Animal endangered of extinction

Endearing, but endangered

The red panda is one of the cutest animals in the world. Its fluffy rust-colored coat, sweet smile, and tiny, attentive eyes make it difficult for us to imagine a more adorable animal. Unfortunately, the red panda is an endangered species, and there are only a few of these little guys left in the wild. In honor of upcoming Red Panda Day on September 21st, learn more facts about the red panda, and what humans can do to help them.

Where do the remaining red pandas live?

Red pandas live in the “dense forests of the mid-hills of the Himalaya,” according to the journal of Global Ecology and Conservation. This means that red pandas like to live predominantly in Nepal, where they make their homes in high-altitude forests with lots of bamboo plants to crunch on. They also live in northern Myanmar, southern Tibet, and central China. Red pandas like to spend their time in trees, where they can sunbathe and stay safe from predators, like birds of prey and sneaky snow leopards. Like its relative, the giant panda, red pandas rely on bamboo as its dietary staple. These panda facts will make you love them even more.

Why are red pandas endangered?

As is the case with many other animals, the primary existential threat to red pandas is (drumroll please…) human behavior! And we’re not shocked. Humans and human-caused environmental degradation are a threat to “99 percent of currently threatened species,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Human behaviors that affect red pandas include poaching, habitat destruction, and trafficking. According to a report by the NGO wildlife organization, Traffic, red panda fur is illegally trafficked and used to create clothing and hats. However, there’s some good news: while conducting interviews in Southwestern China about wildlife trade, this organization discovered that the younger generations no longer like to wear animal fur products. In addition to outside threats, red pandas are also threatened by their infrequent windows of fertility, and low rate of reproduction.

What are nations doing to protect the red panda?

Smithsonian reports that red pandas are “legally protected in India, Bhutan, China, Nepal, and Myanmar.” However, a report by the National Trust for Nature Conservation, hosted by the Government of Nepal, points to “poor conservation awareness and weak law enforcement” to be a contributing factor in the devastating population loss of red pandas. Though the Nepalese government has listed red pandas as an endangered species, “little research work has been conducted due to lack of funding.” Despite this, the Government of Nepal and its cooperators aims to increase cooperation with conservation agencies, diversify the income of the population so they aren’t tempted to hunt red pandas, and control grazing zones for local livestock.

Exactly how many red pandas are left?

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are less than 10,000 red pandas left in the world. To put that number into perspective, keep in mind that red pandas are only two-foot long. If we could put all of Earth’s red pandas into one place and line them up back-to-back, they would fit comfortably onto a (57,600 square ft.) football field. In fact, the entire red panda population would only reach midfield. Ten thousand may seem like a large number, but not when it comes to the population of a species. There are approximately 753,000 times more human beings than red pandas on Earth, with the human population predicted to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030. Here are other animals that could disappear in your lifetime.

How can I help?

If you want to personally contribute to the effort to save red pandas, you can donate to anti-poaching efforts like The Red Panda Network, adopt a red panda from the World Wildlife Fund, or donate to organizations that are fighting deforestation. Efforts like these have worked to bring back these animals from the brink of extinction. Next, find out how many cheetahs are left in the world.

“The significance of this change in status will hopefully make it easier for people to get money for red panda research and conservation,” Glatston wrote. “Also it hopefully will make people more aware of the species and its problems.”

The fact that the red panda population is under threat should alarm people, said Tara Easter, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a phone interview. The center is a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Ariz., that works to protect endangered species through petitions and other grassroots efforts as well as legal action.”One of the sayings that tends to shock people is we’re in the beginnings of a sixth mass extinction,” Easter said. “We’re losing species faster than we can name them.”

In a research article published in Science Advances in June of last year, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich and others presented their assessment that the world’s humans have begun to kill off species of other living things at a rate far greater than anything seen in the last 65 million years.

“If the currently elevated extinction pace is allowed to continue, humans will soon (in as little as three human lifetimes) be deprived of many biodiversity benefits,” the scientists wrote. “On human time scales, this loss would be effectively permanent because in the aftermath of past mass extinctions, the living world took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to rediversify.”

One of the benefits of diversity is wellness. How diverse an ecosystem is directly correlates with how healthy it is, Easter said. The more diverse the ecosystem, the greater the buffer it has to prevent disease outbreaks, she said.
In scientific terms, this is known as the “dilution effect hypothesis.” After analyzing data from more than 200 assessments of the relationship between disease and biodiversity, scientists in the July 2015 issue of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) concluded that biodiversity decreases the spread of parasites as well as animals’ consumption of plants.

While the outlook for red pandas may be bleak, the situation isn’t hopeless, according to experts.

Currently on the brink of extinction, red pandas join a growing list of animals threatened with extinction. The World Wildlife Organization estimates red panda’s population at less than 10,000 individuals. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines the species as “endangered because its population has plausibly declined by 50% over the last three generations (estimated at 18 years) and this decline is projected to continue and probably intensify in the next three generations.” If you aim to help the species, it is important for you to learn about their traits, their vulnerabilities, and about the threats they face.

Once classified as relatives of the giant black and white pandas, red pandas were only recently determined to be more closely related to raccoons and skunks. Scientists assigned them the unique family name of Ailurus Fulgens. Red pandas range across the Nepal Mountains, Burma and the Chinese-Western Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, with half of their habitat being in the Eastern Himalayas. Known by a variety of names (cat-bear, bear-cat, firefox, “lesser” panda), the red panda grows to the size of a large house cat of about 11 pounds, with a body of 20 inches and a three-quarters long tail. They live from 8 to 12 years.

With a thick reddish-orange coat, bushy ringed tail pointed ears, and black underbelly, the facial markings of red pandas, resemble those of raccoons. They also share the raccoon’s extended wrist bone which acts much like a thumb.

These relatively individual animals spend most of their lives in high-altitude forests, where they move easily among the branches. Being nocturnal, they wait until dusk to feed. Their diet can be up to 95% bamboo, a very woody and difficult to digest plant. To get the adequate nourishment, they consume leaves, acorns, roots, flowers, eggs, insects, birds, and occasionally rodents. In cold months, they spend over twelve hours per day searching for food, regulating their metabolism to conserve energy.

Destruction of Forests and Nesting Sites

A female red panda’s territory averages around 1 mile, though she doesn’t range that far in a single day. She may sometimes overlap with other individuals of her species. Males typically go twice as far to find mates and reproduce, but do not remain in one place to raise the offsprings. Females build nests in tree branches or hollow tree trunks to deliver their young. Blind at birth, the babies stay in the nest for three months and live with their mother for a year, reaching adulthood at 18 months.

Cutting down trees and increasing deforestation levels are leading causes that destroy their nesting sites, likely to kill many vulnerable offsprings. Having fewer trees, they are forced to handle even more devastating monsoons eroding soils that further decimate their habitats. Forests have vanished in many areas of Nepal and India, and their natural lands are no longer a proper place to live in.

Low Reproduction Rate and High Infant Mortality

Females only breed every one to two years. After a 135 day gestation period, 1 to (rarely) 4 youngs are born in late spring or early summer. Research shows that many babies do not survive to reach adulthood. Apparently, small reproduction and little infant survival rates limit the panda population recovery and active breeding.

Predators

Natural predators of red pandas are snow leopards, martens, large birds, and humans. Hunters poach them for medicine and wild meat, with furs and tails sometimes used for hats and the clothing industry. Accidental deaths occur when pandas are killed in traps that were initially set for other animals. Private collectors pay high prices to obtain them as pets. Also, herders and their dogs occasionally kill them as they may stand in their way. Incidentally, canine distemper, lethal to the red panda, is carried to the forests by shepherds’ dogs.

Development Devastates Food Sources

According to the World Wildlife Organization, Langtang National Park in Nepal serves as home to 38% of the global red panda population.
It is also the primary resource for the 30,000 people nearby. They graze domestic animals which provide milk for local cheese factories. Consequently, the cattle face undergrowth. Trees are cut for fuel and agricultural expansion. As a result, bamboo habitat beneath the trees is lost. Knowing that bamboo has a ten-year boom/death cycle, diminishing growth increases stress on food supply.

Isolation of Genetic Pools

As forests are cut, smaller bands of bamboo and separate islands of forest tend to isolate panda populations. The distance between remaining forested areas becomes too far for them to travel when food becomes scarce. The distance further serves to create genetic islands which concern scientists. When small groups of animals become isolated, inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity weaken the overall population, leaving them less likely to survive and thrive.

Solutions for Change

In attempting to feed and provide for their families, people unwittingly destroy the forest resources that also diminish the healthy environment they base on. Suggested ways of providing revenue to residents without degrading the habitat may include growing sustainable crops and increasing wildlife tourism. Villagers could offer food, lodging, and souvenirs, and work in the parks; guided tours with an emphasis on non-invasive small scale groups would reduce habitat impact.

