10 Endangered Animals

We examine the plight of 10 endangered animals - that is, animal species that are listed as endangered or at risk of extinction on the Red List of Threatened Species, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Most of the dangers these creatures face are man-made. They are caused by poachers, illegal hunters, soldiers, farmers clearing or encroaching onto animal habitats, or commercial developers. Climate change can exacerbate these threats, notably in the case of droughts and water shortages.
Bengal Tiger Up Close
Photo: Charles J Sharp/CC BY-SA 4.0

Our list of vulnerable and endangered animals includes some of the most beautiful and iconic creatures in the planet’s biosphere, and their loss to global biodiversity would be immense.

For more, see: Effects of Climate Change on Animals.

1. Bengal Tiger

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), India
Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) Like all apex predators the tiger plays an important role in its ecosystem, keeping other species in check. Photo: © Soumyajit Nandy/CC BY-SA 3.0

The tiger (Panthera tigris) has been classified as endangered (on the IUCN Red List) since 1986. During the last century or so, numbers have dropped by a disastrous 96 percent. For example, one survey in 1900 estimated the tiger population in India to be about 40,000, yet a census conducted in 1972 revealed only 1827 animals.

The biggest threats include poaching and loss of habitat. Its reputation as one of the world’s most iconic megafauna has created a demand across Asia for its skin, bones and organs, some of which are believed to have magical powers. Things became so bad that in 1996, the Wildlife Conservation Society ran an international advertising campaign stating that no such powers existed. In 2014, China outlawed the consumption of tigers and other endangered animals.

Shrinking habitat is another problem, made worse by the fact that the Bengal tiger lives in one of the more densely populated areas on the planet, which has led to ongoing conflicts with humans.

Most tiger species (e.g. Sumatran, Siberian, Bengal) live in pockets or regions isolated from each other. The Bengal Tiger is the most common sub-species, but rising sea levels caused by global warming are almost certain to wipe out one of its last major strongholds. That’s according to a recent study published in Science of The Total Environment.

The Sundarbans, a 4,000 square mile expanse of marshy land in Bangladesh and India, is home to the endangered Bengal tiger as well as one of the world’s largest mangrove ecosystems. Unfortunately, almost three quarters of the ground is only a few feet above sea level, which means that any appreciable sea level rise will severely impact the few hundred or so tigers living in the area. 1

Ironically, this turn of events coincides with evidence that tiger populations are gradually recovering, thanks to conservation campaigns like Project Tiger, which was launched in 1973 by the Indian government.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) there are now 3,890 tigers in the wild.

2. Amur Leopard

Amur Leopard, up close.
Amur Leopard. Conservation status: critically endangered species. Photo: © William Warby. (CC BY-2.0)

The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) – a rare subspecies that has successfully adapted to a temperate climate with cold winters – is native to the Primorye region of southeastern Russia and northern China.

Distinguished from other leopard subspecies by its thick fur, that varies in color from light yellow to rusty-reddish-yellow, it is also known as the Far East or Manchurian leopard. In 2007, only 19–26 wild leopards were believed to survive in southeastern Russia and northeastern China.

Then, in 2019, one study reported that the population has risen to 90 leopards. 2

The Amur leopard faces several threats, making it one of the most endangered animals in its region. Threats include: fur hunters after its skin; poachers who kill the deer, wild boar, hares and other small species upon which it preys; loss of habitat, typically due to man-made and climate-induced fires as well as road and pipeline construction; inbreeding due to its very small gene pool.

Conservation efforts are led by the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA), an initiative to secure a future for both species in the Russian Far East and Northeast China. ALTA collaborates with local, regional, and federal organisations and receives extra support from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

RELATED

List of Endangered Species
10 Endangered Birds of Prey
10 Iconic Birds Threatened By Climate Change

3. Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle
Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) grazing seagrass in Akumal bay off the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula, in the Mexican Caribbean. In the Mayan language, Akumal means “land of turtles” and it is still a favorite place for these marine creatures to spawn. Sadly, they are being badly affected by climate change. Photo: © P.Lindgren/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Green Sea Turtle (conservation status: endangered) is mostly herbivorous, unlike the hawksbill sea turtle and other members of its family. Adults typically inhabit shallow lagoons, grazing on the tips of seagrasses keeping them strong and healthy.

