20 Most Endangered Animals in the World

Updated on October 8, 2018
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Environmental issues are a major interest of Kelley's, especially pollution, climate change, deforestation and endangered species.

Orangutan
Orangutan

What is a fish without a river? What is a bird without a tree to nest in? What is an Endangered Species Act without any enforcement mechanism to ensure their habitat is protected?

— Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington

Some of these poor animals may go extinct before you finish this article!

Most of the animals on this list are critically endangered. A critically endangered species is an animal or plant that’s likely to become extinct, unless something is done to keep them from disappearing forever. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists species that are vulnerable, threatened or endangered, as well as ones that are critically endangered. As of 2014, the IUCN listed 2,464 animals as critically endangered.

The surviving number of some of these animals may only be in the hundreds, while others could be in the thousands, or even tens of thousands, prompting one to think there’s little to worry about. But the world is changing very quickly these days because of overpopulation, political strife, deforestation, wildfires, dwindling sources of fresh water and climate change, so people shouldn’t stop worrying about these beleaguered animals.

Also keep in mind this compilation is written in no particular order, because it would be nearly impossible to ascertain how endangered these animals actually are; however, the last entry on it could be the most endangered animal on the planet.

Please keep reading!

Bengal tiger
Bengal tiger

1. Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

The Bengal Tiger, aka the Mainland Asian Tiger, lives in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. In 2014, some 2,500 to 3,000 Bengal tigers existed in these countries, though none of the tiger habitat zones within its range are considered large enough to support more than 250 tigers. Poaching and habitat loss are listed as reasons for the decline of the species. Of course, as many people probably know, even though tigers are considered a charismatic species, they are endangered throughout the world, a genus that includes the Siberian tiger and other subspecies such as the Sumatran tiger. Fortunately, since many conservation programs exist for tigers, namely the Save Tigers Now Foundation (sponsored by actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the World Wide Fund for Nature WWFN), they may survive in the wild for decades. But beyond that, who knows?

Gharial
Gharial

2. Gharial (Gavialus gangeticus)

The gharial, a fish-eating crocodile found in the northern reaches of the Indian Subcontinent, has suffered a precipitous decline in numbers since the 1930s. Now very close to extinction, recent estimates show that only about 100 to 300 gharials survive in the wild. Growing to a length of 15 to 20 feet, gharials exist in the river systems of Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the human population explosion in these countries has created grave anthropogenic hazards for the gharials, particularly habitat loss, pollution, hydroelectric projects, poaching and death by fishing nets. Fortunately, gharial conservation programs exist, as the Indian government is dedicated to saving the species, before they go the way of the dodo or passenger pigeon.

Mountain Gorilla
Mountain Gorilla

3. Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)

One of two subspecies of eastern gorilla, mountain gorillas are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN; as of 2018, only about 1,000 mountain gorillas exist in two separate populations in mountainous areas of Central Africa, where three national parks can be found. Interestingly, mountain gorillas have thick fur because their habitat is located high in volcanic zones, some 7,000 to 14,000 feet in elevation, where it’s generally misty and cool, if not cold, and overcast. An adult male mountain gorilla can weigh up to 500 pounds and eat 75 lbs of vegetation, fruit and insects per day. Unfortunately, mountain gorillas are endangered by many threats: poaching, habitat loss, disease, war and political unrest. Simply put, mountain gorillas will survive as long as they’re protected by people and from the trouble people may bring.

Vaquita
Vaquita

4. Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)

A species of porpoise, the vaquita titters on the brink of extinction. There may be only ten or 12 of them left in the wild, per an estimate in March 2018. Consequently, the vaquita is perhaps the most endangered cetacean in the world. The number of vaquitas has diminished precipitously since 1996. The main reason is because the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, has become greatly overfished, and the vaquita is sometimes caught in fishing nets and drowned, just as other dolphins are accidently killed. The Mexican government has spent tens of millions of dollars to prevent this lethal bycatch, but the results have been dismal for the poor vaquita. Unless drastic measures are taken soon, the vaquita will go extinct, the first cetacean to do so since the demise of the baiji, a Yangtze River dolphin that went extinct in the 1980s.