How else can you change the situation?

The 2015 IUCN report identified four major strategies for addressing the drastic panda population decline. A few information in the report advises to:

  • Protect habitats by balancing development and improving habitat management. Reduce habitat degradation by planting bamboo, requiring tourist permits, restricting entry during the breeding season, reducing livestock that trampled undergrowth, and improving fire protection.
  • Reduce deaths by strengthening and enforcing hunting and poaching laws. Reinvigorate the wild population with captive-bred animals. Control, vaccinate and sterilize dogs to reduce disease transmission.

Improve awareness of a variety of media outreach and education in schools.

The red panda does not have time to survive without immediate protective measures. It can be done with focused effort, funding, and teaching, but it must be done quickly before the population reaches the point that it cannot efficiently recover. With your involvement and commitment, we can save these defenseless animals before it is too late.

8 of the World’s Most Endangered Species

Written by: Dave Owen

Animals, in many different ways, play a significant role in world travel. Many countries centre tourism campaigns on their native wildlife, and every year thousands of backpackers travel specifically to see exotic animals or to take part in volunteering projects that work toward the conservation of endangered species.
To mark Endangered Species Day, we’ve put together a list of some of the world’s most endangered species critically in need of protection.

Orangutans

Orangutans are widely loved thanks to their cute, intelligent faces and their playful treetop antics. These apes share 96% of their genes with humans, inspiring thousands of travellers a year to visit Borneo to see them.

Although the Bornean orangutan numbers some 104,000 individuals in the wild, that’s less than half their number a century ago. The Sumatran orangutan numbers only 7,500, putting them on the critically endangered animals list.

Amur leopard

Native to the Russian Far East, these incredible big cats can run up to 37 miles per hour, and they carry their kills great distances to hide the spoils from other opportunistic predators.
Its natural abilities and inherent reclusiveness have not kept the Amur leopard from being poached for its pelt, and today there are only around 60 left in the wild. This further endangers the species due to increased in-breeding.

Gorillas

Gorillas are a common sight in popular culture, from award-winning movies to chocolate adverts, yet many species of gorillas sit high on the endangered species list.
In fact, Cross River gorillas, found in small bands in the forests of Nigeria and Cameroon, are the world’s rarest ape, with only 200-300 in the wild. Elsewhere, numbers of eastern lowland gorillas have more than halved since the 1990s, and there are now fewer than 1000 wild mountain gorillas.

Hawksbill turtle

Hawksbill turtles represent a group of ocean-borne reptiles that has lived on Earth for 100 million years. Today you’ll find them in tropical oceans, usually around coral reefs.

Hawksbills are often killed for their meat and colourful shells, and are suffering due to ocean pollution. Exact numbers aren’t known, but threats to its existence are enough to put the Hawksbill turtle high on the critically endangered species list.

Sumatran elephant

Elephants, for better and often for worse, have long been part of the tourist trade. For many, a glimpse in the wild is enough, while in some parts of the world harmful elephant shows and riding centres still do a brisk trade.
The Sumatran elephant, native to the forests of Sumatra and Borneo, is down to around 2,400 individuals in the wild due to mass deforestation of its natural habitat.

Rhinos

Rhinos are a coveted sight on many wildlife trips, an increasingly rare privilege as several rhino species have become severely endangered, largely due to poaching.
Rarest is the Javan rhino, reclusive animals fond of dense jungle and mud holes. Only around 60 individuals survive in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park. Elsewhere, Sumatran rhinos are down to around 220 in the wild, while black rhinos, despite being pulled back from the brink of extinction, are still considered critically endangered.

Tigers

Many animal-loving travellers go their whole lives hoping for a glimpse of a wild tiger and never see one. Despite being so popular, many species of tiger are threatened by habitat destruction and poaching – tiger parts are in demand for folk medicines throughout Asia.
Malayan tigers, found only on the Malay Peninsula and the southern tip of Thailand, number no more than 340 individuals, with Sumatran tigers no higher than 500. The South China tiger is thought to be extinct in the wild – none have been spotted for 25 years.

Vaquita

Not many people have heard of the vaquita, a type of porpoise that is the world’s rarest marine mammal. There are only around 30 individuals surviving in the wild.
The vaquita lives in and around protected areas of the Gulf of California. Their numbers have been drastically reduced by illegal fishing, as vaquita are frequently caught and drowned in gillnets.
For more information about endangered animals visit the World Wildlife Fund.

What is the point of saving endangered species?

In 1981, mountain gorillas were at rock-bottom. Confined to a small mountain range in central Africa, with humans encroaching on their habitat bringing poaching and civil war, their population was estimated at just 254. They would all have fitted into a single Boeing 747.

Today things look a little better. A survey in 2012 reported that the population was up to 880. That is a big improvement, but it’s still only two Boeing 747s of mountain gorillas. They remain critically endangered.

We hear similar tales of woe all the time, from all around the world. Whether it’s tigers, pandas, California condors or coral reefs, much of the world’s wildlife is under threat. It’s initially upsetting, and eventually just numbing.

Is it worth worrying about it all? Sure, it will be sad if there aren’t any more cute pandas on the planet, but it’s not like we depend on them. Besides, surely it’s more important to take care of humans – who, let’s face it, have their own problems to worry about – than to spend millions of dollars preserving animals. What, in short, is the point of conservation?

On the face of it, there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t bother to save endangered species. The most obvious is the staggering cost involved.

One study in 2012 estimated that it would cost $76 billion (£49 billion) a year to preserve threatened land animals. Saving all the endangered marine species might well cost far more. Why should we spend all that money on wildlife when we could spend it to stop people dying of starvation or disease?

It can be particularly hard to understand why anyone would want to preserve animals like wolves, which pose a threat both to people and livestock. Surely there are some species we would be better off without.

Species go extinct all the time anyway. As well as individual species dying out, there have been five mass extinctions that obliterated swathes of species. The most recent one, 65 million years ago, took out the dinosaurs.

The extinction rate has increased a hundredfold over the last century

If extinction is a natural process that goes on even in the absence of humans, why should we stop it?

One answer is that species are now going extinct far faster than they used to. A recent study estimated that the extinction rate has increased a hundredfold over the last century, and we seem to be to blame.

But beyond that, there’s a simple reason to save species: because we want to.

Many of us love the natural world. We think animals are cute, majestic, or just plain fascinating. We love walking in the dappled sunlight of an old forest, or scuba-diving over a coral reef. Who doesn’t think mountain gorillas are awesome?

The fact that some of us find nature beautiful, by itself, won’t do

Nature is beautiful, and that aesthetic value is a reason to keep it, just as we preserve artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa or Angkor Wat.

The first problem with this argument is that it spells doom for all those animals and plants that people are less fond of: the ugly, the smelly and the just plain obscure. If we don’t find them appealing, they’re out.

More fundamentally, it comes from a position of luxury and privilege. It’s all very well for a moneyed person in the western world to want to preserve tigers because they’re nice to look at, but that doesn’t cut much ice with a villager in rural India whose family is in danger from one.

So the fact that some of us find nature beautiful, by itself, won’t do. There needs to be a more practical reason to keep species around.

You often hear it said that we should keep ecosystems like rainforests because they probably contain useful things, in particular medicines. The classic challenge is “what if a plant goes extinct that could be the cure for cancer?”

What happens to all the species that don’t make useful things like medicines?

The practice of exploring nature to find commercially useful products is called bioprospecting. It does sometimes lead to useful new things, but it comes with a host of problems.

The first is that we have plenty of ways to find new medicines, which don’t involve trekking through thousands of miles of dangerous jungle in the faint hope of finding a miracle plant.

There is also the matter of who controls the knowledge. Often, local people are already aware of the medicinal uses of plants, and object to outsiders trying to co-opt them. Legal battles have been fought over this.

And again, what happens to all the species that don’t make useful things like medicines? The blood of mountain gorillas is unlikely to contain a cure for cancer. So this argument, while it has some force, doesn’t get us very far.

The big leap forward came in the 1990s, when biologists started outlining all the ways animals and plants benefit us just by being there. These benefits, which most of us take for granted, are called “ecosystem services”.

Many of our crop plants rely on these insects to produce seeds

Some of these services are obvious. For instance, there are plants and animals that we eat. Meanwhile, photosynthetic plankton in the sea, and green plants, provide us with the oxygen we breathe.

These are quite direct, but sometimes the services provided can be more subtle. Pollinating insects like bumblebees are an obvious example.

Many of our crop plants rely on these insects to produce seeds, and would not survive – let alone provide us with food – without them. This is why the decline in pollinating insects has provoked so much concern.

