Top 10 Critically Endangered Species of Animals in the World & Animals that Are Extinct because of Humans
To choose ten most endangered animals is a tough job. For every endangered animal selected for the list, hundreds of other creatures that are in just as much danger of extinction are left out.
While our planet is blessed with such diversity of unique creatures, humans have intervened with the existence of many species and brought them at risk of extinction. Our kids will most likely not have the chance to see many of the endangered species of today’s world, they will only see photos off the internet.
What are the top 10 most endangered animals?
#1 Amur Leopard
The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is native to the Russian Far East and North East China. It is classified as Critically Endangered since 1996 by IUCN. In 2007, a census counted 14 to 20 Amur leopard adults and 5 to 6 cubs alive.
Another census published in February 2015 indicate that the population has more than doubled over the past seven years. A transboundary study from 2018 states that at least 87 Amur leopards now exist in Russia and China. However, this doesn’t take them off the critically endangered list yet. Their existence still hangs by thread.
#2 Black Rhino
Listed as critically endangered, Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) population has declined by ~90% since 1960. The fast decline is happening because of European hunters that arrived in Africa in 20th century.
People that came to settle and establish farms and plantations there considered black rhinos a threat to the society mainly because of destroying crops and exterminated their populations without mercy.
Once the most numerous rhino species that inhabited most of the African continent is experiencing a slight glimmer of hope. Since 1990’s, their numbers have not been plummeting like before and their population stabilized. Today, there are over 3,100 black rhinos in the world .
#3 Cross River Gorilla
This is a sad story of forest inhabiting Cross River Gorillas whose populations are still decreasing and according to the uncertain estimates, there are not more than 100 to 250 mature individuals in the wild.
Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla diehli) lives in the Congo Basin region. Because human settlements grow fast in the area, gorilla’s territory is being cleared out for timber, agriculture and livestock, further driving these animals into extinction.
Due to the habitat disturbance by people, remaining gorilla populations are driven into high-lying, remote and deeply forested areas. The only problem is that even places like this are becoming more scarce .
#4 Sumatran Orangutan
The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is very much arboreal, living in the trees of the tropical rainforests from Borneo and Sumatra.
The estimated population decline of these orangutans has been well over 80 percent in the last 75 years. As deforestation increases, the decline continues along with it.
The total number of these animals is unknown but some estimates from 2016 state that there might be around 13,846 orangutans. Similarly like the gorillas mentioned previously, some orangutan populations were found living at higher altitudes than scientists have previously expected, but even despite this discovery of their new locations, orangutan populations are dramatically declining .
#5 Sumatran Elephant
Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) feeds on many different plants and deposits seeds across the land, contributing to a healthy ecosystem.
They also share their habitat with other critically endangered species, such as the Sumatran tiger and orangutan and many other animals that all benefit from the ecosystem maintaining actions of the elephant population.
According to the WWF, current number of mature elephants might be somewhere between 2,400 and 2,800 with their population numbers still dropping. Sadly, their decline has been fast in the recent years and the main reason has been the habitat loss and large-scale forest clearing to make space for oil palm and paper plantations.
#6 Sumatran Tiger
The Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) population is declining as a result of poaching and illegal trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, with poaching being the number one threat, responsible for up to 80 percent of tiger deaths. Additional problem is linked to the habitat loss in Sumatra.
In search of food, tigers are more likely to approach villages and get into conflict with people, which often results in unnecessary killing of the animal.
There are less than 400 tigers living in the patches of forests on the island of Sumatra .
#7 South China Tiger
At the beginning of the 20th century, this tiger has inhabited a vast range spanning over most of the central, eastern and southern China. In the 1950’s, the South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) population was estimated to number 4,000 individuals. Since then, their sightings had been more random, and their territory shrunk.
Because of major tiger extermination campaigns along with habitat loss and poaching for their skin, the tiger population decreased to such a critical point that made scientists believe the species to be “functionally extinct.” There are only some animals held in captivity, but their population is small, and the risk of inbreeding is high.
Even though it’s still not officially reported extinct, the South China tiger has not been sighted anywhere in the wild for more than 25 years .
#8 Javan Rhino
Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is the most endangered of the five rhino species, with less than 50 creatures surviving in tropical forests of the Ujung Kulon National Park from Indonesia. The rhino population is severely fragmented and suffers of low genetic diversity which only leads to a low reproduction rate, making the species even more vulnerable to extinction.
