Are you a fan of tigers, gorillas, or elephants? Then we have some bad news for you… all of them are endangered animals in the brink of extinction. Every year wildlife organizations list the animals that are on their way to disappear in the wild and place them in eight categories. The two most serious categories are “endangered animals,” which means the species is at high risk of saying farewell to this planet forever, and the “critically endangered animals” category which means that species is about to go extinct.
On this page we have chosen 9 of such animals, 8 of them are critically endangered while 1 is endangered. They might be some of your favorite animals in the world, 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 considered sacred in the island. Elephants are part of religious ceremonies and festivals, sometimes they even participate in weddings.
And the island-country has plenty of protected areas for their beloved elephants.
As rosy as most of this is, problems arise from the elephant’s loss of habitat as 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, each. 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. Which 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
These ginger giants live in the most inaccessible part of the Tapanuli forest, in Indonesia. Even if a human has the adventurous spirit to trek all the way to their rugged, hilly domains, he/she probably won’t be able to see them, for they are quite wary of humans, who have hunted them down for centuries.
The Tapanuli is one of three species of orangutan, and although all of them are endangered or critically endangered, it is the Tapanuli that is in the most dire situation with only 800 individuals left.
Their habitat is what ecologists call ‘fragmented,’ that is, it is not all connected: there is a patch over there and a patch over here. So the Tapanulis living in one patch cannot interact with the Tapanulis living in another. That makes breeding a problem. The small families living in one patch interbreed 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, an unnecessary hydroelectric project is about to be built right in the middle of the Tapanuli’s habitat… by a Chinese company known for corruption. If the 1,6 billion project goes on, this orangutan, exxperts agree, will soon be extinct.
7) Saola: 70 – 700 left
When Vietnamese locals described the saola to Western scientists, the latter scoffed at the local’s active imaginations. The saola was supposed to look like a tiny antelope, with two spiraling horns, and white markings in its face.
Yet in 1992 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) researchers surveying Vietnam’s deep jungle bumped into a hunter’s trophy in a village. It was an unusual skull. Later on, they found more skulls and skins. 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, for 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 of 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, from steep jail sentences and fines to increased anti-poaching patrols. They 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.
Conservationist say that if the population of only two of the protected areas could be saved from poaching and habitat loss, this now critically endangered animal would be able to survive in the long run.
Summing all the tiger species, there only 4,000 tiger left in the wild.
5. Cross River Gorilla: 200 – 300 left
This gorgeous hairy primate likes to hide. Traditionally their biggest enemy have been human hunters, so nowadays they are quite wary of people and live in the most hilly and 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, those can be counted to get an idea of how many are left. There are probably 200 or 300.
The Cross River lives in small groups in Nigeria and Cameroon, and 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 by building corridors that reconnect the patches of forest where they live, passing laws, monitoring the gorillas, recruiting the local communities to keep them safe, and even by turning hunters into paid conservationists.
Between the the four subspecies of gorillas, there are about 105,000 gorillas left in the world. All of them 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 that must be quite tasty, for they are preyed upon by lions, pythons, hyenas, leopards, and, of course, humans -that hunt them for sport, their meat, fur, and sometimes horns.
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. They tilt their heads so their horns point back, and they flee speedily through the forest. A fun fact? They love to eat salt.
This critically endangered species has about 100 individuals left in the wild. And four times as many live in captivity, where 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 loss of habitat, with farms encroaching in their territory and cattle giving them diseases.
Like for all 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 Amuras 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 also fuzzy breeders in captivity. If females do not breed within a few years, they develop cysts and reproductive problems. And even when healthy they do not reproduce in captivity.
In the 2000s the first calf ever was born in captivity. The miracle occurred in the Cincinnati Zoo and took years of trying and an array of fertility treatments, including hormonal therapy. Then two more calves were born to the same mother.
Now, to save this 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, whose 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. In 2017, when the vaquitas population was down to 30 individuals, 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 which 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 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?
Or pick your favorite way to help:
Sign to protect U.S. tigers. If you are from the U.S. you can sign here to back a bill that will protect the 5,000 captive tigers that live in the U.S. It is a WWF initiative.
Volunteer to care for rescued gorillas, chimpanzees, and more at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon.
Save the Tapanuli orangutan by donating to the Sumatran Orangutan Society.
Save wildcats. Donate any amount to the Wildcats Conservation Alliance which protects Amur leopards, Amur tigers, and wild tigers.
Save the saola. Donate any amount to the Saola Conservation Fund.
Save elephants, rhinos, gorillas. Donate any amount to the African Wildlife Foundation.