To understand how much we rely on ecosystem services, imagine a world where humans are the only species – perhaps in a spaceship far from Earth.

It is far easier to let the existing wildlife do them for us

There are no plants releasing oxygen, so you have to engineer a way to make it yourself. So straight away you need a chemical processing plant on board your ship. That same plant will have to make water too.

There is also nothing to eat, so you must artificially make food. You could synthesise chemicals like sugars and fats, but making it appetising would be extremely hard. As of 2015, we can’t even make an artificial burger that everyone finds convincing.

Let’s not even get started on the microorganisms living in your gut, many of which are beneficial. The point is that, while we could in theory do all these things artificially, it would be very difficult. It is far easier to let the existing wildlife do them for us.

The scale of these ecosystem services, when you add them up, turns out to be extraordinarily large.

In 1997, ecologist Robert Costanza and his colleagues estimated that the biosphere provides services worth around $33 trillion a year. For comparison, they noted that the entire global economy at the time produced around $18 trillion a year.

Unchecked species loss would wipe 18% off global economic output by 2050

Five years later, the team took the argument a step further by asking how much we would gain by conserving biodiversity. They concluded that the benefits would outweigh the costs by a factor of 100. In other words, conserving nature is a staggeringly good investment.

By contrast, letting species decline and go extinct looks like a bad move. A 2010 study concluded that unchecked species loss would wipe 18% off global economic output by 2050.

You may perhaps be feeling that all this talk of economics and growth is strange. It’s all rather cold and heartless, without any of the love for the natural world that we were talking about earlier. Well, many environmentalists feel the same way.

The environmentalist journalist George Monbiot has been a particularly vocal critic.

Monbiot argues that the valuations are unreliable, which allows those in power to rig the accounting however they see fit. If someone wants to build a road through an important habitat, they can simply overestimate the benefits of the road and downplay those from the wildlife.

Many conservation groups now support putting a value on ecosystems

“Forests, fish stocks, biodiversity, hydrological cycles become owned, in effect, by the very interests – corporations, landlords, banks – whose excessive power is most threatening to them,” Monbiot wrote in 2013.

He may well be right that any such system would be open to abuse. The counter-argument is that without such a system, the abuse happens anyway – which is why many conservation groups now support putting a value on ecosystems.

In fact, one of the good things about the idea of ecosystem services is that it is all-encompassing. As a result, the weaker arguments we mentioned before now start to make some sense.

Take the idea that nature is beautiful and we should preserve it for its aesthetics and wonder. Our pleasure at the beauty of nature can now be thought of as an ecosystem service. Nature provides us with beauty.

If we value something and are prepared to pay to have it, then it has value

You may well ask how we can put a price on that. How do you objectively measure beauty?

Well, you can’t, but that doesn’t stop us deciding what it’s worth. We do it all the time with paintings, music and other forms of art. If we value something and are prepared to pay to have it, then it has value.

To do the same thing with nature, we just need a system that allows us to pay to experience it.

One simple example is safari holidays that take tourists to see mountain gorillas. This is called ecotourism.

Ecotourism offers a way to make the beauty of nature pay for itself

The people running those holidays have a clear incentive to keep the animals safe. The gorillas are their livelihood, and running these tours may well pay better than other occupations like farming.

Of course, this idea has its difficulties. Tourists bring unfamiliar diseases with them, which can pose a threat to the gorillas – although facemasks can help. Too many visitors can also disrupt gorilla societies.

But in principle, ecotourism offers a way to make the beauty of nature pay for itself.

This sort of thinking turns our ideas about conservation on their heads, according to the conservation biologist Georgina Mace of University College London in the UK.

You don’t have to care about mountain gorillas

Go back to the 1960s, and we were being told to preserve wildlife simply for its own sake. Mace calls this line of thinking “nature for itself”.

Fast forward to the 2000s and we are now talking about “nature for people”, thanks to the idea of ecosystem services. Even if you don’t buy the moral argument that “wild things and places have incalculable intrinsic value”, there are hard-nosed practical reasons to save them. You don’t have to care about mountain gorillas to appreciate the value of a strong ecotourism industry.

Still, at first glance it does seem like the idea of ecosystem services should push us towards a rather selective approach to conservation. “Let’s keep the things the tourists will go and see, and the things that pollinate our crops or otherwise make themselves useful, and the rest can go hang.”

But there is another way of looking at it.

Let’s consider the mountain gorillas. They live in a mountain range where the trees are covered with thick forests. If we want to preserve the gorillas, we also have to preserve the ecosystem they live in.

Some of this is obvious. The gorillas need plants to eat, so we must ensure those are there.

But we also can’t let the area be overrun by inedible weeds. That in turn means keeping most of the other animals, as they will shape the plant community.

Maybe those gorillas aren’t such a good investment after all

The mountain gorillas are part of a wider network of species, and it’s difficult to separate them from it. Wiping out one of these species might not make much difference, or then again it might cause a chain reaction that alters the entire ecosystem. It’s hard to predict the effect of killing off a species unless you go ahead and kill it – and then it’s too late to reverse it.

So if we decide to save the mountain gorillas, by extension we are also choosing to preserve the particular habitat they live in and the majority of the species that live alongside them.

At this point many people balk. It’s one thing to pay to save awesome mountain gorillas, they say, but now we have to pay out to save a bunch of trees, shrubs and insects too? Maybe those gorillas aren’t such a good investment after all.

However, there are good reasons to keep the forests, and not just because they support the mountain gorillas.

Forests on hillsides provide a number of useful services that we don’t always appreciate. In particular, they help ensure a regular water supply.

A tiny, obscure worm may not be doing anything that’s obviously useful to humans

Everyone knows that the weather is changeable. Sometimes you get too much rain, which means floods. At other times there isn’t enough, which means drought. Both are dangerous.

Trees on the hills help smooth this out, ensuring a more reliable supply of fresh water. This is good news for people living on the lowlands.

For this to really work, the forest needs to be reasonably stable. It’s no use if it sometimes dies back suddenly just when really heavy rains come. It needs to be resilient.

Ecologists have amassed evidence that ecosystems with a wider range of species are more stable and resilient, and less prone to sudden die-backs. This has a startling implication. A tiny, obscure worm may not be doing anything that’s obviously useful to humans, but it is probably supporting the ecosystem it lives in – and that ecosystem will be providing services.

Whether you put it in economic terms or not, science is telling us that ecosystems provide us with a host of things we can’t do without, and that the more diverse each ecosystem is, the better.

We can’t preserve nature without first figuring out how doing so will be good for humans

So for our own good – both in terms of practical things like food and water, and less physical needs like beauty – we should protect them.

Of course, human society is part of the ecosystem too, and you won’t find many people willing to get rid of us. As a result, many conservationists now say that we can’t preserve nature without first figuring out how doing so will be good for humans, because any conservation scheme needs popular support.

Equally, we can’t take care of ourselves without also preserving nature, because we need it for so many things. In specific situations we might choose to favour one or the other, but overall we have to do both.

This is a new way of thinking about conservation. It’s not “nature for itself”, because it’s explicitly about helping people. It’s also not quite “nature for people”, because it’s not just a matter of the direct goods that ecosystems offer us.

It does mean ensuring that ecosystems are as rich and diverse as possible

Instead it’s about seeing human society and wild ecosystems as one inseparable whole. Mace has called this perspective “nature and people”.

This doesn’t mean preserving every last species, which we couldn’t do even if we tried. It’s also not about keeping things exactly the same, because that’s impossible too.

But it does mean ensuring that ecosystems are as rich and diverse as possible. That will be good for them, and good for us.

Wildlife didn’t have an easy go of it in 2018. We lost the last male northern white rhino, the vaquita porpoise continued its slide toward extinction, poachers kept targeting pangolins and other rare creatures, and through it all the Trump administration kept trying to whittle away at key protections for endangered species.

So with that rough bit of recent history, what does 2019 hold?

Well, in most cases it won’t be pretty. There will be more blood, more habitat loss, more legislative attacks and more extinctions—but at the same time, there will also be signs of hope and progress on many levels.

Here are some big issues that experts say we should be watching in 2019:

Climate Chaos

Of course, climate change will continue to threaten species around the world in 2019.

“The impacts of climate change aren’t showing signs of slowing, and this administration refuses to recognize it,” says Charise Johnson of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Water temperatures are rising, increased flooding, deforestation, fires, storms—these are all things that affect a species’ existence.”

And new threats continue to emerge. “There’s been a lot of discussion about how global climate change affects ocean acidification, and now there’s emerging evidence that the even greater threat is reduced oxygen levels,” says noted conservationist William Laurance of James Cook University. A study published last month found that ocean deoxygenation could have a major impact on zooplankton, one of the building blocks for the ocean food web. Deoxygenation also causes increased algal growth, like the red tides that choked the coasts of Florida this past year and killed hundreds of manateesand tens of thousands of fish.

