Today, across our planet, thousands of animal species are threatened with extinction, largely due to human activities and climate change, which threaten their natural habitats. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, there are approximately 5,000 threatened animals, and each year species vanish unbeknownst to most people. You can contribute to wildlife preservation, and a good first step toward saving animals is to learn as much as possible about them. So, here is a list of 5 critically endangered animals according to the 2012 IUCN Red List:
1 – The leatherback sea turtle (Demochelys coriacea) is the earth’s biggest sea turtle and has occupied this planet for more than 100 million years, but today it is critically endangered. It can easily be differentiated from other modern sea turtles because it has skin and oily flesh instead of a bony shell. According to the IUCN, in 1982 there were approximately 115,000 adult female leatherback turtles in the world; twenty years later, there were only 20,000 to 30,000—and the population has continued to plummet. The leatherback’s problems include theft of its eggs by humans, illegal hunting and nesting habitat loss due to beach development, and the erosion of beaches linked to global climate change. In addition, leatherback sea turtles sometimes die after ingesting plastic debris they find floating in the ocean, which they mistake for food such as jellyfish.
2. Western Lowland Gorilla: There are two lowland gorillas native to West Africa: the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), which is the most numerous of the four gorilla subspecies, with over 90,000 individuals in the wild, and the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla diehli), of which only a tiny population of a few hundred remains. Both are listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered because of the serious decline (over 60 percent) of their populations during the past 25 years. Sadly, the IUCN projects the number of lowland gorillas will continue to plummet over the coming decades. The largest killer of gorillas has been the incurable ebola virus, which has ended the lives of up to 90 percent of these great apes. But habitat loss linked to human activities combined with illegal commercial hunting by poachers are also causes in the lowland gorilla population decline.
3. The Siberian or Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is the largest big cat in the world, weighing up to 660 pounds. Unlike the other tiger subspecies, which are jungle-dwellers, the Amur tiger lives in the birch forests of Russia’s frigid and snowy Far East, and formerly inhabited the colder regions of China and Korea. Due to relentless hunting, Russia’s tiger population had dropped to around 40 individuals by the 1930′s. Since then, the animal has been protected, and its numbers have rebounded to around 500 and remain stable. However, it is still threatened by illegal hunting and habitat loss in the form of logging and development.
4. The Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is a very rare leopard subspecies that lives only in the remote and snowy northern forests of eastern Russia’s Primorye region. Its former natural habitat included Korea and northern China, but the Snow leopard is now extinct in those countries. A 2007 census from the IUCN Red list counted only 2,500 wild adult Amur leopards. Threats facing the species include habitat loss due to logging, road building and population spread, poaching (illegal hunting) and global climate change.
5. The Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is the most endangered of the world’s five rhinoceros species, with an estimated 40-60 animals remaining on the western tip of the Island of Java (Indonesia) in Ujung Kulon National Park. The last member of another tiny population in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park was killed by poachers in 2011. The water- and swamp-loving Javan rhinoceros formerly ranged throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia, but has been hunted to near-extinction for its horn, which is used in Traditional Chinese medicine.
We decided to only highlight five of the most critically endangered animals, but the list of threatened species officially provided by the IUCN is much longer and needs as much attention and involvement from governments and environmental organizations. You can find more information and the full list of the threatened animals on the IUCN Red List website.
Climate Change and Human Responsibility in Species Extinction
Natural phenomena such as floods, earthquake and deadly diseases can sometimes explain species extinction. However, human activities remain the major threat to wildlife. Here are the general categories of man-made threats that we can easily prevent by changing our behavior:
- Habitat loss, destruction or fragmentation: Fewer natural wildlife habitat areas remain each year. Destruction and fragmentation of animals’ natural habitats are continuous to enable humans to use the lands for agriculture, urban development or other purposes.
- Climate change: Many types of plants and animals have specific natural habitat requirements and are particularly sensitive to change. The burning of fossil fuels has altered the Earth’s atmosphere and has resulted in global climate changes. Those changes are harming, disturbing or even causing disastrous loss of wildlife species.
- Pollution: pesticides or other pollutants (such as PCBs, mercury, petroleum by-products, solvents and antifreeze) are deliberately released into the environment to eradicate certain plants, insects, and rodents, but they are also ingested by a wide variety of organisms.
- Illegal Hunting, poaching and Trade causes a major threat to wildlife. Some endangered species are targeted for their value on illegal markets.
- Over-exploitation of resources: Exploitation of wild populations for food has resulted in population depletion (over-fishing, for example).
Man-made threats can be prevented, but we are unable to reverse past damages. So, If you want the next generation to live in a world with amur leopards, javan rhinoceros, leatherback sea turtles and the other critically endangered animals, take action! Governments and environmental organizations like the IUCN and the World Wildlife Fund are already deeply committed to wildlife preservation. Why not you? Small actions such as participating in or donating to the IUCN Red list foundation or other conservation organizations, which take effective actions for wildlife preservation, can help save and protect species and their natural habitats!