Green sea turtles are badly impacted by Earth’s climate crisis. For a start, rising sea levels are eliminating traditional turtle nesting beaches. In addition, an increase in beach sand temperature is already increasing the percentage of females, creating a significant threat to genetic diversity. 3 Warmer ocean temperatures – especially marine heatwaves – are also destroying coral reefs, which are an important food source for sea turtles.

However, human actions represent the greatest threat to the turtles’ survival. They include: poaching of turtles (for their flesh and skin) as well as their eggs; the use of fishing nets without turtle-excluder devices; chemical pollution from heavy metals and PCBs, as well as microplastics debris; and loss of nesting areas due to beach-front construction. On top of this, fibropapillomatosis, an infectious cancerous disease, is wiping out a sizeable fraction of the species. See also: Effects of Global Warming on the Oceans.

4. Mountain Gorilla

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi National Park, Uganda
Mountain Gorilla. Conservation status: endangered animals. Seen here is an adult male member of the Nkuringo troop in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Photo: © Kurt Ackermann KMRA (CC BY 2.5)

Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) live in forests at altitudes of 8,000-13,000 feet, either in the Virunga Mountains of the Congo Rainforest bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, or in the Bwindi National Park in Uganda. They are distinguished from other great apes by their thicker and more plentiful fur, which helps them cope with sub-zero temperatures. Unfortunately, human encroachment into their habitat has pushed them further up into the mountains with lower temperatures and less food availability.

Mountain gorillas can be killed for their heads and feet – seen as valuable trophies by collectors – but more often they are maimed or killed by traps intended for other animals. Also, infant gorillas are often captured and sold to zoos or private individuals, and this often results in fatal injuries to defending parents.

As factional violence continues in the Congo basin, conservation efforts have been curtailed. With an estimated population of only about 1,000 individuals, eastern mountain gorillas are classified as endangered animals by the IUCN.

5. Monarch Butterfly

The Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is also known as common tiger, wanderer, milkweed, and black veined brown. It should not be confused with the Viceroy butterfly, which is similar in color and pattern, but smaller and with an extra black stripe across each hind wing. The North American monarch butterfly is famous for its annual southward migration (up to 4,800 km/3,000 miles) from the northern and central United States and southern Canada, to Florida and Mexico. Monarch butterflies are particularly vulnerable to climate change: rising temperatures play havoc with their reproduction, migration, and hibernation. Although Monarch butterflies are not endangered animals, their numbers in California have fallen by as much as 95 percent since the 1980s, due to a combination of habitat loss, increasing use of pesticides and loss of milkweed – the Monarch’s favorite host plant – all factors related to man-made global warming.

6. Hippopotamus

Hippos fighting in a crowded pool - Zambia
Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius). Conservation status: vulnerable species. Seen here are hippos fighting in a crowded pool in Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Photo: Nilsrinaldi/CC BY-SA 2.0

Rising temperatures, combined with deforestation and water-intensive agriculture is causing many rivers to dry out in sub-Saharan Africa much earlier and to a far greater extent than ever before. This results in hippos having to compete with crocodiles and other large animals for a share of the small pools of water that remain.

In addition, with no river flow, hippo waste – a vital source of nutrients essential to aquatic ecosystems – accumulates in unhealthy concentrations. This leads to oxygen starvation for most fish species, and a huge decline in aquatic diversity and abundance.

It also affects humans, since stocks of tilapia fish – a popular dish across Africa – have declined by a whopping 41 percent across Zambia, according to a recent study. 4

Hippos inhabit rivers and mangrove swamps in groups. During the day, they keep cool by lounging in the mud or water. emerging only at dusk to graze on grasses. Heavy – males weigh on average 1,500 kg (3,310 lb) – and fast – they can run at 30 kmph (19 mph), hippos are aggressive and unpredictable, and are among the most dangerous animals in the world. Each year, they kill about 500 people.

According to the IUCN, the hippo population consists of about 125,000 to 148,000 mature animals. They are classified as a vulnerable species, because of declining numbers and because of the twin threats of habitat loss and illegal poaching – for their meat and ivory canine teeth.