“Changes in ocean composition will be a large-scale driver of mortality,” Laurance says. “Some people are calling this ‘the great dying.’ ”

A related issue in the Arctic also appears to be another emerging threat. According to the just-released “Horizon Scan of Emerging Issues for Global Conservation in 2019” (the tenth annual edition of this study), climate-change induced release of carbon from polar ice will further worsen global warming, while the release of mercury from thawing permafrost will create a toxic threat for animals, plants and soil.

Meanwhile, on top of the obvious weather-related changes, climate change could create an additional unexpected threat to some species: wildlife trafficking.

“Some species will undoubtedly decline as a result of climate change, making them rarer and thus potentially even more desirable by those who trade in them,” explains Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, the anti-wildlife-trafficking organization. “Addressing wildlife trade issues and promoting sustainable harvesting are likely to become more important than ever,” he says.

The (tiny) bit of good news related to climate change? Because so many scientists are studying it, we’re learning more and more about its effects.

“I think research showing when, where and how species are able to adapt to some changes is promising,” says amphibian biologist Karen Lips of the University of Maryland. The more we know about exactly how climate change threatens certain species—or about how they can adapt to it—the better we can do at protecting them from extinction.

Politics in the Trump Era—and Beyond

Among the greatest threats to wildlife are the Trump administration and similar politicians around the world, such as Brazil’s new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who took office last week and immediately moved to undermine indigenous rights in his country.

“The new president in Brazil could unravel 50 years of progress for species, tropical forests and indigenous people,” says Lindsay Renick Mayer, associate director of communications for Global Wildlife Conservation. That could be devastating to one of the world’s most biodiverse regions on the planet, which is often referred to as the “lungs of the Earth.”

Mayer adds that the recent election in Madagascar could be just as bad. Former president Andry Rajoelina, whose previous tenure was marked by a dramatic increase in illegal logging, deforestation and biodiversity loss, was reelected last month, although as of press time the election remains mired in protests and accusations of fraud. “The risk of losing the amazing biodiversity of Madagascar is always a big story and it could get worse now,” Mayer says.

Getting back to the Trump administration, many experts worried about how things will play out for this country’s wildlife in the year ahead.

“The federal government is shirking its duty to protect species and commit to conservation programs,” says Johnson of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who points to three potential rule changes would diminish the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act and other conservation regulations, among many other attacks against the laws. “This, in addition to funding cuts for species listings, will put a strain on conservation efforts,” she says.

Johnson expects funding to remain an issue in 2019, as will further attacks against the Endangered Species Act.

Others echoed those thoughts and fears about the ESA. “I think our current administration has shown that the environment and conservation are not high priorities,” says Lips. “I think that has a dampening effect on the actions of the federal agencies.”

There’s a potential positive side to this, she adds: “I have heard, however, that historically this produces increased donations to NGOs and increased activism by citizens.”

Indeed, that may have also helped inspire last November’s “blue wave,” the newly elected officials from which took office this month. Many of our experts expressed cautious optimism about these new government representatives.

“I think one of the biggest stories of the year is going to be what Democratic House oversight of the Trump administration can do for environmental policy,” says shark scientist David Shiffman. “Each individual thing they do will be very subtle and maybe you won’t even know what’s happening on time, but the aggregate effect, I think, will be slowing down a lot of the harmful decisions made by this administration.”

Roads to Ruin, But a Push to Preserve

But outside of Washington, things are speeding up. New road and infrastructure projects, many backed by Chinese investment, are currently being carved into critical habitats in Indonesia, Africa, the Amazon and other regions. Much of this stems from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a development strategy to build extractive industries in 70 nations around the globe along with overland roads, ports, railways and pipelines to exploit them.

“We’re experiencing an avalanche of new infrastructure projects,” says Laurance, who points out that the Initiative has at least 7,000 developments planned or underway. One of the most notorious projects is a gigantic hydroelectric dam that could wipe out the newly discovered Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) in Sumatra.

Meanwhile, a similar—if not even more extensive—proliferation of illegal roads is being constructed around the world by loggers, miners, poachers and other extractive industries. These activities threaten everything from elephants and tigers to insects and rare plants.

One big problem is that conservationists don’t always know where these roads—legal or otherwise—are being built, and without that information it’s impossible to protect species from development.

“It’s actually really difficult to try to get even basic maps of where roads are,” Laurance says. Right now he and his team pore over satellite images by hand, looking for signs of new disturbance—not an easy prospect when images vary by surface, shadowing and other factors. “Our group has spent something like a thousand hours trying to map these roads,” he says.

Their results of their labor-intensive work are rather shocking: “For every kilometer of legal road, we’ve mapped around three kilometers of illegal roads,” Laurance says. “That’s a very rough average, but it gives you an idea of the magnitude of the problem.”

Laurance has issued a call for help to develop a software tool to automate the road-discovery process. “We’ve got an urgent need to detect the roads and tell governments, look, here’s where there’s illegal activity,” he says.

Without that, conservation—and species—will lose ground every day. “The bottom line is we need to be able to keep track of roads in real-time, on a global scale, and especially in developing countries,” he says.

As this road-building goes on, governments around the world face a tight deadline to protect some of their most pristine wildlife habitats—or at least say they’re doing so. The signatories to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets have until 2020—next year—to meet 20 conservation goals, including conserving “at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

Most countries haven’t come close to that goal yet. Many of the experts we spoke with expressed hope that the tight deadline will result in some good, quick land and water protection that could protect countless species, but cautioned that these efforts should be watched carefully to make sure they truly protect key habitats and that they offer connectivity between disparate species populations.

The oceans will also be a big part of the Aichi targets. “You’ll probably see a lot of new, large marine protected areas established in the next year,” says Shiffman. He cautions, though, that some of these could be established in places where there’s no fish or other species to protect, or no system in place in which to protect what’s there. “They could end up being paper parks—parks in name only,” he says.

A Host of Other Issues

Here are a few more factors predicted to play a big role in 2019. First, we continue to learn more about how plastic waste affects wildlife and the environment. Most recently, a study found that 100 percent of sea turtles had plastic or microplastics in their digestive systems. With more and more plastic being produced every day, this will be a major focus of research and conservation the coming year.

Meanwhile many experts also expressed fear about emerging diseases, like those affecting bats, frogs and salamanders.

“Emerging diseases are increasing in numbers, impacts, and in incidents, and are likely to cause greater losses of species,” says Lips. “They don’t often get the attention that climate change does, and the time scale is accelerated.”

Lips also noted that it’s often hard to get funding and other support for these growing problems because they’re less in the public eye. “People and the media tend to focus on the current emergencies rather than the slow, long-term problems because we are not very good at maintaining focus and attention,” she says.

The threats of poaching, snaring and wildlife trafficking will also remain significant around the world, as the forests of southeast Asia and the plains of southern Africa became emptied of their animal life and as “valued” species such as tigers, rhinos and pangolins face ever-increasing pressures.

Right now this activity is all illegal, but that could change in the blink of a pen stroke. “We need to watch out for the pro-trade agenda” like this past year’s attempt by China to legalize the medicinal trade in rhino horns and tiger parts, cautioned Rhishja Cota, founder of the wildlife advocacy organization Annamiticus. This may also mean keeping an eye out on the Trump administration’s continuing efforts to promote big-game hunting and resulting trophy imports by its wealthy patrons.

Finally, as habitats shrink and poaching and other threats take their toll, a growing number of species are likely to benefit from last-gasp captive breeding, either to boost their wild populations or to keep them alive once their habitats have disappeared. The red wolf and Florida grasshopper sparrow captive-breeding programs may save those species from extinction in 2019.

Another species starting the year off on better footing is one of the world’s rarest birds, a duck called the Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata), just returned to the wild after 15 years thanks to a captive-breeding program in Scotland, of all places. Other incredibly rare species likely to benefit from similar programs this year include the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and maybe even the rarely seen saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis).

“We haven’t had a camera trap photo of saola since 2013 and no biologist has ever seen one in the wild,” says Mayer from Global Wildlife Conservation. “But the Saola Working Group and partners are hoping to detect saola and begin to catch them next year for a conservation breeding program in Vietnam. Next year could be the year we rediscover this species and work toward breeding it.”

The Countdown Begins

The year 2019 has just barely begun, but experts warn us that the opportunity to make a difference on these issues is already running short. “I don’t want to sound too bleak, but time is literally running out for the world as we know it,” say TRAFFIC’s Thomas. “The Earth simply can’t take the punishment of relentless over-exploitation of its natural resources, poisoning of its atmosphere and pollution of its oceans. We need to put aside political differences and work together to do something about this catastrophic situation—and quickly.”

