Endangered Species Day: Five animal species near extinction

This Endangered Species Day, we take a look at five of the world’s most endangered species and how wildlife trafficking, illegal hunting, and environment changes are leading them to be on the brink of extinction.

Rhino's are a critically endangered species, animal protection Australia

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

In the lush jungles of Borneo, a male orangutan swings from branch to branch, his movement effortless against the dense canopy that has been his ancestor’s home for millennia.

Miles away, in the Arctic’s icy waters, a polar bear navigates shrinking ice floes, her journey getting harder and longer each year in search of food.

It’s a similar story for many animal species globally. Their habitat, food supply, and the animals’ lives have dwindled under an ever-growing human threat.

Endangered Species Day, celebrated annually on the third Friday of May, is a great time to highlight those animal species who are close to extinction.

Global animal welfare organisation World Animal Protection says humans have hunted and harvested animals almost to extinction.

“Wild animals have become a commodity,” says Audrey Mealia, Global Head of Wildlife, World Animal Protection.

“Every day they are being poached from the wild for their bodies to be harvested.

“Not only is this a major conservation issue – it’s a devastating animal welfare concern.

“We need to do much more to protect wild animals from this cruelty by clamping down on the illegal poaching trade.

“Pangolins – and other wild animals – belong in the wild,” Audrey says.

World Animal Protection have provided us with facts about some of the lesser-known endangered species around the world:

Pangolin

Natural Habitat: Africa and Asia

A brown pangolin for endangered species - Animal Friendly Life article for Earth Day 2024
A wild pangolin (image: Upslash)

Pangolins are an example of one the most endangered species because of being trafficked almost to extinction.

They are small cat-sized creatures covered in hardened scales that account for 20 per cent of their weight.

There are eight species that mainly occupy Africa and Asia, and they are all considered either vulnerable or critically endangered.

The animals also have the ability to roll up into a ball, creating a hard, spiky, impenetrable sphere that even the jaws of lions, tigers and leopards can’t break.

On the downside, this means humans can capture them as easily as picking up a ball.

Some people believe their scales can stimulate lactation, cure cancer or cure asthma.

The scales can be worth $3,000 per kilogram on the black market.

Animal Friendly Life editor, Michelle Minehan, photographed a dead pangolin outside a restaurant in Laos

Yellow-eyed penguin

Natural Habitat: Dunedin, New Zealand

The yellow-eyed penguin, native to New Zealand, is now the rarest penguin in the world due to deforestation and predators.

Known for their distinct yellow eyes, these animals are tall and have a pale-yellow band of feathers across the nape of their eyes.

Its distinct markings make them one of the most unique penguin species.

Wildlife lovers can even catch a glimpse of them on the Nature’s Wonders wildlife tour in Dunedin, an award-winning conservation project where travelers observe animals in their natural habitat.

Travellers can’t get too close or touch the penguins.

Two yellow-eyed penguins

Saola

Natural Habitat: Asia

The Saola is an extremely rare mammal on the list.

Although known as the ‘Asian unicorn’, Saolas actually come from cattle and goats.

The first photo of one was taken in 1999 despite the species being first discovered in 1992.

The Saolas are nearly extinct because of loss of habitat.

Those remaining occupy the Animated Mountains of Vietnam and Laos.

They are one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century.

The Vaquita

Natural Habitat: Gulf of California

The vaquita hails from the Gulf of California.

Locals call them the little pigs or cows of the sea.

There is only approximately six to 22 vaquita porpoises remaining.

The population in 1997 was 600.

Conservationists have invested millions of dollars into the plight to keep the species alive, but they have been under threat from illegal fishing.

Illegal gillnets cause a lot of harm to Vaquitas.

The species has a kind, shy, and gentle nature.

Southern White Rhino

Natural Habitat: Kenya, East Africa

Sudan was the last male Northern white rhino with the species now critically endangered
Sudan, the last male Southern White Rhino. Picture: Glyn Edmunds

Southern and central Africa are home to two of the last remaining adult female southern white rhino.

Though prior to the first artificially inseminated southern white rhino being born, this species was critically extinct due to the death of the breed’s last male.

Their larger size and squared upper lip differentiate them from the common black rhino.

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in East Africa even offers travellers the rare opportunity to see the two final adult white rhinos left in existence, Nahjin and Fatu, in their natural habitat.

The Northern white rhino is one of the most endangered species
Fatu at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Picture: Jan Stejskal

Head to World Animal Protection’s website for more information, as well as great educational content about endangered animals and more!

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been at the forefront of global conservation efforts, striving to protect endangered species and their habitats.

Through rigorous research and innovative strategies, WWF works to mitigate the threats of habitat destruction, poaching, and climate change. Their comprehensive approach involves on-the-ground conservation, advocacy, and community engagement to ensure a sustainable future for wildlife.

Here are some of the most critically endangered species identified by WWF that require immediate action and protection:

Javan Rhinos

Found only in Ujung Kulon National Park, Indonesia, Javan rhinos number around 75. Threats include habitat loss and poaching.

Amur Leopard

With about 100 individuals in Russia and China, the Amur leopard faces habitat fragmentation and poaching.

Sunda Island Tiger

Approximately 600 remain on Sumatra, Indonesia. They are endangered due to habitat loss and poaching.

Mountain Gorillas

Over 1,000 live in Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Threats include habitat encroachment and disease.

Tapanuli Orangutan

With fewer than 800 individuals, they are the most endangered great apes, residing in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Yangtze Finless Porpoise

Critically endangered, fewer than 1,000 remain in the Yangtze River, facing pollution and habitat degradation.

Black Rhinos

Approximately 5,630 remain, primarily in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, threatened by poaching.

African Forest Elephant

Populations have declined by 86% due to poaching and habitat loss, primarily in Central Africa.

Sumatran Orangutan

Less than 14,000 survive, with threats from logging, agriculture, and the illegal pet trade.

Hawksbill Turtles

Critically endangered due to accidental capture in fishing gear, habitat loss, and illegal trade.

For more details, visit the WWF Endangered Animals page

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