Defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an endangered species is one that is categorized as very likely to go extinct. Despite conservationists’ best efforts, numbers still fall due to habitat destruction and illegal hunting. Listed below are a few species that have recently become a growing concern due in part to declining numbers and their close proximity to extinction.
The Tapanuli Orangutan
Following an extensive phylogenic study in 2017 analyzing the genetic samples of over 30 different orangutans, the Tapanuli orangutan became the most recent extant species of great ape to be defined. The species hails from the small region of Tapanuli, found in northern Sumatra.
While a newly discovered species, the Tapanuli holds the honor of being the world’s rarest great ape. With fewer than 800 known orangutans, these apes are already classified as critically endangered, the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN.
These numbers may dwindle even more as the destruction of their habitat continues due to deforestation and poaching. Potential urban development plans such as a proposed hydroelectric dam could impact at least 8% of the population. With their low numbers, inbreeding is an ever-present concern for the Tapanuli.
- Both the newest and rarest of defined great apes
- Has much in common with the Sumatran Orangutan, such as fur color and body build
- Full mustaches and flat cheeks; both sexes can have beards
- Fewer than 800 known orangutans across 390 square miles
- Numbers are still dwindling from conflict with humans and deforestation
The Javan Rhino
Discovered in 1822, the Javan rhino is the last species of rhinoceros to be defined.
The Javan rhino was once the most widespread of the Asian rhinoceroses, ranging from Java to India. There is one known population of Javan rhinos, located in Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia.
As of now, the population at Ujung Kulon National Park counts approximately 61 rhinos. Cát Tiên National Park in Vietnam hosted a second population of Javan rhinos at one time. However, the last rhino in Cát Tiên was shot and killed in 2010. The Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011.
The Javan rhino is one of the rarest animals in the world, and quite possibly the rarest large mammal. In order to observe these animals, scientists rely on camera traps and fecal samples. Their numbers will continue to decrease as long as poachers find value in their horns to sell on the black market.
- Once the most widespread of the Asian rhinoceroses
- One sole population of Javan rhinoceros, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia
- Rarest and most elusive large mammal
- As few as 63 Javan Rhinos in the wild, 0 in captivity
- Poached for their horns, which can cost up to $30,000 on the black market
Spanish for “little cow.” Discovered relatively recently in 1958, the vaquita is the smallest of cetaceans at 4.5 feet on average. It has been listed as a critically endangered species and is the most endangered cetacean in the world. The vaquita’s habitat is mostly comprised of murky lagoons along the Gulf of California.
While not actively hunted, the vaquita population suffers drastic declines due to being trapped in illegal gill nets. These gill nets were intended for totoaba, a critically endangered species of fish. The vaquita are also likely to be facing health issues because of inbreeding due to low numbers.
Formally sporting a number of 567 dolphins as recorded in 1997, the vaquita population has reduced sharply at roughly 18.5% per year. As few as 30 vaquitas remain in the wild as of November 2016. In order to aid conservation efforts, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has issued a permanent ban on gill nets. The Mexican government has also approved plans to launch a captive breeding program for the vaquita. As of November 2017, an adult female vaquita died hours after being captured, prompting the government to suspend its captive breeding.
- The smallest cetacean in the world
- Critically endangered with approximately 30 vaquitas in the wild as of Nov. 2016
- Habitats consist of murky, shallow lagoons along Gulf of California
- Victim to illegal fishing by use of gill nets
- Population declining at a rate of 18.5% per year
- Conservation efforts are aided by the Mexican government
This is a small selection of animals facing extinction. Species can be viewed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Unfortunately, many more will inevitably be added to the Red List in the future. As long as human development continues to expand, conservation efforts must remain and persist to preserve these animals for future generations.