Which of these threats to wildlife and endangered species do you worry about most in the coming year—or which additional threats do you think also need to be discussed? Share your thoughts online using the hashtag #Wildlife2019.

This post first appeared on The Revelator on January 7, 2019.

Top 10 most endangered species in the world

3. Pacific Walrus

The Arctic’s Bering and Chukchi Seas are home to the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), one of the latest victims of climate change. In September of this year, up to 200 dead walruses were spotted on the shore of the Chukchi Sea on Alaska’s northwest coast. These animals use floating ice for resting, birthing and nursing calves, and protection from predators. With Arctic ice melting, the Pacific walrus is experiencing habitat loss to the extent that in September 2009, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that adding the walrus to the Endangered Species Act may be warranted.

4. Magellanic Penguin

Once threatened primarily by oil spills, Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus), now face a larger threat as fish are displaced by warming ocean currents, forcing the birds to swim farther to find food. Last year hundreds of Magellanic penguins washed up on beaches around Rio de Janeiro, many emaciated or dead. Scientists have speculated that changes in ocean currents or temperatures, which may be related to climate change, could have been responsible for their movement more than a thousand miles north of their traditional nesting area in the southern tip of Argentina. Twelve out of the 17 penguin species are currently experiencing rapid population decline.

5. Leatherback Turtle

The largest marine turtle and one of the largest living reptiles, the leatherback turtle, (Dermochelys coriaceathe) has survived for more than a hundred million years, but is now facing extinction. Recent estimates of numbers show that this species is declining, particularly in the Pacific where as few as 2,300 adult females now remain, making the Pacific leatherback the world’s most endangered marine turtle population. Atlantic turtle populations are more stable but scientists predict a decline due to the large numbers of adults being caught as bycatch and killed accidentally by fishing fleets. Additionally, rising sea levels and higher temperatures on Atlantic beaches pose a new threat to turtles and their offspring. Nest temperature strongly determines the sex of offspring, and a nest warming trend is reducing the number of male turtles. WWF aims to conserve leatherback turtle migratory pathways – by working with fisheries to decrease bycatch, by protecting critical nesting beaches, and by raising awareness so that local communities will protect turtles and their nests.

6. Bluefin Tuna

The Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is a large migratory fish found in the western and eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. Bluefin tuna is the source of highest grade sushi. Bluefin tuna fisheries are near collapse and the species at serious risk of extinction if unsustainable fishing practices in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean are not stopped. A temporary ban on the global trade of bluefin tuna would allow the overexploited species to recover. WWF is encouraging restaurants, chefs, retailers, and consumers to stop serving, buying, selling, and eating endangered bluefin tuna until this amazing species shows signs of recovery.

7. Mountain Gorilla

Scientists consider mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) to be a critically endangered gorilla subspecies, with about 720 surviving in the wild. More than 200 live in the Virunga National Park, located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, bordering Rwanda and Uganda. War has been waged in areas around the park, with gorillas subject to related threats such as poaching and loss of habitat. Conservation efforts have led to an increase in the Virunga population by 14 per cent in the last 12 years, while the mountain gorillas other home, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, has experienced population increases of 12 per cent over the past decade. Despite this success, the mountain gorillas status remains fragile, and WWF is working to save the great ape’s forest habitat in the mountains of the heart of Africa.

8. Monarch Butterfly

Every year millions of delicate monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate from North America to their winter habitat in Mexico. A well conserved and protected high-altitude pine and fir forest in Mexico is essential for the survival of the overwintering of monarchs, which has been recognized as an endangered biological phenomenon. The protection of its reproductive habitats in the United States and Canada is also crucial to saving this species migration, one of the most remarkable natural phenomena on the planet. WWF, in collaboration with the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature, has designed an innovative conservation strategy to protect and restore the Monarch butterflies wintering habitat in Mexico, so butterflies are protected from extremes weather and other threats. WWF is also supporting local communities to establish trees nurseries that are reintroduced to the monarch butterfly reserve, creating at the same time new sources of income for the owners of the monarch forests.

9. Javan Rhinoceros

Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (2009), the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is considered to be one of the most endangered large mammals in the world with only two populations existing in the wild, for a total number of less than 60 animals. Highly prized as a commodity in traditional Asian medicine, Javan rhinos have also been brought to the verge of extinction by the conversion of forest habitat to farmland. WWF has been involved in protection and conservation of the Javan rhino since 1998, supporting forest rangers to undertake increased patrolling and protection activities, conducting surveys of the rhino population, raising awareness of the importance of the rhinos to local communities, and supporting park management. Last month, highly trained sniffer dogs were used to search for traces of the extremely rare and endangered Vietnamese Javan Rhinoceros, of which no more than a dozen are thought to exist. These samples will be analysed to better understand the gender mix and whether this small population has a chance of survival.

10. Giant Panda

An international symbol of conservation since WWF’s founding in 1961, the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) which numbers around 1,600 in the wild, faces an uncertain future. Its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of southwest China has become fragmented, creating a number of small and isolated populations. WWF has been active in giant panda conservation for nearly three decades by working working with the Chinese government to protect habitats through the creation of reserves and to help local communities become less dependent on forest resources. Over half of the habitat where pandas live is now protected, and corridors are being established to connect key panda populations. But the 1,600 remaining wild pandas are still living in over 20 geographically separate areas, and infratructure development is on the increase, so there’s still much more to be done.

Species threatened in every habitat on every continent

WWF Zambia is focusing efforts on a select group of priority species that are especially important, either for their ecosystem services or functions…

  • Species forming a key element of the food chain
  • Species which help the stability or regeneration of habitats
  • Species demonstrating broader conservation needs

…or for people

  • Species important for the health and livelihoods of local communities
  • Species exploited commercially
  • Species that are important cultural icons.

These species fall into two groups:

  • Flagship species – iconic species that provide a focus for raising awareness and stimulating action and funding for broader conservation efforts. These include: Elephant, Leopard, Rhino – African black and white, Tiger, Wild dog, Lion, and Cheetah.
  • Footprint-impacted species – species whose populations are primarily threatened because of unsustainable harvest practices, e.g., wildlife poaching, illegal logging and overfishing. These include Zambezi teak, Ansell’s shrew, Black lechwe, Shoebill, Southern ground hornbill, Devils craw.

Strategically focusing efforts on these species will also help conserve the many other species which share their habitats and/or are vulnerable to the same threats.

10 of the world’s most endangered animals

7. Orang utans

Bornean orang utan. (Dreamstime)

Once widespread, the orang utan has been considered critically endangered since 2000, and is one of the world’s most endangered primates. A century ago, more than 230,000 orang utans lived in our world, but their numbers have now dropped by around half. Logging, forest fires, fragmentation, and especially the removal of tropical forests for palm oil, all critically threaten the orang utan’s survival. Hunting and illegal pet trade have also dwindled numbers.

There are three types of orang utan to spot – the Bornean (over 100,000 in the wild), Sumatran (around 14,000 in the wild), and newly-discovered Tapanuli orang utan (only around 800 in the wild). Bornean orang utans can be spotted in both Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo, while Sumatran and Tapanuli orang utans can be spotted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Discover five of the best places to see orang utans in the wild.

8. Leatherback sea turtles

Leatherback sea turtle. ()

In between 26,000 and 43,000 female sea turtles nest annually; a dramatic decline from the estimated 115,000 in 1980. Young turtles are incredibly vulnerable and sadly, very few make it to adulthood. Birds and small mammals often dig up turtle nests in order to eat the eggs. Once they’ve hatched, birds and crustaceans pick them off before they can make it to the sea, and fish, squid and octopuses often prey on them if they do manage to make it into the water.

The prime nesting spots for the turtles are in Suriname, French Guiana, Grand Anse beach in St Lucia, Turtle Beach in Tobago, Guyana’s Shell Beach and Gabon. The Mayumba National Park beaches in Gabon host the largest nesting population on the African continent. April is the time to visit, when around 30,000 turtles descend on the park’s beaches to lay their eggs.

9. Asian elephants

Asian elephants. (Dreamstime)

Asian elephants have been considered an endangered species since 1986, and their population has decreased by at least 50% over the last 75 years or so, with fewer than 50,000 remaining in the wild. Fragmentation, deforestation and an increasing human population are destroying the elephants’ habitat and decreasing the space available for them to live in.

The Sri Lankan, Indian and Sumatran Asian elephants can of course be found in their countries of name and other mainland Asian countries. However, the best opportunity to see Asian elephants is at The Gathering, a natural assembly of up to 300 elephants coming to the shores of the Minneriya Tank in Sri Lanka’s Minneriya National Park during August to bathe and drink. It is the largest congregation of Asian elephants in the world.