Ring-tailed lemur
Ring-tailed lemur

5. Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur catta)

Perhaps the most widely known of all the lemurs, the ring-tailed lemur, along with virtually all lemurs, is critically endangered; in fact, 95 per cent of all lemurs are at least endangered. The main reason for this species collapse is that all lemurs are found only on the island of Madagascar, which is becoming more and more deforested - by the hour, it seems. At present, only about 2,000 ring-tailed lemurs survive in the wild, due to habitat loss, hunting, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Fortunately for this species of lemurs, they reproduce easily in captivity, so their numbers are high in zoos. Therefore, prospects for reintroducing these beautiful creatures into the wild will at least be a viable option.

Black rhinoceros
Black rhinoceros

6. Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Also known as the hooked-lip rhinoceros, the black rhinoceros is critically endangered mainly because its horns are highly prized by people who would use them in traditional Chinese medicine, even though no medicinal use for the horns has been proven by science (the horns are little more than fingernail cells). Nevertheless, rhino horn is presently worth more than its weight in gold! Rhino horns are also used for making knife and dagger handles, the demand for which causing a collapse of the black rhino population by 95 per cent from 1970 to 1992. Tragically, many other subspecies of African rhinos have gone extinct. Now black rhinos are heavily guarded in wildlife preserves; otherwise, they’d be gone by now too. Fortunately, the southern white rhinos are doing fairly well; more than 20,000 were alive in 2015.

Dhole
Dhole

7. Dhole (Cuon alpinus)

The dhole, aka the Asiatic wild dog, is found in mountainous areas of Southeast Asia, India and China. A relative of dogs, coyotes, wolves, jackals and other canids, dholes are greatly endangered; only about 2,500 exist in the wild. Notably, dholes once lived in parts of Central Asia, Europe and North America from 12,000 to 18,000 years ago. Notably, dholes have declined in numbers because of the following reasons: habitat loss, fewer prey animals, competition from other species, death from farmers and pastoralists, and contagious diseases and parasites spread by domestic dogs. Interestingly, dholes are nearly untamable, though the young are docile and can play with domestic dogs until adulthood.

Brown spider money
Brown spider money

8. Brown Spider Monkey (Ateles hybridus)

The brown spider monkey, found in northern Colombia and northeastern Venezuela, is on the list of The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates. It lives in old-growth rain forests, about 98 per cent of which has disappeared from this animal’s range. Tragically, 80 per cent of these creatures no longer exist. Like most monkeys, the brown spider monkey feeds primarily on vegetation and fruit, but will eat just about anything if that’s all there is to eat. Interestingly, this species has blue eyes, very unusual for spider monkeys. Greatly endangered, their estimated population is unknown.

Komodo dragon
Komodo dragon

9. Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)

A kind of monitor lizard, the Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard; an adult may grow to ten feet long and weigh 150 lbs. It exists on five small Indonesian islands: Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Padar. In fact, the Komodo dragon is the only large carnivorous animal on the aforementioned islands; it’s also a relic of the megafauna that died out after the end of the Pleistocene. Astonishingly, female Komodo dragons can produce offspring by parthenogenesis; that is, they can reproduce without their eggs being fertilized. As of 2013, the wild population of Komodo dragons was assessed at about 3,000 individuals. As long as the habitat on those five islands is maintained and their prey doesn’t disappear, Komodo dragons could last for many years to come.

Siamese crocodile
Siamese crocodile

10. Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)

Although the range for the Siamese crocodile is large, its numbers have dramatically decreased in recent years. Found in Southeast Asia and parts of Indonesia, the Siamese crocodile can grow to 10 feet long, though hybrids can grow much larger in captivity. They exist in a wide range of habitats – rivers, streams, lakes, oxbow lakes, swamps and marshlands. Curiously, while extinct in 99 per cent of its former range, Siamese crocodiles are raised by the thousands on crocodile farms in Cambodia. Loss of habitat is the main reason for the demise of these crocodiles; other reasons are the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in rice growing; a rise in the cattle population; warfare; dam construction; and drowning in fishing nets. The wild population of Siamese crocodiles is unknown.

