According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are more than 21,000 threatened animal species on the planet (the organization’s ‘Red List’ is available online). While the majority of these species are considered ‘endangered’ or ‘vulnerable’, nearly 20 percent are classified as ‘critically endangered’, meaning the animals face a high chance of extinction or decimated populations within the next 30 to 50 years. Here are some of the most endangered animal species on Earth – at the risk of pessimistic, we urge you to see these creatures firsthand before it’s too late.
What the IUCN says: “The Amur leopard is a very rare subspecies, with a 2007 census counting only 14-20 adults and 5-6 cubs.”
Where to see it: This breath-taking big cat once roamed as far east as China and the Korean peninsula. However, a myriad of factors – such as poaching, urban development and global warming – have all but rendered the Amur leopard extinct. Today, the only wild populations are found in Primorye, a vast region located in southeastern Russia. The Philadelphia Zoo also features an Amur leopard on display.
What the IUCN says: “Strong claims for this species’s persistence in Arkansas and Florida have emerged since 2004 although the evidence remains highly controversial. It may also survive in south-eastern Cuba, but there have been no confirmed records since 1987 despite many searches.”
Where to see it: Until 2000, the ivory-billed woodpecker (one of the largest woodpeckers ever recorded) was thought to be extinct in the wild. Numerous sightings have been reported in both the U.S. and Cuba since hat time, though none have been too substantial. Still, birdwatchers are urged to keep an eye out for ivory-billed woodpeckers, as various agencies and conservancies have been known to offer rewards (up to $50,000) for documented footage of live specimens. In August 2011, Science Daily reported that authentic audio recordings of the woodpecker were captured near Louisiana’s Pearl River.
What the IUCN says: “The most significant pressure on the remaining population in areas of intact forest are alien invasive predators, including mongooses, cats, stray dogs, and possibly feral pigs.”
Where to see it: Dubbed ‘the rarest lizard in the world’, the Jamaican Iguana was once commonly spotted throughout the Caribbean island. However, when settlers introduced the Indian mongoose to Jamaica as a means of snake and rat control, the slinky critters also took a bite out of the native iguana populations. The Jamaican iguana was declared extinct in 1948, only to be re-discovered decades later in the dry forests of the island’s southern region. No more than 50 still exist today, and all populations have been relegated to the island’s Hellshire Hills area. The Indianapolis Zoo also features a Jamaican iguana display.
What the IUCN says: “With no subpopulation greater than 50 individuals… it is experiencing a continuing decline.”
Where to see it: In October 2011, the BBC reported that one of the last two wild populations of Javan rhino had been wiped out. Tran Thi Minh Hien, director of WWF’s Vietnam chapter, expressed profound regret as he announced the death of Vietnam’s last surviving Javan rhino at the hands of poachers. The remaining herds – which total 50 animals – currently dwell in the westernmost parts of Java, the most densely populated island in the world.
What the IUCN says: “As a result of historical exploitation and habitat loss, the species is now restricted to five small subpopulations which are discontinuous from each other, with an estimated area of occupancy of about 12 square km, and ongoing threat of losses of animals from poaching”
Where to see it: Known to locals as the angonoka, the ploughshare tortoise is native to Madagascar. This large reptile (one of the world’s rarest) carries a distinctive, dome-shaped carapace with eye-catching ring patterns – so it’s no surprise that poachers hunted the tortoise to near-extinction. The populations that managed to survive have contended with lack of vegetation brought on by urban development in recent years. Scientists estimate roughly 600 of these tortoises remain today, in five sub-populations situated around the country’s Andranomavo River. In August 2012, several conservationist groups commissioned the first ploughshare tortoise-breeding program in Europe to combat a recent threat to the animal: the illegal pet trade.
By Brad Nehring