7. Polar Bear

Polar bear with cubs
Climate change threatens polar bears with loss of habitat and starvation. Image: Susanne Miller, U.S. FWS/Public Domain

The Arctic is warming twice as fast compared to the rest of the world. 5 Since the 1970s, the average temperature of the Arctic has risen by 2.3°C. 6 In fact, findings from one scientific study indicate that current temperatures in the region are the highest they have been for 44,000 years, perhaps even for 120,000 years. 7 8 These elevated temperatures – driven by unprecedented heatwaves – were the primary cause of the huge Arctic fires that raged across the circumpolar region during the summer of 2019.

Greenland Ice Sheet: The Facts
Ice Sheets: An Illustrated Guide

As a result, Arctic sea ice is close to its all-time low, presenting a growing threat to polar bears, seals and other animals in the polar food web who are dependent on the usually ice-rich habitat. The problem is, polar bears feed on seals that breed at the ice edge. During late spring and early summer this food source provides them with 66 percent of their entire annual energy requirements. But with the ice thawing earlier in spring, and freezing later in winter, bears have less time to hunt, and have to survive without food for longer.

This lack of calories weakens their physique and produces lower average weight in adult females. Fewer cubs survive and those that do are smaller. And less sea-ice means bears must swim longer distances, which depletes their energy stores further. Unless humans can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and bring global warming under control, the survival of this apex predator will become very uncertain.

Professor Andrew Derocher, a specialist in polar bear ecology and conservation at the University of Alberta, says: “Without sea ice, there is no sea ice ecosystem and losing that ecosystem includes losing polar bears.”

Scientists are unsure of the exact number of polar bears in existence, since they have been poorly documented as a species. However, biologists estimate a global bear population of between 20,000 and 30,000. 9

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and many polar bear biologists have expressed concerns about the impact of climate change on bear habitats. 10 In September 2015, the United States, Canada, Norway, Greenland and Russia jointly signed a Circumpolar Action Plan (CAP), aimed at strengthening international cooperation on the issue of polar bear conservation.

8. Giant Otter

Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) can be identified by the pattern of white marks on their throat, which the otters themselves use to recognize each other – hence they display their throats whenever they meet a stranger, as “Anjo” is doing. Giant otters are classified as endangered animals by the IUCN.

The giant otter is a South American carnivorous mammal and the longest member of the weasel family, a highly proficient family of predators, reaching up to 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) in length. It ranges across northern and central South America, mainly inhabiting the Amazon River and the Pantanal, preferring freshwater systems, which are usually seasonally flooded. For more about the Amazonia biome, see: The Amazon Rainforest.

After decades of poaching for its velvet-like pelt, giant otters were listed as endangered animals in 1999 and wild population estimates are currently below 5,000 mature individuals. The species has lost as much as 80 percent of its South American range. At present, the Guianas (French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname) are one of its last secure habitats.

Adult otters living in family groups have no serious predators: their greatest threat is human-induced loss (or degradation) of habitat. (For more, see: Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest.) It happens like this: first, loggers move into rainforest and clear the riverbanks. Farmers follow, disrupting habitats further. Logging and mining companies can cause even more damage to the area’s wetland biome, by dumping chemicals and tailings into the river system. These contaminants always end up poisoning top predators such as the giant otter.

Conservation efforts on behalf of giant otters and other amphibians, are active and ongoing. Peru established Alto Purus National Park, one of the largest conservation areas in the world, while Bolivia has set aside 46,000 square kilometres of wetlands for conservation purposes. Both areas offer a secure base for the giant otter.

9. Turquoise Dwarf Gecko

Turquoise dwarf gecko, also known as William's dwarf gecko
The turquoise dwarf gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi). Photo: © Esther Bock//CC BY-SA 3.0

The turquoise dwarf gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi) – also known as William’s dwarf gecko, or, in the pet trade, electric blue gecko – is a critically endangered species of lizard which is unique to a small area of Tanzania in East Africa. This area includes parts of the lowland Kimboza Forest and the Ruvu Forest Reserve, in the foothills of the Uluguru Mountains. Dwarf geckos can be 5 cm (2 ins) in length and 5 grams in weight. In their natural habitat they live only on the Tanzanian screwpine (Pandanus rabaiensis) generally in the tree’s leaf crown. They choose only large trees – that is, those with leaves more than 1 m (3.3 ft) long. They feed on a variety of small insects and drink water and small amounts of nectar.