Mexican wolf
Mexican wolf

11. Mexican Wolf (Canus lupus baileyi)

The Mexican wolf is a subspecies of gray wolf and the most endangered gray wolf of North America. Once considered a threat to livestock, these wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned. In fact, in the 1970s the Mexican wolf had such low numbers that it was declared an endangered species, and then the American and Mexican governments captured the few wolves left in the wild and took them into captivity. Then, in 1998, the captive Mexican wolves were re-introduced into parts of Arizona and New Mexico. By 2017, some 140 Mexican wolves were living in parts of Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as 240 individuals kept in breeding programs in Mexico.

Borneo elephant
Borneo elephant

12. Borneo Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)

Also known as a Borneo pygmy elephant, the Borneo elephant is a subspecies of the Asian elephant. Because of widespread habitat loss on the island of Borneo and parts of Malaysia, the number of the Borneo elephants has declined dramatically since the 1980s, placing the species on the IUCN Red List, which designates them as a critically endangered species. Generally smaller than African elephants, the Borneo elephant has become domesticated in many areas, though this closeness to people has brought it into numerous conflicts, leading to hundreds of fatalities of both people and elephants every year. At present, in some areas, only 20 to 80 Borneo elephants survive in the wild.

Orangutan
Orangutan

13. Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

The orangutan, whose name means “person of the forest,” exists on the Islands of Borneo and Sumatra and comprises three separate species of the world’s great apes. Orangutans live almost entirely in trees and feed on fruit, vegetation, honey, bird eggs and insects. Considered very intelligent for apes, orangutans are often studied for their ability to make tools and use them in clever ways; they also know how to treat their own illnesses by eating certain plants, types of soil or minerals. (For good reason, in the Planet of the Apes movies orangutans are shown as the smartest apes.) Because of habitat loss, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, orangutans are listed as critically endangered. Even though estimates showed that 100,000 existed in 2016, their numbers have declined by 80 per cent in the last 75 years. According to current estimates, less than 50,000 may be left by 2025.

Iberian lynx
Iberian lynx

14. Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

Another animal on the IUCN Red List, the Iberian lynx lives in the Andalusia region of Spain and feeds primarily on the European rabbit. Unfortunately, the numbers of such rabbits declined sharply in the 1990s because of diseases such as myxomatosis and habitat loss. By the 2000s only 100 Iberian lynxes survived in the wild. But, because of various conservation measures, the restocking of rabbits and captive breeding programs, the number of Iberian lynxes increased to 326 by 2012. But such low numbers of lynxes could be wiped out by disease, natural disasters or other catastrophes. Fortunately, the Spanish National Commission for the Protection of Nature began the Lynx Ex Situ Conservation Breeding Program, which could help stabilize and increase the Iberian lynx population.

Cotton-top tamarin
Cotton-top tamarin

15. Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinus eodipus)

A New World Monkey found in the tropical forests of northwestern Colombia, the cotton-top tamarin, is very small – an adult weighs only one pound; and perhaps because of their tiny stature, about 40,000 of them were used for biomedical research before 1976, though now they’re protected from such experimentation by international law. At present, the cotton-top tamarin is greatly endangered because 95 per cent of its original habitat has been deforested and given over to palm oil farming, dam building and cattle grazing. Tamarins are also poached by dealers in the illegal wildlife trade. Consequently, the cotton-top tamarin is one of the most endangered primates in the world; only about 6,000 are left in the wild.

Saola
Saola

16. Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)

New mammal species are found only from time to time. In 1992, the WWFN announced the discovery of the saola, aka the Asian unicorn, a new bovid species found in the Annamite Range of Vietnam. (It had been 50 years since a large mammal species had been discovered in the wild!) Also, because of the saola’s unusual physical characteristics, it was given its own genus, Pseudoryx, not an every day occurrence in such animal matters! Moreover, since the saola was only recently discovered and exists only in remote forested areas, not much is known about it. Therefore, its surviving numbers can only be guessed at, though wildlife authorities know enough about it to designate it as a critically endangered species.

