As of 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes 2,464 animal species as “Critically Endangered.” These animals face a high risk of extinction in the wild due to severe habitat fragmentation, dwindling food sources, and poaching, among other reasons.
Human activity directly traces back to the vast majority of these issues. As stewards of the earth we have a responsibility to make sure these species do not disappear from the planet we share with them. The first step is spreading awareness. Here is a small sample of the magnificently stunning animals who face extinction.
Native to areas of southeast Russia and northeast China, the Amur leopard can run up to 37 miles per hour and leap more than 19 feet horizontally. Due to conservation efforts, the Amur leopard’s current population of about 60 individuals is double the number recorded in 2007.
Extensive conservation efforts have bumped the black rhino population to around 4,800. However, an increase in poaching due to the demand for rhino horn is setting efforts back. In 2010, there were 333 rhinos killed in South Africa alone.
Weighing between 90 and 150 pounds, the Hawksbill turtle is essential to maintaining the health of coral reefs because they remove prey, including sponges, from the reefs. They are threatened by habitat loss, egg collection, pollution, and wildlife trade, especially in eastern Asia.
Discovered in May 1992, very little is known about the Saola. Existing only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos, their population is believed to range from a few dozen to a few hundred. Saola live such elusive lives they are not mentioned in traditional Chinese medicine in spite of their exotic horns. As a result, their extinction will most likely occur as by catch of other hunted animals.
Mountain gorillas live in mountain forests at elevations of 8,000 to 13,000 feet in the Congo Basin of Africa. Weighing up to 440 pounds, they feed mainly on leaves, shoots, and stems. One threat to their survival comes from civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which sends refugees and rebel fighters into their habitat.
With a population ranging between 2,400 and 2,800 in Bornea and Sumatra, the Sumatran elephant, like other elephant species, is threatened by poaching for their tusks. In addition, mass deforestation has forced them into human populated areas, where they are sometimes shot or poisoned for raiding crops or trampling homes.
The Yangtze finless porpoise has an intelligence level comparable to a gorilla. With a population estimated between 1,000 and 1,800, pollution and ship movement along the Yangtze River continue to threaten this species, as well as overfishing, which decreases their food supply.
Thankfully, organizations like the World Wildlife Fund exist to aid local governments in conservation efforts and to traverse the often complex circumstances that lead to the factors threatening so many animal species. To learn more about their work, visit www.worldwildlife.org.