Layne worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and medical intern for several years before becoming a licensed veterinary technician (LVT).
Which Species Are Close to Extinction?
It's no mystery—humans pose the greatest threat to many of Earth's species. Habitat encroachment or destruction, an increase in the severity of weather events (hurricanes, flooding, fires, etc.), poaching (the black market—fur trade, ivory trade, medicine, delicacies, etc.), and our fossil fuel dependency (including use for agriculture) are some contributing factors.
If you are living in this 21st century, you already know that many of today's species are currently vulnerable, threatened, or endangered.
In 2020, there were only two white rhinos left in the world. The last male died in captivity.
In this article, we'll look at:
- Whale Sharks
- Sea Turtles
- Red Pandas
International vs. Regional Populations
In 1964, The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species became an incredibly useful resource for gathering information about the status of species—animals, fungi, and plants—internationally. You can find valuable information on the IUCN website regarding the current status of most species. Keep in mind, however, that populations differ by region. A threatened population in one area of a country may be endangered in another. So, which species are currently close to extinction? Let's take a look.
Species That Are on the Brink of Extinction
Peruvian Black Spider Monkey
<80% of population
The Red Wolf
What Does It Mean When a Population Goes Extinct?
Dictionary.com defines extinction as: "the state or process of a species, family, or larger group being or becoming extinct." Extinction essentially means to disappear. It can happen to a species entirely, meaning that all species are lost (wild and in captivity). Or, extinction might refer to wild populations. Often, in efforts to conserve or save a species, all wild ancestors will be extinct but a critically endangered species may be raised in captivity in an effort to save the population.
How Many Whales Are Left?
- Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) endangered
- Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) endangered
- North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) endangered
The blue whale is the largest mammal in the world, and can reach between 80–100 feet in length on average and close to 200 tons! Currently, there are 10,000–25,000 blue whales.
The fin whale comes in as the second largest mammal in the world. Fin whales (65–80 feet; 80 tons) can be distinguished from other whale species by their "razorback" appearance—a ridge behind their dorsal fin. Fin whale populations currently number between 50,000–90,000. They are found in the waters of California and the Arctic.
North Atlantic Right Whale
Only 300-350 right whales remain. They can weigh up to 70 tons and reach 45-55 feet in length. They inhabit the Atlantic and areas near Iceland, Greenland, and the UK. They feed primarily on plankton.
The South China Tiger is believed to be extinct in the wild.
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Swimming With Whale Sharks
How Many Whale Sharks Are Left?
- Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) endangered
Found in tropical regions, they can reach 40 feet in length. Female whale sharks give birth to live young. They feed primarily on plankton. They are found in the Gulf of California, in Coastal East Africa, and the Coral Triangle. Their behaviors and breeding grounds are fairly unknown. Their current numbers are unknown as well, as they are highly migratory.
How Many Elephants Are Left?
- Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) critically endangered
- Asian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) endangered
Only 2,400–2,800 exist in the wild. Elephants play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems by depositing seeds in their feces as they traverse. They are native to Borneo and Sumatra. These magnificent species can weigh up to 5 tons and reach 20 feet in length.
Elephants are a matriarchal species and extremely social. They are relevant in Hindu mythology as well. As herbivores, they spend their days foraging. They are often found close to water sources. They can weigh upwards of 11,000 pounds and be 21 feet tall. Fewer than 50,000 exist in the wild. They are primarily hunted for their ivory.
How Many Tigers Are Left in the Wild?
- Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) endangered
- Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) endangered
- Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) critically endangered
- South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) critically endangered
- Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) critically endangered
Only 540 Amur tigers are left in the wild. They take to temperate forest in northeastern China and the Far East of Russia. This species can weigh up to 660 pounds and grow up to 10 feet. In the 1940s, their populations were nearly extinct due to hunting and poaching threats.
The Bengal tiger is the most numerous of all tiger species. They are primarily found in India, but there are only 2,500 currently left in the wild. Their habitat, the Sundarbans, are currently disappearing due to rising sea levels.
Malayan tigers are classified as Indochinese, a subspecies. They are critically endangered with only 250–340 left in the wild. They are found primarily in Thailand.
South China Tiger
Extinct in the wild. The population was in the 4,000s in the 1950s. In 1996, it was predicted to be 30–80. They have not been sighted in the wild for over 25 years in their native habitat, the Southeast China-Hainan Moist Forests.
Less than 400 Sumatran tigers of Indonesia exist in the wild. They face deforestation (habitat loss) and poaching and loss of prey. They are especially wanted for their fur, teeth, claws, and meats/organs for believed medicinal properties.
How Many Gorillas Exist in the Wild?
- Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) critically endangered
- Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) critically endangered
- Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) endangered
Cross River Gorilla
Only 200–300 individuals are thought to exist in the wild. Their native habitat has been subjected to deforestation for timber harvesting for years.
