Are you a fan of tigers, gorillas, or elephants? Then we have some bad news for you… all of them are on the brink of extinction. Wildlife organizations list them as ‘endangered’ of ‘critically endangered animals.’ Endangered means the species is at high risk of leaving this planet forever. And ‘critically endangered’ means the species is about to go extinct.
Here are eight beloved animals that are either critically endangered or endangered. They might be some of your favorites, so do have a tissue at hand.
9. Sri Lankan Elephant: 2,500 – 4,000 left
The people of Sri Lanka have a long and cozy history with their elephants.
These creatures are even considered sacred on the island. Elephants are part of religious ceremonies and festivals. And sometimes, they even participate in weddings.
The island-country has plenty of protected areas for its beloved elephants.
As rosy as most of this is, problems arise from the elephant’s loss of habitat. Farms and settlements encroach into their territory.
The Sri Lankan can weigh up to 12,000 lbs (5,540 kg). They need a lot of food to maintain those full figures, like 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg) of veggies a day. And they live in herds of 8 to 12 individuals.
So when people encroach, shrinking their habitat, the elephants are forced to leave their protected areas to find food. And they walk into farms that have delicious sugar canes and bananas. So they eat them.
That does not sit well with farmers that either shoot or poison them. Just in 2018, 319 elephants were murdered. And the elephants fight back. In the same year, they killed 96 humans.
8. Tapanuli Orangutan: 800 left
Even if a human has the adventurous spirit to trek all the way to their rugged, hilly domains, he/she probably will not be able to see them. That is because these orangutans are quite wary of humans after being hunted down for centuries.
The Tapanuli is one of three species of orangutan. All of them are endangered or critically endangered. But it is the Tapanuli that is in the direst situation with only 800 individuals left.
Their habitat is what ecologists call ‘fragmented.’ There is a patch of habitat over there and a patch over here. So the Tapanulis that live in one patch cannot interact with the Tapanulis that live in another.
That makes breeding a problem. The small families living in one patch inbreed, and the population gets genetically weaker.
Plus, the Tapanulis are losing their habitat. All around it, in the lowlands, there are now residences, roads, mines, and farms.
And even more disturbing, a hydroelectric project is about to be built right in the middle of the Tapanuli’s habitat. The project is not needed, as the country has more than enough electricity. So observers are puzzled as to why the 1.6 billion project that has so many environmentalists opposing it is still going forward.
The constructor is a Chinese company known for corruption. They have bribed government officials in other countries before (they are in jail now). And they have built billion-dollar power plants that do not work.
If the project goes on, this orangutan, experts agree, will soon be extinct.
7) Saola: 70 – 700 left
When locals described the saola to Western scientists, the latter scoffed at the local’s active imaginations.
The animal they described was supposed to look like a tiny antelope, with two spiraling horns and white markings on its face.
Yet, in 1992, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) researchers were surveying Vietnam’s deep jungle. And they bumped into a hunter’s trophy in a village. It was an unusual skull.
Later on, they found more skulls and skins of this rare animal. In time, they realized saolas were real.
Saolas are incredibly elusive and quickly die in captivity.
According to estimates, between 70 and 700 saolas live in the jungles of Vietnam and Laos.
Their main threat is hunting, as the saolas get caught up in traps laid out for other animals.
Soon after their discovery, both Vietnam and Laos created parks to protect them. Yet this strange and elusive animal is still critically endangered.
6) Sumatran Tiger: less than 400 left
And the Sumatrans, too, seem headed for extinction.
Oil-palm farms have encroached into its habitat, which means food is now scarce for these big cats. And when they venture outside their protected parks to look for some, they are killed by scared villagers.
Yet, poaching is an even bigger problem.
Every tiger part can be sold in the black market for hefty sums. The skin can fetch $25,000; the bones -used in Chinese medicine-, $2,000 per kg. Their brains are thought to cure acne; their fat, rheumatism; the claws, insomnia; and the male organ, to increase libido.
Killing tigers is illegal in Indonesia.
The government has tried everything to stop the killings. They have steep jail sentences and fines and have increased anti-poaching patrols. Indonesians have even turned to religion for help. In 2014, the country’s top religious authority declared that poaching tigers was a sin.
Still, about 80 Sumatran are killed every year.
Yet, conservationists say this now critically endangered animal could be saved. If the populations of two of the protected areas are kept safe from poaching and habitat loss, this tiger could survive.
Summing all the tiger species, there only 4,000 tigers left in the wild.
5. Cross River Gorilla: 200 – 300 left
This gorgeous hairy primate likes to hide.
Traditionally, their biggest enemy has been human hunters. So, nowadays, they are quite wary of people and live in the hilliest and most inaccessible parts of the forest.
The Cross River gorillas have become so good at hiding that the scientists that have been studying them for years have only caught glimpses of them.
But since they build nests at night, researchers count those to get an idea of how many gorillas are left. There are probably 200 or 300.