10. Atlantic bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna numbers have declined at a staggering rate over the last 40 years; records show a 72% decrease in the Eastern Atlantic and an 82% decrease in the West. Overfishing is the main cause for the destruction of this species due to their commercial value as food. They have been heavily targeted for the Japanese fish market, where they are highly sought-after for sushi and sashimi. However, farming is the most serious threat to the species, as the tuna are taken from the wild before they are old enough to reproduce.

Native to the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the tuna are very hard to track, and can be found off the coasts of many countries; from Brazil to Norway. However, they are known to return to spawn every year in the Mediterranean sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

Left: New Caledonian owlet-nightjar Right: Giant ibis. Credit: L: Joseph Smit R: Henrik Grönvold

The world’s 100 most endangered and unique birds have been ranked in a newly published study, and the list includes a corpse-eater with legendary skills of decapitation, a shameless self-inflator, and the world’s heftiest parrot. Conducted by a team from Yale University, Simon Fraser University, and the Zoological Society of London, the study analyses where the 9,993 recognised species of birds in the world live; how many relatives they have (very few means better evolutionary distinctness); and how at risk they are in their environment.

Published in the latest edition of Current Biology, the study is the first of its kind, and highlights the species we should be focusing our conservation efforts on the most. “We … found that if we prioritise threatened birds by their distinctness, we actually preserve very close to the maximum possible amount of evolution,” said one of the team, biologist Arne Mooers from Simon Fraser University in Canada. “This means our method can identify those species we cannot afford to lose and it can be used to preserve the information content represented by all species into the future. Both are major goals for conservation biology.”

Here are the top 10 birds on the list:

1. Giant ibis

Far more majestic than its smaller, garbage-diving relatives, the giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) has been declared the most endangered and evolutionarily distinctive bird in the world. Native to the marshes, wide rivers, and seasonal water meadows of northern Cambodia, with a few individuals hiding out in southern Laos and perhaps Vietnam, these are some huge birds. They stand around a metre tall and weigh over 4 kg, and carry a dusty brown hue across their plumage and exposed skin. Next to nothing is known about their breeding habits, and it’s estimated that just over 100 breeding pairs are left in the wild. Relentless deforestation, droughts, and hunting have together contributed to this species’ rapid decline.

2. New Caledonian owlet-nightjar

By far the most elusive species of bird in the world, the New Caledonian owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles savesi) has not been seen alive since 1998. The species is found only in the humid forests of New Caledonia – a little archipelago 1,210 km to the east of Australia – and is known from just two preserved specimens. One of these was the first New Caledonian owlet-nightjar ever found, and was identified when it flew into someone’s window in 1880. The other specimen is dated to 1915. A couple of expeditions to New Caledonia in 2002 and 2007 failed to produce a single sighting. It’s thought there are between 1 and 49 adults left in the wild.

Clockwise from top: Kakapo; California Condor; Kagu: Kakapo. Credit: jidanchaomian/Flickr; Jerry Thompson1; David Ringer/Flickr; Department of Conservation NZ

3. California condor

If you’re caught one too many times knee-deep in the carrion you’re currently enjoying as your lunch, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find yourself the subject of some kind of horrific mythology. The Native American tribes of California held several beliefs about the California condor, none more literally blood-soaked than that of the Mono people of the central Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Eastern Sierra, and the Mono Basin. According to legend, the California condor would seize humans, cut off their heads, and drain their blood in order to flood the home of a figure known simply as the Ground Squirrel. The Condor would grab the Ground Squirrel as he fled from his burrow, but as he lowered his head to drink his victim’s blood, the Ground Squirrel would cut off the Condor’s head. It was also believed that by wearing their feathers, the ‘money finders’ of the Mono tribe could inherit the California condor’s keen eyesight to help them seek out lost valuables.

Nowadays, the California condor’s decline has been pinned to its low output of offspring, poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction. According to a study published in 2012, the leading cause of mortality in young condors is eating trash fed to them by their parents.

4. Kakapo

I could tell you about the gorgeous and endangered kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) from New Zealand, but why would I, when I could get Stephen Fry to do a much more charming job of it himself.

“Look, he’s so happy”:

5. Kagu

Something tells me, just by looking at it, that this incredibly elegant bird wouldn’t be caught dead ripping people’s heads off or trying to mate with them. Known locally in its native New Caledonia as ‘the ghost of the forest’, the ash-white, almost flightless kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) is the only living representative of the entire Rhynochetidae clade. While the largest island of the New Caledonian archipelago, Grand Terre, has adopted the heron-like bird as its national emblem, that hasn’t stopped its introduced dogs, cats, and pigs from relentlessly picking them off. Habitat loss has also led to the species’ steep decline over the last 20 years.

6. Bengal florican

Native to the grasslands and open forest of Cambodia, the Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) can also be found thousands of kilometres away in a second tiny population along the base of the Himalayas. It’s thought that there are currently fewer than 1,000 adults left in the wild, so the Cambodian government has established six Bengal Florican Conservation Areas in order to protect 173 square kilometres of breeding habitat in the grasslands and 138 square kilometres of open forest. They’ve also been working on awareness programs for local communities, which will hopefully see a reduction in poaching. A number of farmers living close to the conservation areas have joined a wildlife-friendly farming scheme as part of the program.

Left: Forest owlet. Right: Philippines Eagle. Credit: Tarique Sani/Flickr; iStockPhoto

7. Forest owlet

Don’t be fooled – this stocky little bird might look docile, but you wouldn’t want to get in its way when it’s hungry. The forest owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti) wields ridiculously huge talons, which it uses to snare prey animals up to twice its own size. The critically endangered species has been reduced to a tiny, fragmented population in central India, which remains threatened by the ongoing loss of deciduous forest in the area. For over a century, the species was assumed to be extinct, until it was rediscovered in 1997 in Maharashtra by American ornithologist, Pamela Rasmussen. The population is estimated at between 70 and 400 individuals. Read about how scientific fraud almost led to this tiny owl’s extinction.

8. Philippine eagle

With its shaggy bronze mane and proud white chest, the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is about as magestic as a bird can get. Capable of growing to more than a metre long and 8 kg in weight, this stunning creature is the largest eagle in the world, in terms of length. Found only in the Philippines, it was was originally named the ‘monkey-eating eagle’, thanks to an assumption that it preyed exclusively on primates. Later studies confirmed that monkeys, and pretty much everything else was fair game, from civets and hornbills to large snakes and monitor lizards.

One of the big hurdles in conserving the Philippine eagle is that each breeding pair requires a range up to 40 square kilometres to adequately feed and rear their offspring, which makes it particularly vulnerable to deforestation. It’s thought that the wild population currently stands at around 180 to 500 mature adults.

Christmas Island frigate bird. Credit: Max Orchard; Parks Australia

9. Christmas Island frigatebird

Maybe I’ve been playing too much Dark Souls, but if someone approached me with a swollen skin-balloon anchored to their throat and chest area, my first move would be to reach for my Havel and Antiquated armour sets and brace myself for a heavy bout of cursing cloud. But I’m clearly not a frigatebird, so what would I know. Also, ladies, the Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi) can do other things besides very conspicuous self-inflation. It happens to belong to the Fregatidae family of birds that boast the largest wingspan to body weight ratio in the world, which means it can stay happily aloft for more than a week at a time without rest. It’s also pretty great at performing kleptoparasitism, which means stealing food from other birds, so that’s something.

This critically endangered native Australian species is currently sitting at an estimate of 2400 to 4800 adults left in the wild.

10. Sumatran ground-cuckoo (Carpococcyx viridis)

This striking little forest-dweller hails from the thick, humid rainforests of southern Sumatra. It keeps to the forest floor, where its dull green, brown, and black plumage works as fantastic camouflage, unlike the bright ring of turquoise, blue and magenta that orbits its eyes. It’s known from just eight specimens, and it’s thought that there are just 70 to 400 individuals left in the wild.

In 2007, its call was recorded for the first time, its song resembling something of an awkward “double squark”.

View the list of 100 most distinctive and endangered species here.

