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The Worlds Most Endangered And Rarest Animal Species
When I was about 8 years old I remember watching an advert on the television which was aiming to get people donating to the charity WSPA. This charity do wonderful work around the globe protecting animals in a huge number of capacities and also educating people on how to correctly care for their animals. One of their best known projects is the work they do helping over-worked donkeys who do not receive proper or sufficient care, but this particular advert that stuck with me so vividly over the years was one describing the cruelty of bear dancing. It brought me to tears to think that these animals could be taken away from their mothers just to be shown a life of pain, cruelty and abuse. "Dancing bears" sounds so romantic and yet in the light of knowledge it is one of the most ugly and hideous things that I know of.
Since then I have been deeply interested in the protection and understanding of animals, and the more I learn the more concerned I am about the future of a huge number of species that are clearly on the brink of extinction, and yet have very little known about them. Every single species on this list is currently listed as critically endangered - which is the status right before "extinct". Many of the species on this list have as few as 20 individuals left and although there are projects, individuals and zoos that are throwing their best efforts into keeping these species from dying out completely, I am just not convinced yet that we can un-do the damage that has already been inflicted.
The Asian Unicorn, The Saola
This pretty little creature is so rare it has been nick-named the “Asian unicorn” and it was only discovered in 1992, and is already on the list of world’s rarest mammals. I find it heart-breaking to see an animal such as this exploited for profit and killed for it’s body parts – mainly the horns which are used in folklore medicine, for a profit. I did a lot of research about this animal and it generally seems that very little is known because of how hard they are to track and how rare they are to see.
Another threat to this species is snares that are set by locals to catch wild deer and other mammals for meat. Inevitably, occasionally these ensnare the Saola which often don’t survive the injuries.
It is thought that less than one hundred individuals are left of this species and potentially the numbers could be in the tens.
When I look at the above photo I see two creatures, living as nature intended. When others look at this photo the description would be very different. “Pests”, “vermin” and “trophies” are words used by people who poach and kill these beautiful animals – for sport and for their prized horns which in some parts of the world would make a family very wealthy indeed.
I’m sure most of the world’s population know about the tragedy of larger animals such as elephants and rhinos being hunted and killed simply for their horns and tusks. Hippos have the same problem, as do all the mammals with fur that is considered beautiful and desirable. From what I have read, it seems there was a time where rhinoceroses were relatively common and were killed daily just for the sport of it.
I hope that we don’t lose these magnificent animals forever – and there has been some good news. In February 2014 it was estimated that the Javan rhino population has increased by 10% from about 44 individuals to 50. This is really great news, and hopefully the existing rhinos will continue to be monitored, protected and kept safe whilst the future of wild Javan rhinos rests with them.
Aloatran Gentle Lemur
This pretty little creature is known as an Aloatran gentle lemur, and is only found near the Aloatran lake in Madagascar, where all other lemur species are found.
Recent studies suggest that there could be as few as 22 individuals left in the wild, and tragically if this is the case, this species won’t be able to be saved without some extremely careful breeding programme. I desperately hope that there will be some success for this species, but due to the fact these lemurs don’t do well in captivity and there are already so few left, it would be unlikely that they can be saved.
I am in no way a pessimist, in fact I’m probably more optimist than anything else but realistically I just don’t know if a species can recover once their total population is down to the 20′s. It highly increases the risks of inbreeding and also genetic diseases being passed on which will eventually cause fatalities which the population couldn’t afford.
Try to guess from the photos above why this species is going extinct? If you guessed “because they are hunted for their horns” you would be correct. If you answered “because of natural predators such as lions” you are also correct and sadly there is a third reason; loss of habitat.
Isn’t it sad that animals who have such beautiful features such as ivory tusks, horns or antlers are instantly in danger of being poached for their body parts? The thing about this that always made me really sad is that these poachers are so un-phased by the prospect of a species being wiped out purely for the profit of man that they kill elephants, rhinos, addax, scimitar-horned oryx… In fact, anything with a “valuable” body part, even when it isn’t necessary.
Addax are generally found in desert areas and are slow moving herd animals who are hunted for their meat and hides as well as their horns. They are a type of antelope and are disappearing due to the increase in human population in the areas that they live. However, zoos are doing their best with breeding programmes and have a fair amount of success with breeding. Without these zoos, we probably wouldn’t be able to see these wonderful animals as they would die out completely.
Western Lowland Gorilla
The Most Widespread Gorilla
So why are they on this list? When read that there could be “as many as 100,000 individuals” I found myself wondering why they were considered critically endangered next to the species in the world with less that 50 individuals in the wild or even in existence. The thing is though, is a population of 100,000 when that species faces loss of habitat through deforestation, disease, being hunted and captured and many other life-threatening issues doesn’t seem enough to withstand so many problems.
The work of the organisation WWF has been a huge saviour for these great apes, who have struggled continuously with Ebola outbreaks (and Ebola hemhorragic fever was held responsible for killing off nearly a third of the entire Western lowland gorilla population) as well as being hunted for their body parts which are kept as trophies, sold as lucky charms or used in medicines (which tragically don’t even work – and risk killing people who use them if the ape was carrying the Ebola virus).
