When the population of a certain species has been determined to be unnaturally low or at risk of becoming so, they are often labeled with the following levels of concern: vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. In this article we are focusing on endangered and critically endangered animals. In this category, the population of a species has dipped so low that they are at great risk for becoming extinct in the near future.
Endangered animals can receive this classification on a local or national level. Often this comes with the benefit of protections such as making them illegal to hunt or remove from their environment. It can even include other protections like setting aside dedicated habitat that cannot be developed.
Animals can become endangered for many reasons. There are sometime natural causes such as outbreaks of disease. But ecosystems are good at balancing themselves and unfortunately it is usually human intervention that throws this balance out of whack. Loss of habitat, introduction of poisons/toxins, hunting, poaching and loss of prey species are common causes.
Let’s look at 14 examples of endangered species. Learning is the first step to making a positive change.
Examples of Endangered Species
1. Bengal Tigers
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris tigris (Subspecies)
Location: India, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal
How Many Are Left: 3,900
There may be less than 3,900 Bengal Tigers left in the wild. A stark difference from the 100,000 estimated to existed 100 years ago. Habit fragmentation and loss is a main driver of their endangered status. Poaching also frequently occurs, though illegal. Nagarhole National Park is known to have a decent number of these tigers, among other unique animals rare to see in the wild.
2. Bornean Orangutans
Scientific Name: Pongo pygmaeus
Location: South East Asian Islands
How Many Are Left: 104,700
Bornean Orangutans are an endangered species that has declined rapidly. Over the past 60 years, their population has decreased by 50%, making them critically endangered. Scientists are projecting a further decline to about 47,000 orangutans left by 2025. Habitat loss has been a huge driver as Borneo’s forests have been cleared to farm palm oil. It is estimated up to 80% of their habitat has been eradicated in just the last 20 years. Hunting and illegal pet trade have also played a role.
3. Blue Whales
Scientific Name: Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Oceans except the Arctic
How Many Are Left: 10,000 to 25,000
The majestic blue whale is the largest animal on earth. At 80-100 feet long, their tongue alone weighs more than an elephant. Their hearts are as big as Volkswagen beetles. A once plentiful species, blue whales were hunted heavily in the 20th century for their oil. They did not receive protection from hunting until 1967, and by then hundreds of thousands of them had been killed. While they are now illegal to hunt, recovery has been slow. Things like ocean pollution, ship strikes and rising ocean temperatures make their future uncertain.
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4. Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers
Scientific Name: Campephilus principalis
Location: Southeastern United States & Cuba
How Many Are Left: Unknown, possibly extinct
Ivory billed woodpeckers are one of the largest woodpeckers in the world, averaging about 20 inches long with a 30 inch wingspan. In the mid-twentieth century, heavy logging of the woodpeckers hardwood forest habitat, along with hunting, made these woodpeckers a rare sight as early as the 1920’s. Their population is currently unknown but the last confirmed sighting was in Louisiana in 1944. It is widely accepted that the Ivory billed woodpecker is in fact extinct, but it has not yet be removed from the critically endangered list. Many people still search for one, hoping to find proof that small numbers of this unique woodpecker still exist.
5. Giant Pandas
Scientific Name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
Location: Southwest China
How Many Are Left: 1,864
Almost everyone recognizes Giant Panda’s, cute black and white bears that munch bamboo all day. We call them simply “pandas” or “panda bears”. But many people may not know that the panda population is very vulnerable. Pandas grow up to be 200-300 pounds and eat over 26-48 pounds of food per day, almost all bamboo. They were first put on the endangered species list due to poaching, now they remain on the list because of their reliance on bamboo forests. Humans have cleared out much of their habitat, and it is harder for them to relocate with such a specific diet. They also have a low birth rate in captivity and the wild, which makes recovery a slow process.
6. Amur Leopard
Scientific Name: Panthera pardus orientalis
Location: Southeast Russia, North China
How Many Are Left: 84
You may be wondering why there are so few of this leopard, and the answer is because this animal is a subspecies of leopard only found in the southeastern region of Russia and northern China. They live for 10-15 years in the wild and are well adapted to cold climates. Their thick fur and lighter coloring seperate them from other leopard species. There are many threats to the Amur Leopard such as poaching for their furs, habitat loss by deforestation and poaching of prey species (making finding food harder for them).
7. Eastern Lowland Gorillas
Scientific Name: Gorilla beringei graueri
Location: Democratic Republic Of The Congo
How Many Are Left: Fewer than 3,800
Also known as Grauer’s gorilla, this is the largest subspecies of gorillas and largest primate. For several years the Democratic Republic Of The Congo has been in unrest, which has led to destruction of the habitats that these gorillas call home and poaching them for their meat, also called “bushmeat”. They are also incredibly vulnerable to poaching, even in their ‘protected’ areas.
