30 Animals on the Brink of Extinction
Due to poaching, pollution, climate change and habitat loss, extinction has become a global crisis — now more than ever. Although you’d like to imagine the possibility of sea turtles and tigers going the way of the dodo is improbable, extinctions are more likely than you might want to believe.
Advances in science provide hope that some species could be saved, but, in the meantime, major losses could severely alter the world’s ecology. Here are 30 animals currently teetering on the brink of extinction.
Due to over-hunting, drought and excessive livestock grazing, the number of scimitar-horned oryx dwindled rapidly, and this creature became extinct in the wild. However, in recent years, these graceful, antelope-looking creatures have been slowly reintroduced in Chad, Tunisia and Niger.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Named for their narrow beaks, hawksbill sea turtles are hunted for the distinctive pattern of overlapping scales on their shells. Commonly, hawksbill shells are sold as "tortoiseshell" — looking similar to the popular eyeglasses pattern.
Native to Namibia, the black rhino is the smaller of the two species of rhino that call the continent of Africa home. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the black rhino’s population dipped to a historic low between 1960 and 1995. Thanks to invasive European hunters and colonizers, this 98% drop brought the species’ numbers to less than 2,500 individuals.
Amur leopards are a favorite of big game poachers. The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that only 84 Amur leopards exist in the wild today. Hunted for their beautiful coats, these leopards are now considered critically endangered.
Native to the forests of Borneo and Sumatra, the orangutan in question has experienced a population drop of about 50% since the 1960s. The primary factor? Human interference — such as logging and hunting — has caused a harsh reduction in the species’ habitat. In total, about 105,000 individuals remain.
Giant Tortoise (Pinta Island Tortoise)
When you think giant tortoise, you might think of the Galápagos Islands and Charles Darwin — and you wouldn’t be wrong. A number of subspecies of giant tortoises are spread across the world’s islands. Some have dome-shaped shells, while others have saddleback shells. Regardless, giant tortoises on the whole are considered a "vulnerable" species.
Until 2004, researchers thought Malayan tigers were Indochinese tigers, but DNA testing revealed the specimens to be separate subspecies. Found on the Malay Peninsula as well as in Thailand, these tigers are considered "critically endangered."
In 1987, North America’s largest land bird went extinct in the wild due to habitat loss, poaching and lead poisoning. Fearing the California condor would completely disappear, the United States government captured the 27 remaining wild condors, planning to breed them at zoos in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Also known as the little blue macaw, this species is native to Brazil, with its last remaining flock living in the northeastern part of the country. Sightings of the Spix’s macaw are extremely rare, with only two reported glimpses between 2000 and 2016.
Dubbed the "Asian unicorn," the saola is a mysterious creature. Little is known about the animal, which calls the evergreen forests of Laos and Vietnam home. In fact, the saola — meaning "spindle horn" in Vietnamese due to those iconic parallel horns — was only discovered in 1992.
Cross River Gorilla
Unlike other primates, cross river gorillas are incredibly wary of humans — not to mention, they live in rugged, densely-forested areas. Consequently, researchers have had a difficult time counting them, but recent estimates put this critically endangered species’ population in the ballpark of 200 to 300 individuals.
Southern Rockhopper Penguin
Known for its distinctive yellow brows (or crests), the southern rockhopper penguin calls the subantarctic waters of the western Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as the waters around the southern coast of South America home. Instead of being named after those colorful crests, the penguins got their name because of their hopping movements.
Greater One-Horned Rhino
Found throughout Nepal, northern India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the greater one-horned rhino (or Indian rhino) isn’t so mighty when it comes to population numbers. Hunted for sport — also because they were considered crop-destroying pests — the species came close to extinction in the early 1900s.
Cousins of the manatee, dugong are distinct from their relatives due to their dolphin-like tails. Dugongs are strictly marine mammals — no freshwater, please — grazing in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Traditionally, this species, which is rich in cultural significance, was hunted by folks living in Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Known as the smallest tiger subspecies, Sumatran tigers are the last remaining tigers in Indonesia. Less than 400 individuals struggle to survive in the sparse patches of forest on the island of Sumatra.
Dubbed the world’s rarest marine animal, the vaquita is a relatively new discovery — and already on the brink of extinction. First spotted in 1958, this special porpoise often drowns in gill nets used by illegal fishing operations off the coast of Mexico.
Vancouver Island Marmot
The Vancouver Island marmot is an extremely rare mammal. As you may have guessed, it is native — and contained — to its namesake isle in British Columbia. In 2003, researchers counted less than 30 marmots living in the wild in colonies, leading to its inclusion on Canada’s federal Species At Risk Act (SARA).
Highly social and devoted to their offspring for many years, chimpanzees are humans’ closest cousins. In fact, 98% of our genes line up. Most chimps spend their time in the treetops of the forests of central Africa, only coming down to grab a bite to eat. (Relatable content.)
One of only seven freshwater species in a family that’s often found among saltwater marine life, the Socorro isopod might be tiny, but its impact is immense. Due to the diverting of several warm springs in New Mexico that fed the isopod’s marshland habitat, the species is now confined to 164 feet of habitat.
Red-Crowned Roofed Turtle
This freshwater turtle is native to South Asia — and loves basking in the sun. The red-crowned roofed turtle population has declined in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and elsewhere due to a variety of factors.
The red wolf is native to the southeastern United States and is a notable subspecies of the wolf and coyote, which interbred thousands of years ago. With a unique lineage, the red wolf has been deemed exceptionally worthy of conservation.
Salt Creek Tiger Beetle
The Salt Creek tiger beetle dwells in the ground, snapping up prey like a cat waiting to pounce. After a university-sponsored survey, Nebraska added the beetle to its endangered species list in the 1990s, a good decade before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Yangtze Finless Porpoise
These critically endangered porpoises are named after the Yangtze River — the longest river in Asia. Not to mention, the Yangtze is one of only two rivers in the world that is home to species of dolphins. The other species was the Baiji dolphin, although it was declared extinct in 2006.
Great White Shark
Known as the largest predatory fish on Earth, the great white shark can weigh up to 5,000 pounds. However, contrary to what Jaws (1975) taught you, great whites are only responsible for a third of annual shark attacks worldwide.
Charles Darwin once described these Galápagos Island natives as the "most disgusting, clumsy lizards." With salt-encrusted heads and crocodile-like tails, marine iguanas won’t be winning any beauty pageants, but their unique features make them more than capable on both land and in water.
About the size of a domesticated cat, red pandas live in the trees of the Eastern Himalayas, using their bushy tails for balance. Like the better-known black and white pandas, this species has an extended wrist bone, which acts like a thumb and allows them to munch on bamboo.
Bigeye tuna can weigh in at a whopping 460 pounds, but its massive size can’t keep this big fish out of hot water. Due to overfishing, this species’ population has faced a sharp decline. In 2012, more than 450,000 metric tons of bigeye tuna were caught by commercial fisheries.
Stream Toad (Ansonia Smeagol)
The Ansonia smeagol — or stream toad — was named after the big-eyed character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series. It lives in upland streams in mountainous areas in Malaysia.
Thanks to water-repelling, insulated coats, polar bears can withstand extreme temperatures. As a result, these marine mammals spend most of their time in the water or on the ice in the Arctic Ocean — and 50% of that time is dedicated to hunting for food.
Native to roughly 37 countries in Africa, the African Elephant is the largest terrestrial animal on Earth, weighing up to 6 tons. Both subspecies — the savanna elephant and the forest elephant — are hunted for their prominent tusks.