pictured here. Its population has diminished by 90% in the past century, with 80% having been lost in the past 10 years. It has been on the critically endangered list since 1996, but it is still caught for use in making jewelry. Can you imagine?!
The Amur Leopard. The Amur leopard is one of the most critically endangered animals on the planet, with the expectation that there may be no more than 70-100 Amur leopards remaining in the wild. This is good news; as recently as the early 70s it was thought that there were no more than 30 such leopards remaining. The Amur leopard is found in the remote regions of far eastern Russia and northeastern China.
Gorillas. Two of the five subspecies of gorillas are listed as critically endangered, the Cross River Gorillas (pictured here) and the Mountain Gorillas. It is thought that at most 200-300 Cross River gorillas exist in the wild, at the start of the Cross River in the mountainous border area between Cameroon and Nigeria. They are considered the most endangered of the great apes and have been on the critically endangered list since 1996. The numbers of the well-known and beloved mountain gorillas, of silverback fame, are in sharp decline because of loss of habitat and poaching, and also because of war. They have been a recent addition to the critically endangered list because of these new, sad, impactful circumstances.
We humans have much to answer for and much to consider as we think hard about what kind of a planet we want to live in and be able to pass on to future generations. These are just ten endangered animals out of thousands. More next week: 10 animals critically endangered because of climate change.
— And now the answers to last week’s list of national animals!
The Lion is (are you ready for this) the national animal of: Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, England, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iran, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Morocco, Netherlands, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Togo. Norway has the lion as its national symbol. I think that’s it for the lion’s countries!
How did you do? Can you find all these countries on a world map?!
Image credits: bbc.com, onekindplanet.org, animalcorner.org, worldatlas.com, worldwildlife.org, the rainforestsite.greatergood.com, rwandagorilla.com