Eastern Lowland Gorilla
Also the Grauer’s gorilla, this is one of the largest subspecies of gorilla at 440 pounds and 51/2 feet. Found in the Congo Basin, this species' population has declined by 50% since the 1990s. Numbers are currently unknown. Poaching and civil issues have taken their toll on the populations, as their habitat has been subjected to general encroachment and destruction.
Roughly 1,000 mountain gorillas are left in the Congo Basin of Africa. They take to areas of high elevation at 8,000 to 13,000 feet and have been pushed into more precarious habitats due to habitat encroachment and poaching.
The last Javan Rhino in Vietnam was poached in 2010.
How Many Rhinos Exist in the Wild?
- Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) critically endangered
- Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) critically endangered
Only 5,000–5,400 exist in the wild. Twenty years ago their populations reached a historic low. They are particularly threatened by poaching—particularly for their horn. They live in the deserts and grasslands of Coastal East Africa.
There are only 58-68 of the Javan Rhino left in the wild. They can be 10–10.5 feet in length and take to tropical forests in Southeast Asia. Their single horn grows up to 10 inches in length. The last Javan Rhino in Vietnam was poached in 2010.
How Many Dolphins Are Left in the Wild?
- Ganges River dolphins (Platanista gangetica gangetica) endangered
- Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) endangered
- Indus River dolphin (Platanista minor) endangered
Ganges River Dolphins
Only 1,200-1,800 remain. The Ganges River dolphins take to freshwater rivers. These species use ultrasound to feed and have poor vision. They are found in the Eastern Himalayas and are some of the oldest species in the world.
Hector's dolphins are considered the rarest marine dolphins in the world. A subspecies of this dolphin, known as the Maui's dolphin, is critically endangered; it is believed that only 55 remain. They inhabitant New Zealand waters and only 7,000 are said to remain.
Indus River Dolphin
This species is found in the Indus River of Pakistan and only 1,816 remain. They are one of four species of river dolphins. They inhabit muddy waters and use ultrasound to detect freshwater prey.
How Many Sea Turtles Are Left?
- Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) endangered
- Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) critically endangered
Green turtles have relatives that lived over 110 million years ago. They can live upwards of 70 years and are slow to mature. Inhabiting tropical waters in the Pacific and Atlantic, they can travel 1,000s of miles in their lifetime. They face poaching, habitat loss, and are affected by human activities daily.
Hawksbill Turtles are known for their distinguishable tortoiseshell pattern. They are critical to healthy reefs and ecosystems. Feeding on jellyfish and anemones, they often mistakingly ingest plastics and other waste and are susceptible to death by impaction. Hawksbill are said to have lost 90% of its populations.
How Many Leopards Remain?
- Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) critically endangered
Roughly 84 Amur leopards remain in the Russian Far East. This species may run up to 35 mph and jump as far as 19 feet horizontally. Their lifespan is 10–15 years and they are mostly solitary. This species is also known as the Far East, Manchurian, and Korean leopard.
How Many Red Pandas Are Alive?
- Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) endangered
The red panda resembles a hybrid of a bear, cat, and a raccoon. They primarily inhabit the Eastern Himalayas in forest habitat. A smaller panda, only reaching 2 feet in length, there are less than 10,000 in the wild. They have beautiful, rust-red coats.
Are Pangolins Extinct?
- Pangolins (several) critically endangered
Pangolins are nocturnal species and are also known as "scaly" anteaters due to their keratin-covered bodies. They are illegally trafficked for their scales and meat. The African species are the Black-bellied pangolin, White-bellied pangolin, Giant Ground pangolin, and the Temminck's Ground pangolin. The Asian species are the Indian pangolin, Philippine pangolin, Sunda pangolin, and the Chinese pangolin. Current numbers are unknown.
How Many Orangutans Remain?
- Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) critically endangered
- Sumatran Orungutan (Pongo abelii) critically Endangered
The Bornean Orangutan's population has declined by 50% in the last 60 years due to habitat loss and destruction. They Inhabit Bornea and Sumatra and may reach up to 220 pounds; 104,700 exist in the wild. Logging and hunting has particularly decimated the Northwest Bornean populations.
The Sumatran Orangutan inhabits tropical rainforest. Females often stay in groups and the males are solitary. Many are traded illegally or illegally kept as pets. Only 14,613 exist in the wild.
Species That Went Extinct in 2020
Yangtze giant softshell turtle
Species That Went Extinct in 2019
Yangtze giant softshell turtle
Species That Went Extinct in 2018
The Cryptic Treehunter
New Caledonian Lorikeet
Male Northern White Rhino
- Species List | Endangered, Vulnerable, and Threatened Animals | WWF
WWF is committed to saving endangered species. Learn more about the species we are working to protecting from becoming endangered or extinct.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Laynie H
Liz Westwood from UK on February 27, 2019:
This is a thorough, detailed and well-illustrated article. You have packed a lot of information in here on a very topical subject.
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 25, 2019:
Alexander—I agree. I love these amazing creatures. We spend so much time trying to replicate their natural gifts—sonar, flight, etc. Beautiful.
Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on February 25, 2019:
Gorillas are beautiful. :/