This planet currently has over 8.7 million species of animals with approximately three quarters of them still undiscovered.1 Every animal, plant or insect has its own unique role when it comes to the planet and the ecosystems that are part of it.
When you look at the big picture, the ten most threatened animal species doesn’t even begin to cover it as there are hundreds of species at risk for extinction. However, I have chosen to focus on a few well-known species that are at risk due to human involvement in their habitats and environments.
10. Polar Bear
While the population of Polar Bears (60% of which are in Canada) exists at around 20,000-25,000, they are perhaps one of the most threatened species on our list due to climate change and global warming. One of the major threats is the melting of the polar ice caps, which is causing polar bear cubs to have to swim farther distances with their mothers, many of whom die.
9. Giant Panda
The Giant Panda has been a staple among endangered species lists for years now. While they are still in existence, many outside factors threaten them. The largest is that while there are 2,500 mature animals in the wild, most of their population is fragmented across China living in much smaller groups. This creates lack of genetic diversity and can cause premature death, which will continue to deplete the species. Luckily, the Chinese government has established over “50 panda reserves, protecting more than 2.5 million acres – over 45 percent of remaining giant panda habitat – protecting more than 60 percent of the population”.2
8. Leatherback Turtle
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “as few as 2,300 adult females now remain, making the Pacific leatherback the world’s most endangered marine turtle population”.3. The population is at risk due to many adults being accidentally killed by fishing fleets. In addition, they are subject to pollution and climate change as well as egg harvesting.
7. Mountain Gorilla
While the population of Mountain Gorilla’s is currently on the upswing, having increased by 26% with a new population of 7864, they are still considered a threatened species. They are at risk of losing their habitats to continued deforestation and pollution and are often still poached. Another and lesser-known threat is disease. As Mountain Gorillas are so closely related to humans and are in areas where many tourists visit to see them, they are often unknowingly exposed to various “human ailments and can even die from the common cold”. 5
6. Mediterranean Monk Seal
There are approximately only 600 of these seals in existence. As it stands, “the species is the world’s most endangered seal and one of the most endangered marine mammals”.6 They are in danger from various circumstances such as hunting, heavy ship traffic, fishing nets and pollution. According to another article, the survival rate of pups of the Mediterranean Monk Seal is very low. In fact, “the pup survival rate is very low with just 50% chances of an individual’s survival”.7 When it comes to the cold season from September to January, only 29% of pups survive. For the rest of the year, “their survival rate is 71%”.8
5. Siberian Tiger
According to a recent study, population of the Siberian tiger is “down to just 14 animals, scientists report in the journal Mammalian Biology”.9 There are approximately 500 Siberian Tigers in existence, but their genetic diversity is depleting, which puts the effective population much lower. Not only this but the constant deforestation of their habitats is also shrinking their population. The WWF believes that if no action is taken, tigers (not just Siberian) will be extinct within the next twelve years.10
4. Philippine Eagle
While not on many typical threatened species list, the Philippine Eagle certainly deserves to be there. It is approximated that “there are only from 180 to 500 Philippine eagles in nature”. Despite the secondary effects of deforestation, the demise of this beautiful bird is coming directly from human hands. These eagles are often poached, hunted or their eggs collected to sell to zoos and bird collectors. Farmers even hunt them for food or for fun. Due to the fact it takes these birds from 5-7 years to become sexually mature, they are simply not recovering at the rate they are being destroyed.
3. Red Wolf
According to the Red Wolf Recovery Program, “today 100-120 red wolves call northeastern North Carolina home” 11, which is their only wild population. In 1980, the red wolf population declined to only 17 animals due to deforestation and was declared extinct by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. While the population still exists, they are continuing to be threatened by deforestation. In addition, red wolves are still often hunted as they are considered pests to farmers.
2. Javan Rhinoceros
The Javan Rhino resides in Western Indonesia and “with no more than 60 left in the wild and none in captivity” is considered to be the rarest large mammal on the planet. The main reason for this species almost being wiped off the Earth is that they have been widely poached since colonial times. Additionally, they are, like many other species on this list, losing their environment to deforestation and agricultural plots. Another concern, similar to the Amur Leopard and Siberian Tigers, is that due to the small population, the Javan Rhinoceros is now also lacking in genetic diversity, which is key to survival.
1. Amur Leopard
The Amur Leopard recovered from having population of less than 40 individuals around the 1950’s. However, today, the population is again at risk. Today, the wild population of Amur Leopards is “estimated at less than 50 individuals”.12 Some of the main threats to the Amur Leopard that worry conversationalists are habitat loss due to deforestation and development, prey scarcity and poaching or illegal trade for the fur. Additionally, another threat to this species is the fact that they have declined to such a small population, which not only reduces their genetic diversity, but also makes them at risk for disease.
Though the list of threatened species across the planet is much larger than ten, what we can do to help protect their existence fits every species. The first is to become aware of what wildlife lives in your area. Though they may not be as exotic as the leopard or Giant Panda, they still deserve your attention. Once we become aware, we can start to make change such as supporting legislation to build nature reserves or protect wildlife from poaching. Other things we as individuals and as a society can take part in, is to be mindful of the environment and focus on sustainable living. This will help us to protect the environment as it is today and for future generations.
This article was contributed by Amy Lizee from Environment911.org.
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