June 5, 2023

Endangered Animals: 50% of Species are Facing Extinction

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here are over 41 000 species currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list with close to 10 000 of those categorized as “critically endangered”.  Some scientists have even speculated that if animals continue to face this same level of endangerment, 50% of all species will face extinction by the end of the century.

For the sake of biodiversity and the health of our planet, we just can’t afford that. Wildlife deserves more of our attention, starting right here as we look at some of the most endangered animals, what’s decimating populations, and the ways we can all help.

Table of  Contents

How do Animals Become Endangered?

Loss of habitat and loss of genetic variation are the two main causes of animal populations dropping to endangerment levels. The causes for this can be natural, but more often than not, it’s human activity that creates problems.

African cheetah populations, for example, are facing endangerment because of inbreeding that began during the Ice Age, but overhunting and habitat loss has exacerbated the issue further. Often a result of human development, habitat loss has caused animals to lose food resources and important migration routes. This alone can reduce populations drastically but tends to get even worse because when numbers drop and breeding pairs become limited, genetic variation decreases too. This lack of variation puts animal populations more at risk of disease and slows their ability to adapt to changing environments.

With endangerment, it’s important to see how interconnected the issues are and how any major disruption to an animal’s ability to live, breed, and move as they usually would, can put populations at risk.

What are The Most Endangered Animals Globally?

Here are five wild animals (in no particular order) that are considered to be critically endangered, many of which represent some of the key issues threatening animals around the world:

  1. Pangolins

Three pangolin species, the Sunda, Philippine, and Chinese Pangolin are all listed as critically endangered, mostly as a result of poaching. Their scales and meat are highly valuable for traditional medicine uses in Vietnam and China and have made them one of the most highly trafficked animals in the world. Deforestation has also threatened the habitats of these gentle, ant-eating creatures and put them at even greater risk.

  1. Sumatran Rhino

The Sumatran Rhino is the last Asian species of its kind and the smallest living rhinoceroses in the world. It joins the Black Rhino and Javan Rhino on the list of critically endangered animals, all of which have had their populations decimated by poaching and the value rhino horns have on the black market for “medicinal properties”.

Though it has a slightly higher population than the Javan, the Sumatra Rhino is considered more at risk because of how fragmented they are and the continued habitat loss that threatens its survival. They used to roam as far as the Himalayas but are now limited to two Indonesian Islands: Borneo and Sumatra.

  1. Kakapo

Also called the “owl parrot”, this flightless New Zealand bird has been fighting extinction since the 1800s because of hunting, habitat loss, and the introduction of new predators by humans. The pressure that these issues placed on population numbers subsequently created inbreeding problems and infertility, both of which are being dealt with fairly successfully thanks to creative conservation efforts.

  1. Vaquita

Sadly, this endangered species is estimated to have only 10 members left on earth and is now considered the world’s rarest marine animal. Native to Mexico’s Gulf of California, these porpoises have often been caught and drowned in nets intended to catch Totoaba fish which sell for thousands to be used in traditional medicine in Asia. It’s a lesson on how the targeting of one species can inadvertently lead to the harm of another.

  1. Lemur Leaf Frog

41% of the species on the red list are amphibians, many of which are frogs that have been the victim of deforestation and significant habitat loss. The Lemur Leaf frog, for example, has experienced an 80% decline in the last decade. Once a common sighting in Costa Rica, breeding programs have since had to be implemented to bring these frogs back to the wild. 

These programs have already shown success in improving population numbers and genetic diversity, giving these tree frogs more of a defense against diseases that have also affected their survival.

North American Endangered Species

Canada and the United States share over 1200 endangered animals that need our attention if their populations are ever to recover. Here are five of these animals and some of the main threats that they face: 

  1. The Red Wolf

With barely 35 of these beautiful wolves left in North America, they are a cautionary tale about the damage that years of hunting and habitat fragmentation can wreck on animal populations. Red Wolves are the most endangered animal in the dog family and though they’ve fallen under the protection of endangered species acts in both the U.S. and Canada, gunshots remain the leading cause of death for these animals which have often been mistaken for coyotes.

  1. Black Footed Ferret

Disease and habitat loss have reduced this species to a population of about 300. The only ferret native to North America, these endangered animals are mainly found on the Great Plains Prairie where they’ve historically been crucial in keeping prairie dog numbers under control. Saving this species has formed part of a larger attempt to repair the health of the grassland ecosystem of this entire area.

  1. California Condor

Sacred to many Native American tribes, the California Condor Is the largest North American land bird and has been on the verge of extinction for decades. The cause of their decline is an unusual one: lead poisoning.

Condors accidentally ingested the toxin via ammunition left in hunted carcasses that they scavenged on and combined with slow breeding, nearly didn’t survive the effects this had on population numbers. Conservation efforts began with breeding programs in the 1980s and in 2019, a law banning the use of lead ammunition went into effect in California to further help protect these endangered birds.

  1. Ocelot

The fur of these medium-sized cats is notably similar to that of a leopard or jaguar and has made them a target of both the illegal pet and fur trade. Combined with the effects of habitat destruction caused by logging, Ocelots are now very rare in North America. They can be found in parts of South America with more sizable populations but even there, they’re facing a decline.

  1. The Florida Manatee

Like many animals, the Florida Manatee isn’t simply having its habitat threatened by human development, but the changing weather patterns that have come about as a result of climate change. Strange cold spells and red tides have caused significant die-offs of an already struggling species.

Because these animals tend to be quite slow-moving and close to the surface, they’re easily hit by human vessels. Efforts in Florida to protect these manatees are, however, slowly improving population numbers.

Why should we protect endangered animals and what can we do to help?

Whether we realize it or not, we all depend on healthy ecosystems for clean air, water, and other resources. The health of a well-functioning ecosystem is largely dependent on biodiversity which species loss actively threatens. The ripple effect of protecting an endangered species is perhaps best illustrated by the Conservation efforts focused on the Mountain Gorillas of Central Africa, where protection measures for the gorillas have helped to preserve entire forests.

Here are things you can do to help further protect endangered species:

  • Visit your national parks. These are often the hubs for conservation and supporting them not only improves your knowledge and gets you connected to wildlife, it helps keep these places funded. 
  • Don’t drive so fast. Check if you’re driving through migration routes and make sure to slow down – the deaths of many endangered animals are a result of road accidents.
  • Get involved in your area. Wildlife is being threatened every day by thoughtless development. Make sure to pay attention to what’s happening in your area and any petitions that you can join to stop harmful activity.
  • Create a habitat where you can. If you have a small garden, or even just a balcony, grow plants that your local birds love and that support the natural ecosystems there.

Endangered Species Day

The third Friday in May is dedicated to endangered species and learning all that we can to help them. Use it as an opportunity to support events and organizations trying to protect endangered animals, share donation options online, and speak to people in your community about the issue. 

Animals That Are No Longer Endangered

Thanks to the work of conservationists and scientists from around the world, these animals have been pulled back from the brink of extinction:

  • The Giant Panda
  • Southern White Rhinoceros
  • Gray Wolf
  • Louisiana Black Bear
  • Northern Brown Kiwi
  • Arabian Oryx

Most of these species are still under threat and the work to save them hasn’t stopped. The fact that they’re still here though is a reminder that although human activity has caused so much damage, there’s still time to do better.

If we don’t, we could lose half of the world’s beauty in no time at all. So, slow your driving near conservation zones, support your national parks, and keep an eye out for the wildlife in your area – they need all the help they can get.