The Cross River lives in small groups in Nigeria and Cameroon. It is a protected species in both countries.
Nonetheless, humans still kill 2 or 3 every year for their meat. And leopards and crocodiles prey on them too.
Right now, their biggest threat is habitat loss and fragmentation.
Several organizations are trying to protect these critically endangered animals. Mainly, they are building corridors that reconnect the patches of forest where the gorillas live.
They are also passing laws, monitoring the gorillas, and recruiting local communities to help keep them safe. These organizations are even turning hunters into paid conservationists.
Between the four subspecies of gorillas, there are about 105,000 gorillas left in the world. All are either endangered or critically endangered.
4. Mountain Bongo: 100 left
Eastern bongos live in the mountain forests of Central Kenya, in Africa.
They are large antelopes. And they must be quite tasty, for they are preyed upon by lions, pythons, hyenas, and leopards. Humans hunt them, too, but mostly for sport.
Since they stand little chance in face-to-face combat, bongos have great hearing that tells them when a predator is near. And they are great runners. When they hear a predator, they tilt their heads so their horns point back and do not get entangled in the branches, and they flee speedily through the forest.
A fun fact? Bongos love to eat salt.
This critically endangered species has about 100 individuals left in the wild.
Four times as many live in captivity. They breed readily. Zoo-born bongos have been sent to Kenya to replenish the population there. But the efforts have not been enough.
The numbers in the wild are still decreasing, mainly due to the loss of habitat. As farms encroach in their territory, cattle give them diseases.
Just like for the other animals in this list, there are several organizations trying to save the bongos. Among them the African Wildlife Foundation.
3. Amur Leopard: 100 left
With less than 100 individuals in the wild, the Amur leopard is the world’s rarest cat.
And unlike other leopards that live in hot climates like the African savanna, this cat endures the chilly Russian winter.
This cat’s coat changes with the seasons. During the summer, it is reddish-yellow and its fur is short. Come winter, and the coat turns a lighter shade, and the hair grows long to add warmth.
These nocturnal cats live 10 – 15 years in the wild and up to 20 in zoos. That is because life is tougher outdoors. The Amurs have lost 80% of the habitat, which means preys are scarce in winter. So the famished Amurs sometimes raid deer farms. The result? Farmers shoot them on sight.
Hunting is an issue too. Their fur sells for $1,000.
Fortunately, the Russian government is now protecting these critically endangered animals. And their numbers have tripled in recent years: in 2007, there were 30 Amurs, and nowadays, there are 100.
It is the only animal on this list whose numbers are increasing. The Amur leopard is still in the danger zone, but things are looking up.
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2. Sumatran Rhinoceros: 80 left
Just like their name shows, most of these rhinos live in Sumatra. That island is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and is full of exotic animals.
Sumatran rhinos prefer to live deep in the forest, as far away as possible from the humans that hunt them for their horns.
There are only 80 individuals left.
And, due to the loss of habitat, they now live in disconnected patches of forest. So the main problem right now is that the fertile adults can no longer find each other and breed.
And Sumatran rhinos are fuzzy breeders in captivity. Furthermore, if females do not breed within a few years, they develop cysts and reproductive problems.
In the 2000s, the first calf ever was born in captivity.
The miracle occurred in the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States. It took years of fertility treatments, including hormonal therapy. Then, two more calves were born to the same mother.
Now, to save these rhinos from sure extinction, the likes of the WWF, the National Geographic Society, and the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) have set up similar assisted breeding programs in Sumatra and Borneo. BORA is experimenting with the in vitro fertilization/surrogate combo.
Out of the five species of rhinos, three are critically endangered. And only 26,000 rhinos roam the planet in total.
1. Vaquita Porpoise: 10 left
Now, in 2020, there are about 10 vaquitas left in the world, and their situation is pretty hopeless.
Vaquitas are shy, small porpoises closely related to dolphins.
They only live in the Gulf of California. And they die by getting caught in the illegal nets set up for the totoaba fish. The totoaba’s swim bladder is sold in China’s black markets for up to 20,000 dollars.
In the last two decades, 95% of the vaquita population has disappeared.
The Mexican government has tried to save them in several ways. In 2005, they turned part of the gulf into a vaquita refuge. But in 2017, the population was down to 30 individuals. So they launched the VaquitaCPR project, an international effort designed to catch vaquitas and breed them in captivity. But, turns out, vaquitas die in captivity, so the project had to be abandoned.
To protect the vaquita from extinction, all that can be done now is to eliminate the gillnets. They are illegally set up at night in the gulf.
Several organizations, including WWF and Sea Shepherd, patrol the refuge every day searching for the nets. In just one year, the WWF removed 400 of them.
Nonetheless, at the current death rate, the species is expected to be extinct by 2021.
Want to help these endangered animals?
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There are plenty of other organizations that help endangered animals too.