It was estimated that around 5% of the gorilla population is killed by poachers every single year in the North East Congo. So, all of a sudden 100,000 individuals seem like a tiny number ready to be erased. I for one just hope that the donations of kind-hearted people and the care and hard work of so many wonderful projects, charities and organisation can be enough to give these beautiful creatures the existence they deserve and protect them from the low-life scum who bring harm and destruction to animals.
This is the smallest of the four subspecies of gorilla and their diet consists of fruit mainly, though during the times of the year where fruit is scarce they are known to also eat weaver ants, termites, rotting wood, tree bark and leaves.
These stunning, ethereal mammals have sadly already become extinct in the wild in recent years. Like the addax, they not only had to survive naturally-occurring predators but they also needed to withstand human interference which impacted hugely on their population. Gradually there was less and less in the way of habitat for them, and the places where they were able to survive due to suitable climate and environment were close enough to people that the scimitar horned oryx became easy and profitable targets for poachers… When you see such beautiful horns on an animal you pretty much know that they don’t stand a chance because someone will have spotted them as the next way to make money.
Cotton Top Tamarin
The Illegal Pet Trade's Impact
I was disgusted to find out that the expected life span of a Cotton Top Tamarin like the ones in these pictures is just two months when they are kept as pets. The normal life span for these sweet primates is twelve years. Why do they die so fast when they are kept in captivity? Well, the answer is pretty simple: stress, anxiety, depression and improper care.
Why do people continue to buy animals that they know are wild? The answer is less simple, and although we can safely say that it is a lack of education and compassion for the animals that are affected by the illegal pet trade, how any person can put their own selfish desires in front of the needs and basic rights of another living creature is enough to make you feel ill.
Sadly, the risk of being caught and sold as pets isn’t the only threat for these monkeys. Loss of habitat through deforestation means that they have nowhere to hide from predators, breed and live safely or happily. The future looks pretty bleak for this species right now, and it may be the case that our children will grow up with these animals only able to be seen in zoos because their wild population was entirely wiped out – just like the Scimitar Horned Oryx also on this list and so many before them.
These beautiful Sumatran tiger cubs are two of the three born at London zoo in February 2014 after a long 106 day pregnancy. The cubs have been sexed and there are two males and a female.
These cubs will go on to play an important role in the success of their species as there are estimated to be less than 500 individuals left in the world. I believe that although the breeding and releasing of these tigers will need to be carefully considered, the future for the Sumatran tiger is brighter than others on this list due to tigers being a popular favourite animal worldwide and the incredible work of zoos, protection programmes and charities dedicated to saving, rescuing, breeding, rehabilitating and releasing these tigers back into the wild in "safe zones".
Do You Think Species With Less Than 50 Individuals can recover?
Cross River Gorilla
Cross river gorillas are struggling for the survival of their species with only 250-300 individuals left in the wild. They can only be found in a small area of highland forest along the border of Cameroon and Nigeria. Because of the lack of genetic diversity there is a big possibility that inbreeding could occur, which would be disastrous for the offspring and also the species.
Like all other species of gorilla, the cross river gorillas face the dangers of being hunted along with the loss of their habitat (in this area because of logging and deforestation) as well as being captured and sold as pets illegally.
I don’t know if you have ever spent time watching gorillas – on television or in a zoo (or even in real life if you’re really lucky), but if you have ever seen a mother with her tiny baby and watched her face, the way she grooms and cuddles her newborn you will know what a beautifully affectionate mammal the gorilla can be. I would love to know the similarities between human and gorilla emotions because I’m pretty sure they are nearly identical.
The Sumatran Elephant
The Sumatran elephant population is decreasing fast due to habitat loss and human interference. Over 70% of their home has been lost to agricultural and pastoral land. Unfortunately this has led to human-elephant conflict as when elephant herds trample crops or come into villages they are attacked and killed and sometimes humans get injured too.
It generally seem inevitable that species will be wiped out and there doesn’t seem to be a chance of saving them. But the truth is, every individual person has more of an impact than they realise. You can do plenty to save these animals - things that you do every day which help such as;
- signing petitions to stop certain trades, medicines or use of animal body parts
- educating the next generation about the importance of animal diversity and recycling
- re-using and recycling things around your home.
- buying sustainable wood
- receiving bills and letters online/through email
- buying sustainable fish
Some Interesting Facts About Amur Leopards
- Amur leopards have longer legs than other species, probably because they need to walk through thick snow.
- The hairs of these leopard's fur coats are generally 2.5cm long in the summer, and grow to 7.5cm in the winter.
- Leopard's fur is lighter in winter and darker in summer, to blend in better with their environment (important for predatory mammals).
- Males can weigh up to 75kg, but females weigh half this!
- There are only 35 left in the wild.
There are many threats to this species, but habitat loss and being killed for their fur are the two main ones.
Nearly 70 years ago, the Amur tiger had just 40 individuals left, but this species has recovered - meaning perhaps there is still hope for the Amur leopard.