Excessive hunting for its horn and medicinal products has led this amazing species to the brink of extinction. Additional threat that has newly emerged is a disease. Rhinos might possibly contract the disease from wild cattle that inhabits the same park .
#9 Yangtze Finless Porpoise
The Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis ssp. asiaeorientalis) dolphins live in the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia and they are well known for their mischievous smile and the high level of intelligence.
Their brother species that lived in the same river (the Baiji dolphin) was declared extinct in 2006 due to the overfishing and shortage of food supply. Sadly, the Yangtze finless porpoise suffers of similar consequences of widespread overfishing, including illegal fishing with incidental bycatch, on the river. Additional threats are linked to the degradation of the aquatic habitat linked to pollution from shipping traffic, sand mining and industrial production along the river.
The exact numbers of the remaining individuals are not known since it’s not easy to determine their population in the river habitat, however, a series of surveys carried over the period of nearly 20 years estimate their numbers to be within the range of 500 to 1,800 animals .
The Vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is a small member of the porpoise family and resides in the waters off the coast of Baja California in Mexico. This species is listed as critically endangered due to a decline in population of 92% (!) since 1997. According to the most recent data from acoustic monitoring of their habitat, only 30 vaquitas were swimming in the ocean in 2016 and it is likely that the population has dropped to less than 20 animals by 2019 .
The decline in population of these animals has been heartbreaking. In 2008, around 245 vaquitas could be found, while 7 years later their population dropped below 60 .
The main reason of such a sad turn of events for these timid porpoises has been the continued illegal fishing of the critically-endangered Totoaba, a highly-prized fish in Chinese medicine, which shares the same habitat with Vaquita. Other threats are also closely connected to human activity. They include pesticide exposure and loss of habitat.
Sad examples of animals that have already become extinct because of humans
Our world is filled with the biodiversity of a vast array of living things working together in a complex web of life critical for all living things on our planet. Unfortunately, as we have increased in numbers and increasingly developed our settlements around the world, we have not always lived in harmony with the natural world around us.
This has resulted in the global loss of many biological treasures forever and have robbed nature and future generations of the richness that these species offered to the planet. While this trend of extinction need not continue if humanity awakens to the importance of preserving the biodiversity that remains on Earth and what we stand to lose if we don’t, let us now reflect upon a few of the animal species that we have lost.
The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was once so numerous in the North American skies east of the Rocky Mountains that their flocks would cover the sky for a mile wide and 300 miles long. During the early 19th Century, these birds had an estimated population of 5 billion birds at one point, and they likely made up 40% of the total population of birds in North America.
Due to their large flocks, there was a deception of an almost infinite number of these birds, and they were hunted in the 10,000s on a daily basis during the 1800’s and were shipped to markets in the Eastern U.S. Vast swaths of their forest habitat was cleared for agriculture, contributing to their demise as well. By the 1850’s, the population of the Passenger Pigeon was in steep decline.
The last wild birds were hunted and killed in Babcock Wisconsin in 1899 and in Pike County Ohio on March 24, 1900. The last captive Passenger Pigeon, a female, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914 .
Caribbean Monk Seal
Christopher Columbus first discovered this member of the “true seal” family in 1494, calling them “sea wolves.”
Caribbean Monk Seals (Neomonachus tropicalis) lived in the subtropical waters of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and in the West Atlantic Ocean. They likely preferred to haul out on beaches situated above high tides on islands and secluded atolls, and probably hunted for food in reefs and shallow lagoons.
Caribbean Monk Seals were hunted by early Spanish explorers beginning around 1492 as well as by fishermen, sailors and whalers. They were especially favored for their fur hides, meat, and oil, and were captured for zoos and killed for displays in museums. Because Monk Seals were fairly tame and non-aggressive, they were easy to approach to kill or capture them.
Human development along coastlines, fishing, and other activities likely forced them away from their critical habitat and sources of prey.
The Caribbean Monk Seal was last seen in the wild in 1952 and is now considered to be extinct .
One of the eight original subspecies of tigers (five subspecies remain today), the Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica) was a smaller tiger subspecies that was found only on the small island of Bali located near Malaysia and the Philippines.
As humans came to settle on Bali, the island was gradually deforested and the Bali Tiger was hunted to extinction. The last individual was shot and killed in 1937 .
The Tasmanian Wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was a carnivorous marsupial that once lived in Australia and Tasmania. They had heads, teeth, and a body shape resembling that of a large dog, but they had a pouch for their young. Through genetic research, they have been found not to be closely related to true wolves.