In 2009, the total turquoise dwarf gecko population was about 150,000. but this could have decreased substantially since then, due to the activities of poachers for the pet trade. In addition, the gecko’s tropical forest habitat is also shrinking and fragmenting, due to mining, deforestation and illegal logging, as well as frequent fires and the intrusion of invasive tree species. Unfortunately, turquoise dwarf geckos have such a small base that they are likely to remain critically endangered animals for some time. See also: Effects of Deforestation.

10. Celebes Crested Macaque

Celebes Crested Macaque
Celebes Crested Macaque. Photo: Photo: Henrik Ishihara/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra), also referred to as the Sulawesi crested macaque or crested black macaque, is a species of monkey that lives in the 8,700-hectare Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve on the northeastern tip of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes), the Bacan Islands and on other small islands nearby. Celebes crested macaques were listed by the IUCN’s Red List as critically endangered animals in 2018.

The species has an average height of 44 cm (17 in) to 60 cm (24 in) and weighs about 3-10 kg (7-23 lb), which makes it one of the smaller types of macaque.

It lives in groups of five to twenty-five animals, and occasionally in packs of up to seventy-five animals. The Celebes crested macaque has a habit of eating crops, hence it is hunted as a pest. However, a recent study 11 of oil palm plantations found that a family of Macaque monkeys who ate more than 12 tons of oil palm fruits per year – roughly 0.56 percent of the overall oil palm production in their area. However, they made up for it by eating thousands of rats, who caused losses of about 10 percent.

Deforestation of the rainforests also threatens the survival of the Celebes. For example, for details of forest clearance in Indonesia, see: Deforestation in Southeast Asia.

The total population is estimated at 4,000–6,000 on Sulawesi, 80,000-100,000 on the Bacan Islands.

These 10 Endangered Animals Are Only A Tiny Sample

This list of endangered animals is just a small sample of the loss of biodiversity we can expect, if deforestation, commercial development and climate change are not brought under control. Sadly, human actions are the primary cause of these threats to the creatures with whom we share Planet Earth – a fact which testifies to our selfishness and greed.

References

  1. Combined effects of climate change and sea-level rise project dramatic habitat loss of the globally endangered Bengal tiger in the Bangladesh Sundarbans.” Sharif A.Mukul, et al; Science of The Total Environment Volume 663, 1 May 2019, Pages 830-840. []
  2. Transboundary cooperation improves endangered species monitoring and conservation actions: A case study of the global population of Amur leopards.” Anna V. Vitkalova, et al; Conservation Letters. Volume 11, Issue5. September 2018. []
  3. Environmental Warming and Feminization of One of the Largest Sea Turtle Populations in the World.” Michael P. Jensen et al; Current Biology. Vol 28, Issue 1, Jan 8, 2018. []
  4. Effects of the hippopotamus on the chemistry and ecology of a changing watershed.” Keenan Stears, Douglas J. McCauley, Jacques C. Finlay, James Mpemba, Ian T. Warrington, Benezeth M. Mutayoba, Mary E. Power, Todd E. Dawson, and Justin S. Brashares. PNAS May 29, 2018 115 (22) May 14, 2018. []
  5. “Arctic Warming Twice as Fast as Rest of World.” Sid Perkins. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Aug. 6, 2013. []
  6. “Arctic Climate Change.” World Wildlife Fund for Nature. WWF.com []
  7. Miller, G. H.; Lehman, S. J.; Refsnider, K. A.; Southon, J. R.; Zhong, Y. (2013). “Unprecedented recent summer warmth in Arctic Canada“. Geophysical Research Letters. 40 (21): 5745–5751. []
  8. Arctic Temperatures Highest in at Least 44,000 Years, Livescience, 24 October 2013. []
  9. Wiig, O. et al; (2015). “Ursus maritimus“. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2015 []
  10. Regehr, Eric V.; Lunn, Nicholas J.; Amstrup, Steven C.; Stirling, Ian (2007). “Effects of earlier sea ice breakup on survival and population size of polar bears in western Hudson Bay“. Journal of Wildlife Management. 71 (8): 2673–2683. []
  11. Macaques can contribute to greener practices in oil palm plantations when used as biological pest control“, 2019, Current Biology, volume 29, issue 20 by Anna Holzner et al. []
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email