8. Green Sea Turtles
Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
Location: Tropical Oceans
How Many Are Left: Unknown
Green sea turtles are one of the largest turtle species and can live for a very long time, sometimes as long as 60-70 years. They do not become sexually mature until they are between the ages of 25-35. Therefore it takes a long time for them to have babies, which can slow down recovery efforts. There are many issues that threaten these turtles, both intentional and unintentional. This includes hunting of the turtles, harvesting of their eggs, habitat loss by beachfront development, ocean pollution, boat strikes and getting caught in fishing nets.
9. Polar Bears
Scientific Name: Ursus maritimus
How Many Are Left: 22,000-31,000
Polar bears are an iconic species that almost everyone recognizes. Climate change is a huge concern for Polar bears. Polar bears hunt seals out on the sea ice, a shelf of ice that extends from the shore out into the ocean where the seals are. As temperatures rise, the sea ice melts earlier and earlier into the season, pushing the bears back to shore before they have caught and eaten enough seals to pack on the about of calories they need. As the sea ice continues to melt, researchers estimate that two-thirds of all Polar bears will be gone by 2050. Pollution and problems from oil and gas extraction also contribute to their endangered status.
10. Black Rhinoceros
Scientific Name: Diceros bicornis
Location: East and South Africa
How Many Are Left: 5,600
This is one of the smaller rhinos you will find in Africa; the other is the white rhino which is also on the endangered species list. Due to European hunters and settlers, the rhinos population has decreased drastically in the 20th century. Between 1970 and 1990 alone a huge decline in their population occurred due to them being hunted for their horn, used for ornamental carvings and Chinese medicines. There has been a lot of work done to ensure these rhinos do not go extinct, and many people have worked hard to save them over the years. However, there is a very long way to go, and the job is not over yet.
11. Indian Elephant
Scientific Name: Elephas maximus indicus
How Many Are Left: 20,000-25,000
Indian elephants are an endangered species due to their loss of habitat and poaching. Elephants tend to be hunted for their tusks; they are worth a lot on the black market. Elephants have a limited habitat because they need to be close to freshwater where they can drink once a day. They can roam up to 125 square miles and eat for 19 hours a day.
12. Red Panda
Scientific Name: Ailurus fulgens
Location: China, Eastern Himalayas
How Many Are Left: 10,000
Red pandas are quite unique looking, like a cross between a red fox, a raccoon and a bear. These cute creatures are classified as endangered because of significant habitat loss and poaching. As forests are cleared, they loose the trees they need to nest in, and the bamboo that makes up most of their diet. In some areas they are hunted for their fur, especially their big bushy tails, or taken to be sold as exotic pets. They are now legally protected in India, Bhutan, China, Nepal, and Myanmar. They are not yet extinct, but they could easily reach that status if we are not careful.
13. Black Footed Ferret
Scientific Name: Mustela nigripes
Location: North America
How Many Are Left: 370 wild
In the past they have been hunted for their fur, although their fur was considered lower quality than other similar animals and they were not the main victims of the fur trade. Beginning in the 1800’s prairie land began to be converted to farm land, drastically reducing numbers of prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are the Black Footed ferret’s main prey, so their population decreased dramatically as well. Diseases that have affected prairie dogs numbers and the ferrets themselves have also contributed. While some captive breed and release programs have been effective, these ferrets general lack of genetic diversity due to small population clusters and vulnerability to diseases keeps them on the endangered species list so far.
14. Fin Whale
Scientific Name: Balaenoptera physalus
Location: North Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Of Mexico
How Many Are Left: 50,000-90,000
These beautiful whales are said to swim around fish with the whites of their bellies, corralling them into a smaller condensed group, making them easier to eat. If they are so smart, why are they classified as endangered? These animals are endangered for several reasons. In the last century, they were hunted by commercial whalers for oil, meat, and baleen. Now they face extinction due to habitat loss caused by pollution.
How Can You Help?
There are many great wildlife organizations doing important conservation work that you can donate to. If you have a favorite species, you can often find conservation societies dedicated just to that species. Many offer “adopt an animal” programs where you can donate to help a specific animal they will send you information about.
You can also pay attention to what brands and products you are supporting. Do a little research into the company. Are they sourcing their products ethically and sustainably? Are they vegan or cruelty free? The internet can make it a lot easier these days to find out how eco-friendly various brands are.
You can also help by raising awareness among your friends and family. Social media is a simple way to do that. Repost wildlife facts, encourage recycling and sustainability in everyday life. You can also get involved with conservation and wildlife societies in your community. Little actions make big changes.
It is imperative to know which animals are endangered because it is the first step in making a change. Many of the animals we grew up learning about are now endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, diseases, and more. By actively raising awareness on animal health and habitat issues, it forces us to look at how we impact the environment through our everyday actions.