OR, MAYBE IT’S A bad thing. Because at some point–maybe 10 years, maybe 50 years from now–your kids, or your kids’ kids will ask you if you ever saw a black rhino.
Yes, you’ll say, thinking back to a trip to the zoo, when a few still lingered around in captivity. It didn’t seem like much back then; sure, it was cool and all, but you never thought to yourself that you were looking at one of the last black rhinos that would ever walk the planet.
Such may be the case with these ten species, each of whose populations have been destroyed over the past thirty years, largely due to human interference. The next time you see any of these creatures–if there is a next time–remember that you may be looking at the dinosaurs of the future.
The Iberian Lynx is the most endangered species of cats, and given very few, if any cat species have gone extinct in the past 2,000 years, something must really be going wrong. Right now, there are fewer than 100 in the world, all of which are in Andalucia, the southermost region of Spain.
A combination of increased construction in their habitats, vehicle collisions, poaching for fur and a starkly diminished population of rabbits have resulted in the incredibly low number of lynx in the wild. Additionally, during the second months of an infant lynx’s lifespan, siblings from the same litter will become incredibly violent towards one another, often killing the weaker cub.
Orangutans, found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, get their name from the malay language: “Orang” (person) – “hutan” (forest), or “forest person.” The description itself is pretty accurate: 96.4% of human and orangutan DNA are indistinguishable from one another. They also fashion their own umbrellas out of large leaves when it starts pouring, and carve little prodding sticks for wresting some honey out of beehives.
But unfortunately, orangutans aren’t likely to survive much longer. At the current rate of extinction, the Sumantran orangutan will be finished off within the decade: only 7,500 exist, and they’re dying at a rate of 1,000 per year, according to the WWF. As usual, the #1 cause of population devastation is from invasive human actions like deforestation and fires resulting from human error.
Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat
The largest known wombat, the hairy-nosed variety can grow up to nearly 100 pounds–a pretty massive marsupial. And while it’s fuzzy, cuddle demeanor and a distinctive waddle suggest a slow and laid-back personality, if they get worked up they’ve been measured running over 40 kilometers per hour. Less than 100 of these exist in the world today, all in a national park in Queensland, Australia.
Wild Bactrian Camel
If you were to draw a camel, how many humps would it have? Odds are, you’d draw it with two–and you’d be drawing a Bactrian Camel. Unlike the massive population of one-humped Arabian camels, Bactrians have two for food and water storage, and comes from the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia.
The Arabian and Bactrian camels are the only two surviving species of camels in the world–and soon there may only be one, given that less than 1,000 exist in the wild, and are projected to reach extreme lows over the next decade or two. Mining, hunting, and genetic mixing with domestic camels have driven the numbers of Bactrians camels to the current levels, which is a shame: the future will have to settle for only one-humped camels, or photos of the Bactrians that once were.
Indigenous to central-north African countries like Niger, Chad, and Mali, the Dama Gazelle has received little support from conservation groups and has fallen well below even 100 gazelles found at a time. They were once fast and numerous, but an onslaught of readily-available automatic weapons has proven a fatal blow to their numbers. Despite their probably extinction, the Dama Gazelle is a national symbol in Niger, where it appears on the emblem of the Niger national football team.
The black rhino was once the most populous, thriving species of rhino on the planet with several hundred thousand living throughout Africa. Today, their numbers have dwindled immensely, and the Western species of black rhino has been declared extinct.
The biggest threat to rhinos has typically been the poaching of their horns to make opulent ceremonial daggers called jambiyas, as well as usage in traditional Chinese medicine (which also has driven the Javanese rhino into near-extinction). If you’re reading this and feel far from the scene of the problem, consider this: in June 2007, a black rhino horn was confiscated at a traditional Chinese medicine store in Portland, Oregon.
Outside of crocodiles, leatherback turtles are the world’s largest reptile. They’ve been recorded growing up to 10 feet long and more than 2,000 pounds. Due to their diet of jellyfish, they routinely dive distances over thousands of meters below the sea–making them the world’s deepest-diving non-sea-creature. But as well, they often mistake pieces of plastic debris for jellyfish and die from choking or ingesting harmful material.
At one point a few decades ago, leatherbacks thrived with a population of more than 115,000 females nesting each year. Today, that number is now somewhere between 26,000 to 43,000–a dramatic drop that’s put it on the critically endangered species list.
About 30 years ago, the last 17 remaining red wolves were put into captivity in an attempt to re-stabilize their population in the wilderness of the southeastern United States. Decades later, their numbers have increased to about 100–but deforestation in the area is simultaneously reaching record levels, poising to again push the red wolf population into extinction.
When it comes to tigers, two species in particular are known better than any of the six that haven’t yet become extinct: the Bengal tiger and, of course, the Siberian tiger. Few animals have earned such a widespread recognition and appreciation as the Siberian tiger, yet what most people don’t know is that only about 250 of them are known to presently exist.
Of course, some may not care about the subspecies of tiger–a tiger is a tiger, they might say–but the Siberian tiger is the largest species of cat that’s ever existed, and unlike the Bengal tiger, they’re relatively easy to domesticate and have a very rare rate of attacking humans. To erase a subspecies is not to discard a small sub-category of interchangeable animals–it’s equivalent to deleting an entire race with their own distinctive characteristics.
The Polar Bear is the largest species of bear and largest carnivore in the world and lives mostly within the frigid climates of the Arctic Circle.
Everyone knows the story going on: ice caps are melting, effectively rendering the Polar Bear incapable of standing on its own four legs. But the truth is that Polar Bears aren’t victims of ice cracking around them–it’s a sadder story, really. As Polar Bears wander through a mix of land and slush and ice and water, they can’t walk as fast and cover enough ground to find regular food, so they eventually starve to death.
Alright, that’s enough depressing news and sadness for now. Here to save the day: a baby polar bear playing in the mirror.
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Jason Wire graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2010 and spent the year after writing and teaching English in Spain. He's back in the states now, but doesn't know where. Follow him @wirejr.
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