Their decline likely began when humans from Asia brought Dingoes with them when they began to settle in Australia approximately 3,500 years ago. The native Tasmanian Wolf could not effectively compete with another top predator on the island, and the Wolves were found to be living only on the island of Tasmania when European settlers came to Australia two centuries ago.
Although captive breeding efforts were made in the early 1900’s, they proved to be unsuccessful. The last known individual Tasmanian Wolf died in 1936 in a Tasmanian zoo .
Steller’s Sea Cow
Discovered in 1741 by Naturalist and Physician George Steller, the Steller’s Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) lived in the waters surrounding the Commander Islands, as well as possibly around the Western Aleutian Islands until the 1700’s.
Once discovered, they were over-hunted as a source of meat by Russian hunters, and were driven to extinction by 1768 .
Domed Rodrigues Giant Tortoise
The Rodrigues Giant Tortoise (Cylindraspis peltastes) was one of the smallest of the giant tortoise species that lived in the Indian Ocean region of the world. It had an estimated length of 16 inches (40 cm) and an estimated weight of around 26 pounds (12 kg). It grazed on the grasses of Rodrigues Island.
When humans first began to settle on Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean, there were thousands of these tortoises living there. However, due to overharvesting of the tortoises for food and through the introduction of invasive species, the Domed Rodrigues Giant Tortoise was largely driven to extinction.
The remaining surviving individuals were likely killed by fires that were set to clear the land for agricultural use, somewhere around the year 1802 .
The Sardinian Pika (Prolagus sardus) was a pika that once lived on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and has been estimated to have become extinct around 1774.
This animal was described by early Sardinian authors to have the appearance of a large rabbit, but without a tail.
Evidence suggests that the Sardinian Pika was probably over-hunted as a source of food for humans, leading to its extinction .
The Saudi Gazelle (Gazella saudiya) has been presumed to be extinct in the wild in its native region of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen since 1996. It lived on gravel and sandy plans within open Acacia habitat. It occurred both alone and in groups of up to 20 individuals .
This species is thought to have gone extinct in the wild due to over hunting .
Simple ways for everyone to help prevent extinction of critically endangered animals
As sad as it is to reflect upon the species that we have lost, we still have many opportunities to save species that are in danger of becoming extinct in today’s world.
In many cases, species are losing their critical habitats to development, agricultural land conversion, or are themselves being over-hunted for food and are sold as products like ivory on the black market.
Global climate change is going to present challenging conditions for all life on this planet, and added to the previously mentioned challenges, species are going to need our help if they are to survive, and fast!
The bottom line is that humanity is currently at a critical point in our history, and we have a very big decision to make. Are we going to continue to live as if the world has no natural resource limits and drive more species to extinction, or are we going to start living more sustainably and live within the planet’s natural resource limitations?
The choices that we make today are going to make impacts for generations to come.
So, what are we to do in the face of such challenges?
Much of the environmental destruction that is going on today is ultimately a collective result of our lifestyle choices and our consumption patterns as consumers. What we choose to buy or not to buy, and the actions that we choose to take or not to take affect natural resources. What impacts natural resources impacts ecosystems, and also impacts the species that are dependent upon those ecosystems.
While very few of us would today go out and hunt the very last members of a species to extinction, if we aren’t conscious of the lifecycle of the products that we buy, the companies that make them may be causing environmental destruction without our knowledge.
- The products that we choose to buy can instead be those that are produced by companies that make all of their products sustainably, are conscious of each step in their supply chain, and there is a legitimate third party certification process (such as Forest Stewardship Council Certified Forest Products) to ensure that their products are as sustainable as claimed.
- If enough people are intentional with the source of the products and services that they buy, we can collectively make some real positive impacts on the market. Then, it not only becomes profitable for companies to do the right thing because so many people are demanding sustainable products, but the right thing to do becomes the standard of business practice throughout a particular industry.
- We can simplify our lifestyles to reduce our overall consumption, reduce our use of resources, like water, and energy.
- We can responsibly dispose of and recycle our waste, and we can choose to purchase things that come with less packaging and waste in the first place.
- We can support those organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, that are working to save species and their habitats, and we can also volunteer for them if we are able to.
- We can support organizations that are working to eliminate problems of global poverty so that communities can fully support their families in ways that preserve natural resources and species.
- We can also support political candidates that are working for public policies and laws that preserve natural resources and species for future generations of life on Earth.
By taking these and many other positive actions, we can all be a part of the solution to help save critically endangered species from extinction today.