Select Text Level:

An endangered species is a type of organism that is threatened by extinction. Species become endangered for two main reasons: loss of habitat and loss of genetic variation.
Loss of Habitat
A loss of habitat can happen naturally. Dinosaurs, for instance, lost their habitat about 65 million years ago. The hot, dry climate of the Cretaceous period changed very quickly, most likely because of an asteroid striking the Earth. The impact of the asteroid forced debris into the atmosphere, reducing the amount of heat and light that reached Earth’s surface. The dinosaurs were unable to adapt to this new, cooler habitat. Dinosaurs became endangered, then extinct.
Human activity can also contribute to a loss of habitat. Development for housing, industry, and agriculture reduces the habitat of native organisms. This can happen in a number of different ways.
Development can eliminate habitat and native species directly. In the Amazon rain forest of South America, developers have cleared hundreds of thousands of acres. To “clear” a piece of land is to remove all trees and vegetation from it. The Amazon rain forest is cleared for cattle ranches, logging, and urban use.
Development can also endanger species indirectly. Some species, such as fig trees of the rain forest, may provide habitat for other species. As trees are destroyed, species that depend on that tree habitat may also become endangered. Tree crowns provide habitat in the canopy, or top layer, of a rainforest. Plants such as vines, fungi such as mushrooms, and insects such as butterflies live in the rain forest canopy. So do hundreds of species of tropical birds and mammals such as monkeys. As trees are cut down, this habitat is lost. Species have less room to live and reproduce.
Loss of habitat may happen as development takes place in a species range. Many animals have a range of hundreds of square kilometers. The mountain lion of North America, for instance, has a range of up to 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles). To successfully live and reproduce, a single mountain lion patrols this much territory. Urban areas, such as Los Angeles, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, grew rapidly during the 20th century. As these areas expanded into the wilderness, the mountain lion’s habitat became smaller. That means the habitat can support fewer mountain lions. Because enormous parts of the Sierra Nevada, Rocky, and Cascade mountain ranges remain undeveloped, however, mountain lions are not endangered.
Loss of habitat can also lead to increased encounters between wild species and people. As development brings people deeper into a species range, they may have more exposure to wild species. Poisonous plants and fungi may grow closer to homes and schools. Wild animals are also spotted more frequently. These animals are simply patrolling their range, but interaction with people can be deadly. Polar bears, mountain lions, and alligators are all predators brought into close contact with people as they lose their habitat to homes, farms, and businesses. As people kill these wild animals, through pesticides, accidents such as collisions with cars, or hunting, native species may become endangered.

Loss of Genetic Variation
Genetic variation is the diversity found within a species. It’s why human beings may have blond, red, brown, or black hair. Genetic variation allows species to adapt to changes in the environment. Usually, the greater the population of a species, the greater its genetic variation.
Inbreeding is reproduction with close family members. Groups of species that have a tendency to inbreed usually have little genetic variation, because no new genetic information is introduced to the group. Disease is much more common, and much more deadly, among inbred groups. Inbred species do not have the genetic variation to develop resistance to the disease. For this reason, fewer offspring of inbred groups survive to maturity.
Loss of genetic variation can occur naturally. Cheetahs are a threatened species native to Africa and Asia. These big cats have very little genetic variation. Biologists say that during the last ice age, cheetahs went through a long period of inbreeding. As a result, there are very few genetic differences between cheetahs. They cannot adapt to changes in the environment as quickly as other animals, and fewer cheetahs survive to maturity. Cheetahs are also much more difficult to breed in captivity than other big cats, such as lions.
Human activity can also lead to a loss of genetic variation. Overhunting and overfishing have reduced the populations of many animals. Reduced population means there are fewer breeding pairs. A breeding pair is made up of two mature members of the species that are not closely related and can produce healthy offspring. With fewer breeding pairs, genetic variation shrinks.
Monoculture, the agricultural method of growing a single crop, can also reduce genetic variation. Modern agribusiness relies on monocultures. Almost all potatoes cultivated, sold, and consumed, for instance, are from a single species, the Russet Burbank. Potatoes, native to the Andes Mountains of South America, have dozens of natural varieties. The genetic variation of wild potatoes allows them to adapt to climate change and disease. For Russet Burbanks, however, farmers must use fertilizers and pesticides to ensure healthy crops because the plant has almost no genetic variation.
Plant breeders often go back to wild varieties to collect genes that will help cultivated plants resist pests and drought, and adapt to climate change. However, climate change is also threatening wild varieties. That means domesticated plants may lose an important source of traits that help them overcome new threats.
The Red List
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps a “Red List of Threatened Species.” The Red List defines the severity and specific causes of a species’ threat of extinction. The Red List has seven levels of conservation: least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild, and extinct. Each category represents a different threat level.
Species that are not threatened by extinction are placed within the first two categories—least concern and near-threatened. Those that are most threatened are placed within the next three categories, known as the threatened categories—vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered. Those species that are extinct in some form are placed within the last two categories—extinct in the wild and extinct.
Classifying a species as endangered has to do with its range and habitat, as well as its actual population. For this reason, a species can be of least concern in one area and endangered in another. The gray whale, for instance, has a healthy population in the eastern Pacific Ocean, along the coast of North and South America. The population in the western Pacific, however, is critically endangered.

Least Concern
Least concern is the lowest level of conservation. A species of least concern is one that has a widespread and abundant population. Human beings are a species of least concern, along with most domestic animals, such as dogs and cats. Many wild animals, such as pigeons and houseflies, are also classified as least concern.
Near Threatened
A near threatened species is one that is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.
Many species of violets, native to tropical jungles in South America and Africa, are near threatened, for instance. They have healthy populations, but their rain forest habitat is disappearing at a fast pace. People are cutting down huge areas of rain forest for development and timber. Many violet species are likely to become threatened.
Vulnerable Species
The definitions of the three threatened categories (vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered) are based on five criteria: population reduction rate, geographic range, population size, population restrictions, and probability of extinction.
Threatened categories have different thresholds for these criteria. As the population and range of the species decreases, the species becomes more threatened.
1) Population reduction rate
A species is classified as vulnerable if its population has declined between 30 and 50 percent. This decline is measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer. A generation is the period of time between the birth of an animal and the time it is able to reproduce. Mice are able to reproduce when they are about one month old. Mouse populations are mostly tracked over 10-year periods. An elephant’s generation lasts about 15 years. So, elephant populations are measured over 45-year periods.
A species is vulnerable if its population has declined at least 50 percent and the cause of the decline is known. Habitat loss is the leading known cause of population decline.
A species is also classified as vulnerable if its population has declined at least 30 percent and the cause of the decline is not known. A new, unknown virus, for example, could kill hundreds or even thousands of individuals before being identified.
2) Geographic range
A species is vulnerable if its “extent of occurrence” is estimated to be less than 20,000 square kilometers (7,722 square miles). An extent of occurrence is the smallest area that could contain all sites of a species’ population. If all members of a species could survive in a single area, the size of that area is the species’ extent of occurrence.
A species is also classified as vulnerable if its “area of occupancy” is estimated to be less than 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles). An area of occupancy is where a specific population of that species resides. This area is often a breeding or in a species range.

3) Population size
Species with fewer than 10,000 mature individuals are vulnerable. The species is also vulnerable if that population declines by at least 10 percent within 10 years or three generations, whichever is longer.
4) Population restrictions
Population restriction is a combination of population and area of occupancy. A species is vulnerable if it is restricted to less than 1,000 mature individuals or an area of occupancy of less than 20 square kilometers (8 square miles).
5) Probability of extinction in the wild is at least 10 percent within 100 years.
Biologists, anthropologists, meteorologists, and other scientists have developed complex ways to determine a species’ probability of extinction. These formulas calculate the chances a species can survive, without human protection, in the wild.
Vulnerable Species: Ethiopian Banana Frog
The Ethiopian banana frog (Afrixalus enseticola) is a small frog native to high-altitude areas of southern Ethiopia. It is a vulnerable species because its area of occupancy is less than 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles). The extent and quality of its forest habitat are in decline. Threats to this habitat include forest clearance, mostly for housing and agriculture.
Vulnerable Species: Snaggletooth Shark
The snaggletooth shark (Hemipristis elongatus) is found in the tropical, coastal waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Its area of occupancy is enormous, from southeast Africa to the Philippines, and from China to Australia.
However, the snaggletooth shark is a vulnerable species because of a severe population reduction rate. Its population has fallen more than 10 percent over 10 years. The number of sharks is declining due to fisheries, especially in the Java Sea and Gulf of Thailand. The snaggletooth shark’s flesh, fins, and liver are considered high-quality foods. They are sold in commercial fish markets, as well as restaurants.
Vulnerable Species: Galapagos Kelp
Galapagos kelp (Eisenia galapagensis) is a type of seaweed only found near the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Galapagos kelp is classified as vulnerable because its population has declined more than 10 percent over 10 years.
Climate change is the leading cause of decline among Galapagos kelp. El Nino, the natural weather pattern that brings unusually warm water to the Galapagos, is the leading agent of climate change in this area. Galapagos kelp is a cold-water species and does not adapt quickly to changes in water temperature.

