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.
These desert dwellers are uniquely capable of handling arid climates, unlike other livestock. To deal with lack of water, the oryx can handle an internal body temperature of 116 degrees Fahrenheit in order to sweat less and conserve the water it has ingested.
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.
Found throughout tropical waters, hawksbills use their distinctive beaks to extract and feed on sponges as well as sea anemones and jellyfish. These critically endangered creatures help maintain the oceans’ coral reefs, so their extinction could have severe impacts on marine ecosystems the world over.
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.
Although they are still considered critically endangered, black rhinos have seen a resurgence in recent years with their population reaching between 5,042 and 5,455 individuals. Even though protections are solidly in place, these creatures are still impacted by poaching, as their horns remain popular on the black market.
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.
Although people often associate leopards with savannas, this rare species lives in the temperate forests of Russia. Like other leopards, the Amur leopard is known for its speed, traveling up to 37 miles per hour.
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.
The orangutan’s prominence varies by region. For example, in northwest Borneo, habitat reduction has been so severe that only 1,500 individuals remain today. Comparatively, individuals in central Borneo number about 35,000.
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.
One such subspecies, known as the Pinta Island tortoise, saw the last of its species pass away in 2012. Known as “Lonesome George,” the sole surviving tortoise from Pinta Island (one of the most northerly islands in the Galápagos) was thought to be 100 years old. Researchers tried to save the Pinta subspecies by finding George a mate but didn’t succeed.
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.”
The Malayan tigers’ numbers have dipped drastically low, with a total of 250 to 340 individuals still in existence in the wild. Unlike other endangered species, which often see a resurgence after protection measures are put in place, the Malayan tiger has experienced a steady decline.
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.
Since this conservation effort was initiated, condors have been reintroduced into the wild, including in parts of Arizona and Utah near the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, respectively. Despite these proactive measures, the California condor is still listed as “critically endangered” with less than 500 individuals surviving today.
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.
In fact, sightings are so rare that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has deemed them extinct in the wild. To help bolster the species’ numbers, the Brazilian government has organized a captive breeding program.
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.
This find, which occurred less than three decades ago, marked the first discovery of a new large mammal in more than 50 years. Although it’s unclear just how many saola exist in nature today, they are considered a “critically endangered” species.
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.
Humans pushed the gorillas deeper into the forests and further damaged their habitats by clearing forests for timber, growing crops or maintaining livestock. As with many endangered species, poaching presents a huge problem, although the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria are working together to stop this threat.
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.
Over the course of the last three decades, this species’ population has fallen sharply — by estimates of 25% or more. Climate change — with its changing water temperatures — as well as the after effects of oil spills and commercial fishing continue to threaten this vulnerable population.
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.
At that time, only 200 or so greater one-horned rhinos lived in the wild. Luckily, the rhino’s conservation has been successful so far, thanks to a joint effort between the Indian and Nepalese governments. Although these creatures are still considered vulnerable, roughly 3,500 individuals roam the grasslands of India and Nepal today.
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.
However, commercial fishing for the dugong’s meat and oil has greatly fragmented the creature’s population. Despite being protected in many countries, the dugong’s slow rate of reproduction paired with ongoing hunting leave it vulnerable to extinction.
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.
Due to deforestation and poaching, this species could join its relatives on the extinct list. Despite increased conservation efforts — poachers in Indonesia face hefty fines and jail time — a market still exists for tiger pelts. Even if the poaching is curbed, Sumatran tigers are still losing their habitats and food sources at a rapid rate.
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.
Experts estimate the species is critically endangered with roughly 30 individuals living in the wild. The Mexican government, various environmental organizations and even actor/activist Leonardo DiCaprio successfully worked to ban gill nets, but the ban did little to help the vaquita population. Now, researchers are attempting to implement a captive breeding program, to little avail.
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).
Thankfully, recovery efforts have proven successful. In 2019, more than 200 marmots populated more than 20 colonies in the island’s mountains. Despite this population increase, changes in weather patterns and the clearcutting of forests still threaten marmots to this day.
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.)
Perhaps human’s close relation to these animals makes their endangerment even more upsetting. Due to poaching and habitat loss, the chimpanzee population has dropped to less than 300,000 individuals.
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.
In 1978, the species was added to the endangered species list. Nonetheless, nearly all the Socorro isopods were wiped out when an invasive root dammed the water flow into the creature’s delicate 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.
In addition to being harvested for their shells and meat, these turtles are often caught in fishing nets and become victims of water pollution, habitat loss and the after-effects of hydro-electric power structures. It’s estimated that fewer than 400 adult females exist in the wild, causing India to institute a captive breeding program for this endangered animal.
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.
Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 didn’t fully protect mixed species like the red wolf. In 1996, the IUCN added the species to its critically endangered list. Due to ongoing hunting, the red wolf population in North Carolina dropped to less than 60 individuals in 2016.
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.
In 2014, 1,110 acres of wetlands were dedicated to conservation efforts. A 2009 study indicated that only 194 adult beetles existed, but, by 2013, that number increased to 365 beetles.
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.
Today, between 1,000 and 1,800 finless porpoises exist in the wild. A myriad of factors, from pollution and shipping traffic to the use of hydroelectric dams, has devastated the population. Yangtze finless porpoises are now more endangered than China’s iconic panda.
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.
Despite their reputation, these carnivores are considered a vulnerable species. Scientists have determined the species’ population is decreasing due to overfishing — not to mention accidentally catching these predators in deadly gill nets.
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.
Unfortunately, the marine iguana is constantly threatened by non-native species on the Galápagos. Feral cats, rats and dogs routinely eat the iguanas’ eggs and young.
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.
Sadly, these endangered animals are victims of deforestation. Their habitats are constantly shrinking due to logging and agriculture. Today, less than 10,000 individual red pandas exist in the wild across Myanmar, Nepal, India and China.
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.
Added to the Greenpeace International red list in 2010, the fish is at risk of disappearing, and most researchers suggest eating other types of tuna to allow this species to recover. Moreover, rising ocean temperatures have taken a toll on marine phytoplankton — bigeye tuna’s main source of food.
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.
While related stream toads can be found in India, Thailand, Borneo and the Philippines, the Ansonia smeagol is particular to Malaysia. This makes the species rare — and easily threatened. Unfortunately, the expansion of tourist resorts has impacted the toad’s habitat as well.
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.
Unfortunately, climate change has had a devastating impact on polar bear populations. Their sea ice habitats are melting rapidly. Since 2008, the polar bear has been listed as “threatened” under the United States’ Endangered Species Act.
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.
Roughly one third of the total African elephant population is made of forest elephants, which are more often than not the main targets of ivory trade poachers. It’s estimated that 415,000 individuals exist in the wild, making the species a vulnerable population.