Our world is home to a diverse range of organisms, each playing a critical role within their ecosystems.
Sadly, due to the rapid speed of human development and progression, numerous animals are now endangered and on the brink of disappearing. Habitat loss, poaching, climate change, and pollution are just some of the reasons animal populations are dwindling.
When a species is endangered, it means that its population is declining at a rapid pace and that there is a high risk of it becoming extinct. This can have serious consequences as each species contributes to maintaining the balance of its habitat.
Many organizations and groups around the world are working to increase protection around endangered species. However, despite these endeavors, many species continue to drop in number.
Wildlife populations have plummeted by 69% since 1970, and more than 41,000 species are under threat of extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
To save vulnerable and rare species, additional efforts will need to be made. Below are just 10 of the most endangered animals in the world.
10. Sumatran Elephant
According to the WWF, there are between 2,400 and 2,800 Sumatran elephants left in the wild.
Along with the Sumatran rhino, tiger, and orangutan, Sumatran elephants reside in the forest habitats of Borneo and Sumatra.
Logging, infrastructure development, and agriculture are their primary threats, along with habitat loss due to deforestation.
Adult Sumatran elephants can grow up to 9 feet in height and weigh up to 5 tons. They feed on a variety of plants and are key to spreading seeds throughout the forest ecosystem. 1
9. Yangtze Finless Porpoise
The Yangtze finless porpoise is the only freshwater porpoise found in the world. It resides in the Yangtze River in China and there are roughly 1,200 left.
This critically endangered porpoise is usually gray in color and is quite small compared to other porpoises. It can grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh up to 150 pounds.
In China, the Yangtze finless porpoise has been designated as a “first level protected species”, which is the highest level of protection given in the nation. 2
8. Tapanuli Orangutan
This is the newest species of orangutan that has been discovered. Based on the latest estimates, there area around 800 individuals left in the wild.
There is a single isolated rare population left which can be found in the tropical forests of Sumatra, Indonesia. Orangutans are tree-dwelling animals, and their habitats are being threatened by agriculture, mining, and hydroelectric advances.
Between 1985 and 2007, over 40% of the forests in Northern Sumatra have been lost. 3
7. Sunda Island Tiger
Sunda island tigers are also known as Sumatran tigers. Based on recent data, it has been found that approximately 80% of Sumatran tiger deaths can be attributed to poaching.
These magnificent cats are carnivores, and they hunt large prey, including deer, tapirs, and boars.
In the world, it is estimated there are less than 400 of these incredibly rare Sumatran tigers left, with only 250 in the wild. 4
6. Cross River Gorilla
The Cross River Gorilla is one of the two subspecies of the Western gorilla. It lives along the borders of Nigeria and Cameroon and may be the rarest primate in the world.
According to the most updated studies, there are fewer than 300 individuals remaining.
Like many other endangered animals, their decline is mostly due to poaching and human conflict. In some areas, Cross River gorillas are hunted for bushmeat and used in traditional medicines. 5
The kakapo is the world’s only flightless parrot and one of the longest-living birds.
It’s native to New Zealand, living in island forests. It’s critically endangered and currently there is a huge effort by New Zealanders to save it from extinction.
The kakapo was almost completely wiped out during European colonization where cats, rats and ferrets were introduced to New Zealand. At one point, the kakapo population had dropped to 49 birds.
The kakapo has been ranked by the Department of Conservation as ‘Nationally Critical’ and as of 2022, the entire adult population was 252 living parrots. 6
4. Amur Leopard
The Amur leopard is a lethal predator that can take down prey up to three times their own size. This stealthy feline has often been called “the silent killer”.
They are the most endangered big cat in the world and their populations have been destroyed due to hunting and habitat loss.
It is estimated that there are approximately 120 Amur leopards left in the world. 7
Saolas (pronounced: sow-la) are often called Asian unicorns. They are very elusive animals, and so, the exact number of saolas is hard to ascertain.
Only found in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos, saolas were just recently discovered in 1992. None are kept in captivity, and they are rarely spotted in the wild with very few photos!
It has been proposed there are fewer than 100 saolas remaining.
Saola are the first large mammal new to science in over 50 years. Both males and females have horns that can grow up to 20 inches in length. 8
2. Javan Rhino
Javan Rhinos are gentle beasts that roam the island of Java in Indonesia in one place, the Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP). Unfortunately, there are only about 77 Javan rhinos left in the world.
Compared to their African relatives, Javan rhinos are smaller, and they have a singular horn. These horns are composed of the same material that makes up human hair and nails.
Conservation efforts are being put in place in an attempt to save the Javan rhino. Groups are coming together to implement anti-poaching measures and breeding programs. 9
The vaquita is a small porpoise that looks like a small dolphin. Since 1996, the vaquita has been classified by the IUCN as a critically endangered species.
Current approximations estimate there to only be about 10 individuals left in the wild.
The biggest threat to vaquitas is fishing and accidental injury by fishing practices. They are also affected by water pollution and climate change.
These graceful marine mammals swim in shallow waters and have been found to dive up to 500 feet. When they are caught in nets, they are unable to surface and breathe, which leads to drowning. 10
The IUCN classifies species as critically endangered when they have displayed a steep decline in population over recent years. More needs to be done if we are to prevent these rare animals from disappearing forever.
Steps that can be taken to protect critically endangered animals include: habitat protection, supporting conservation organizations, adopting sustainable practices, and encouraging anti-poaching regulations.
Ultimately, the protection of the most endangered animals will only be possible if we make a coordinated effort to do so. We need to work together to maintain the biodiversity of our planet.
Fact Sources & References
- Dyna Rochmyaningsih (2022), “Saving Sumatran elephants starts with counting them. Indonesia won’t say how many are left“, Mongabay.
- CGTN (2023), “Yangtze finless porpoise population exceeds 1,200 in China“, CGTN.
- “TAPANULI ORANGUTAN“, Born Free.
- (2022), “Sunda Tigers Facts, Habitat and Diet“, Discovery.
- Lindsey Jean Schueman (2022), “Cross River lowland gorillas: the world’s rarest great ape“, OneEarth.
- Alison Ballance (2010), “Kakapo: Rescued from the brink of extinction“, Research Gate.
- “Amur leopard: probably the world’s rarest cat?“, WWF.
- Veronika Perková (2022), “Scientists step up hunt for ‘Asian unicorn’, one of world’s rarest animals“, The Guardian.
- Save the Rhino (2023), “Good news for 2023 – two more Javan rhinos“, Save the Rhino.
- “How many Vaquitas are left in the world in 2023?“, Porpoise.org.