Endangered Species
1) Population reduction rate
A species is classified as endangered when its population has declined between 50 and 70 percent. This decline is measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer.
A species is classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 70 percent and the cause of the decline is known. A species is also classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 50 percent and the cause of the decline is not known.
2) Geographic range
An endangered species’ extent of occurrence is less than 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles). An endangered species’ area of occupancy is less than 500 square kilometers (193 square miles).
3) Population size
A species is classified as endangered when there are fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. When a species population declines by at least 20 percent within five years or two generations, it is also classified as endangered.
4) Population restrictions
A species is classified as endangered when its population is restricted to less than 250 mature individuals. When a species’ population is this low, its area of occupancy is not considered.
5) Probability of extinction in the wild is at least 20 percent within 20 years or five generations, whichever is longer.
Endangered Species: Siberian Sturgeon
The Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii) is a large fish found in rivers and lakes throughout the Siberian region of Russia. The Siberian sturgeon is a benthic species. Benthic species live at the bottom of a body of water.
The Siberian sturgeon is an endangered species because its total population has declined between 50 and 80 percent during the past 60 years (three generations of sturgeon). Overfishing, poaching, and dam construction have caused this decline. Pollution from mining activities has also contributed to abnormalities in the sturgeon’s reproductive system.
Endangered Species: Tahiti Reed-warbler
The Tahiti reed-warbler (Acrocephalus caffer) is a songbird found on the Pacific island of Tahiti. It is an endangered species because it has a very small population. The bird is only found on a single island, meaning both its extent of occurrence and area of occupancy are very small.
The Tahiti reed-warbler is also endangered because of human activity. The tropical weed Miconia is a non-native species that has taken over much of Tahiti’s native vegetation. The reed-warbler lives almost exclusively in Tahiti’s bamboo forests. The bird nests in bamboo and feeds on flowers and insects that live there. As development and invasive species such as Miconia destroy the bamboo forests, the population of Tahiti reed-warblers continues to shrink.

Endangered Species: Ebony
Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora) is a tree native to the rain forests of central Africa, including Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon. Ebony is an endangered species because many biologists calculate its probability of extinction in the wild is at least 20 percent within five generations.
Ebony is threatened due to overharvesting. Ebony trees produce a very heavy, dark wood. When polished, ebony can be mistaken for black marble or other stone. For centuries, ebony trees have been harvested for furniture and sculptural uses such as chess pieces. Most ebony, however, is harvested to make musical instruments such as piano keys and the fingerboards of stringed instruments.
Critically Endangered Species
1) Population reduction rate
A critically endangered species’ population has declined between 80 and 90 percent. This decline is measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer.
A species is classified as critically endangered when its population has declined at least 90 percent and the cause of the decline is known. A species is also classified as endangered when its population has declined at least 80 percent and the cause of the decline is not known.
2) Geographic range
A critically endangered species’ extent of occurrence is less than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles). A critically endangered species’ area of occupancy is estimated to be less than 10 square kilometers (4 square miles).
3) Population size
A species is classified as critically endangered when there are fewer than 250 mature individuals. A species is also classified as critically endangered when the number of mature individuals declines by at least 25 percent within three years or one generation, whichever is longer.
4) Population restrictions
A species is classified as critically endangered when its population is restricted to less than 50 mature individuals. When a species’ population is this low, its area of occupancy is not considered.
5) Probability of extinction in the wild is at least 50 percent within 10 years or three generations, whichever is longer.
Critically Endangered Species: Bolivian Chinchilla Rat
The Bolivian chinchilla rat (Abrocoma boliviensis) is a rodent found in a small section of the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia. It is critically endangered because its extent of occurrence is less than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles).
The major threat to this species is loss of its cloud forest habitat. People are clearing forests to create cattle pastures.

Critically Endangered Species: Transcaucasian Racerunner
The Transcaucasian racerunner (Eremias pleskei) is a lizard found on the Armenian Plateau, located in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey. The Transcaucasian racerunner is a critically endangered species because of a huge population decline, estimated at more than 80 percent during the past 10 years.
Threats to this species include the salination, or increased saltiness, of soil. Fertilizers used for agricultural development seep into the soil, increasing its saltiness. Racerunners live in and among the rocks and soil, and cannot adapt to the increased salt in their food and shelter. The racerunner is also losing habitat as people create trash dumps on their area of occupancy.
Critically Endangered Species: White Ferula Mushroom
The white ferula mushroom (Pleurotus nebrodensis) is a critically endangered species of fungus. The mushroom is critically endangered because its extent of occurrence is less than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles). It is only found in the northern part of the Italian island of Sicily, in the Mediterranean Sea.
The leading threats to white ferula mushrooms are loss of habitat and overharvesting. White ferula mushrooms are a gourmet food item. Farmers and amateur mushroom hunters harvest the fungus for food and profit. The mushrooms can be sold for up to $100 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Extinct In The Wild
A species is extinct in the wild when it only survives in cultivation (plants), in captivity (animals), or as a population well outside its established range. A species may be listed as extinct in the wild only after years of surveys have failed to record an individual in its native or expected habitat.
Extinct in the Wild: Scimitar-horned Oryx
The scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) is a species of antelope with long horns. Its range extends across northern Africa. The scimitar-horned oryx is listed as extinct in the wild because the last confirmed sighting of one was in 1988. Overhunting and habitat loss, including competition with domestic livestock, are the main reasons for the extinction of the oryx’s wild population.
Captive herds are now kept in protected areas of Tunisia, Senegal, and Morocco. Scimitar-horned oryxes are also found in many zoos.
Extinct in the Wild: Black Soft-shell Turtle
The black soft-shell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is a freshwater turtle that exists only in one man-made pond, at the Baizid Bostami Shrine near Chittagong, Bangladesh. The 150 to 300 turtles that live at the pond rely entirely on humans for food. Until 2000, black soft-shell turtles lived throughout the wetlands of the Brahmaputra River, feeding mostly on freshwater fish.
Unlike other animals that are extinct in the wild, black soft-shell turtles are not found in many zoos. The shrine’s caretakers do not allow anyone, including scientists, to take the turtles. The reptiles are considered to be the descendants of people who were miraculously turned into turtles by a saint during the 13th century.

Extinct in the Wild: Mt. Kaala Cyanea
The Mt. Kaala cyanea (Cyanea superba) is a large, flowering tree native to the island of Oahu, in the U.S. state of Hawaii. The Mt. Kaala cyanea has large, broad leaves and fleshy fruit. The tree is extinct in the wild largely because of invasive species. Non-native plants crowded the cyanea out of its habitat, and non-native animals such as pigs, rats, and slugs ate its fruit more quickly than it could reproduce.
Mt. Kaala cyanea trees survive in tropical nurseries and botanical gardens. Many botanists and conservationists look forward to establishing a new population in the wild.
Extinct
A species is extinct when there is no reasonable doubt that the last remaining individual of that species has died.
Extinct: Cuban Macaw
The Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor) was a tropical parrot native to Cuba and a small Cuban island, Isla de la Juventud. Hunting and collecting the birds for pets led to the bird’s extinction. The last specimen of the Cuban macaw was collected in 1864.
Extinct: Ridley’s Stick Insect
Ridley’s stick insect (Pseudobactricia ridleyi) was native to the tropical jungle of the island of Singapore. This insect, whose long, segmented body resembled a tree limb, is only known through a single specimen, collected more than 100 years ago. During the 20th century, Singapore experienced rapid development. Almost the entire jungle was cleared, depriving the insect of its habitat.
Extinct: Sri Lankan Legume Tree
The Sri Lankan legume tree (Crudia zeylanica), native only to the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, was a giant species of legume. Peas and peanuts are smaller types of legumes.
Habitat loss from development in the 20th century is the main reason the tree went extinct in the wild. A single specimen survived at the Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, until 1990, when that, too, was lost.

Endangered Species and People
When a species is classified as endangered, governments and international organizations can work to protect it. Laws may limit hunting and destruction of the species’ habitat. Individuals and organizations that break these laws may face huge fines. Because of such actions, many species have recovered from their endangered status.
The brown pelican was taken off the endangered species list in 2009, for instance. This seabird is native to the coasts of North America and South America, as well as the islands of the Caribbean Sea. It is the state bird of the U.S. state of Louisiana. In 1970, the number of brown pelicans in the wild was estimated at 10,000. The bird was classified as vulnerable.
During the 1970s and 1980s, governments and conservation groups worked to help the brown pelican recover. Young chicks were reared in hatching sites, then released into the wild. Human access to nesting sites was severely restricted. The pesticide DDT, which damaged the eggs of the brown pelican, was banned. During the 1980s, the number of brown pelicans soared. In 1988, the IUCN “delisted” the brown pelican. The bird, whose population is now in the hundreds of thousands, is now in the category of least concern.