Red-vented cockatoo
Red-vented cockatoo

17. Red-vented Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia)

The IUCN lists 416 birds as endangered species as of September 2016, and one of these avian animals is the red-vented cockatoo, which is found on many of the smaller islands in the Philippines. In the 1990s, the red-vented cockatoo had a wild population of no more than 4,000 birds, but by 2008 the number was less than 1,000, making it one of the most endangered birds on the planet. These cockatoos are disappearing because of habitat loss and illegal trapping for the wildlife black market. Also, these beleaguered birds are often killed as pests, as they sometimes feed on agricultural commodities. Fortunately, there is a captive population of red-vented cockatoos.

Radiated tortoise
Radiated tortoise

18. Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata)

Found on the island Madagascar, which has lost 90 per cent of its native forest over the centuries since humans first arrived 2,350 years ago, the radiated tortoise, among many other native animals, suffer because of human activity. The radiated tortoise is critically endangered because of habitat loss, poaching and exploitation by the pet trade. Interestingly, the radiated tortoise is considered one of the prettiest tortoises in the world; the radiated patterns and pyramid-shaped domes on its carapace are truly eye-catching. Also, like many tortoises, it has great longevity; one radiated tortoise lived 188 years. Unfortunately, in recent years, smugglers have captured hundreds - even thousands - of these tortoises and shipped them to other countries. The surviving number of radiated tortoises is unknown.

California condor
California condor

19. California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

Essentially a vulture and the largest land bird in North America, the California condor went extinct in 1987! Actually the surviving birds, some 27 of them, were captured and placed in a captive breeding program. Then in 1991 some of the remaining condors were reintroduced into the wild, specifically remote areas of California, Utah, Arizona and northern Mexico. Now, as of 2017, 463 condors remain alive, in captivity or the wild. So the California condor is one of the rarest birds in the world. Primary reasons for its demise are poaching, habitat loss and lead poisoning. Interestingly, the California condor is the sacred bird of the Chumash Indians of Southern California.

Thylacine
Thylacine

20. Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

Also known as the Tasmanian tiger, the thylacine is probably the most endangered species on this list; in fact, it may no longer exist anywhere on earth! Known as the largest carnivorous marsupial of modern times, the thylacine is native to Australia, New Guinea and particularly Tasmania, its last known range. Notably, the last living thylacine died in a zoo in 1936, and a video of it can be seen on YouTube, as well as other videos showing its apparent contemporary existence. At any rate, sightings of the thylacine have been reported well into the 2000s, and a $1.75 million reward has been offered to anyone who can prove the animal’s existence. In 2017, scientists began using camera traps to search for this creature, which may be more of a cryptid than an endangered species in the present day.

Giant panda, symbol of the World Wide Fund for Nature
Giant panda, symbol of the World Wide Fund for Nature

We shan't save all we should like to, but we shall save a great deal more than if we had never tried.

— Sir Peter Scott

Afterword

Certainly this humble list is not comprehensive; hundreds of other animal species are endangered, if not critically so. If anyone is interested in helping save these animals from extinction, they could support, or at least become familiar with, organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, aka the World Wildlife Fund as known in America and Canada, which has invested over $1 billion on wildlife conservation efforts throughout the world since 1995. People could also donate a buck or two to such informed and dedicated groups.

Interested folks could also vote for candidates who show an interest in wildlife conservation. If a candidate never mentions the importance of such programs, then they shouldn’t be voted for, simple as that. Moreover, it seems obvious that some political parties are much more interested in saving species than others. Seek them out and only vote for their candidates.

One may also keep in mind that as these endangered species disappear, it becomes much more likely that people may also go extinct.

Please leave a comment!

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Kelley Marks

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        Pat Mills 

        6 weeks ago from East Chicago, Indiana

        One of the many organizations I support is the WWF. We need to protect wildlife from the notions and the arrogance of man.

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