The earth’s current rate of extinction is greater than at any other time since the dinosaurs disappeared around 65 million years ago.
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THE NATURAL EXTINCTION RATE (aka background rate) describes how fast plants, mammals, birds, insects, etc. would die off if humans weren’t around. Scientists state that today species are disappearing at almost 1,000 times the natural rate, meaning we’re losing around 150-200 species every day. Close to 15% of mammal species and 11% of bird species are currently listed as threatened with extinction.
With an increasing human population, more and more land is being appropriated to develop cities, acquire natural resources, and build farms, amongst other reasons. This means loss of habitat for many animal species. In addition to this, other beings need to contend with human-caused disasters such as oil spills, climate change, and acid rain. And on top of that there’s the issue of over-hunting / -fishing and poaching to sustain an illegal market that trades in animals.
Hopefully this is something we can turn around, and the 21 animals listed below will be with us far into the future.
Status: Endangered src Threat: Poaching for the skin and other body parts is the most serious threat. Habitat loss through human movement and potential for climate change-induced sea level rise is also a main concern. Species info: The population is estimated at less than 2,500 in total with a decreasing trend. Natural habitat: Mangrove forests of Bangladesh, throughout various national parks and forested areas in India and Nepal, and in subtropical Himalayan foothills in Bhutan.
Status: Endangered (Bornean) src to Critically Endangered (Sumatran) src Threat: Loss of habitat due to over-logging and conversion of habitat for agriculture, as well as fragmentation due to roads, are of primary concern for both species. Fires have played a large role in the reduction of population of the Bornean Orangutan. Hunting and pet trade are also threats. Species info: Over the last 75 years, it's estimated that the population of the Sumatran Orangutan has declined by over 80% and continues to decrease. Most of the animals live outside of protected areas. Over 60 years, the Bornean Orangutan has declined over 50% and it's expected that this rate will continue. Natural habitat: The Sumatran Orangutan is found in the north of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, the majority in the province of Aceh. The Bornean Orangutan is found throughout the island of Borneo, mainly in Sarawak, Malaysia and Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Status: Vulnerable src Threat: Due to global climate change, the amount of sea ice is rapidly declining. This means a loss of habitat for polar bears, who are heavily reliant on the ice for their survival. Over 45 years (three generations), it's suspected that the population has declined by over 30%. Some estimate that the polar bear will be extinct within 100 years. In addition to melting sea ice, other factors affecting the population are "over-harvesting" in Canada and Greenland, poaching in Russia, and pollutants (at the top of the food chain they are susceptible to compound effects of pollution as it works up the food chain). Oil development in the Arctic is also a major concern, with the potential of oil spills and increased human-bear contact. Natural habitat: Circumpolar Arctic (as far south as sea ice extends). Popular viewing spots include the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway and Churchill, Manitoba in Canada.
Status: Critically Endangered src Threat: High levels of hunting and poaching, and diseases such as Ebola. Species info: The population of Western Gorillas, which includes the Western Lowland Gorilla pictured above, is estimated to be reduced by 80% over three generations (approx. 66 years) leading to 2046. The Eastern (Mountain) Gorilla, found in Rwanda, Uganda, and eastern DR Congo, is Endangered.src Natural habitat: The Western Gorilla can be found in Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), mainland Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni), Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo (RoC), and Cabinda (Angola).
Status: Endangered src Threat: The numbers of humpback whales have increased since a hunting moratorium was imposed, but there is constant threat due to entanglement with fishing gear, noise pollution, and collisions with ships. Under quotas, they continue to be a target for the whaling industry.src Species info: In 1966 a moratorium was put on hunting the humpback after they were found to be close to extinction; around 90% of the population had been killed off. Natural habitat: Off the coasts of Canada, the US, South America, Australia, and New Zealand, whale watching is a popular activity. In the summer, humpback whales are found in the polar regions where they feed, returning to warmer waters to give birth. They typically migrate up to 25,000 km (~15,500 miles).
Status: Vulnerable to Critically Endangered src Threat: Habitat loss due to logging (some of it illegal) and slash-and-burn activities, and hunting are major threats to these species. src Species info: The sifaka is a genus of the lemur family. The Silky Sifaka is Critically Endangered; as of 2008 there were an estimated 250 mature individuals in existence. Perrier’s Sifaka is also Critically Endangered. Natural habitat: The sifaka, like all lemurs, only exist in Madagascar.
Status: Vulnerable src Threat: One of the main threats to lions today is retaliatory / preemptive killing to protect human lives and livestock (it's a common practice to bait lions with poisoned carcasses to take advantage of their scavenging nature). Habitat loss, trophy hunting, and disease are also threats. Species info: The population has seen a decline of 30% over the past 20 years (three generations). Natural habitat: Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
View a list of MTS wildlife trips.
North American Grizzly Bear
Status: Threatened in the US src; Special Concern in Canada src; Extinct in Mexico src Threat: Human development and human conflict.src Today the bears are being threatened in the Jumbo Valley in British Columbia by plans to develop a large ski resort. This region is one of North America's most important wildlife corridors for grizzly bears to move to and from the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy -- an area that is free from human development.src Species info: After Yellowstone grizzlies were delisted in 2007 -- "effectively removing Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Yellowstone National Park area" -- a lawsuit was brought against the federal government to have the bear re-listed. The grizzly was added back to the list in 2009.
Natural habitat: Grizzlies in North America exist mostly in Alaska, Western Canada, and Northwestern US.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Status: Vulnerable src Threat: Until recently, commercial hunting for oil and museum collections. Today the largest threats are introduced predators such as "feral pigs, dogs, cats and black rats." Donkeys, goat, and cattle compete with the tortoises for grazing area. src Species info: During the 19th century, the species saw a significant decline due to passing ships taking them onboard for supplies. Between 1811 and 1824, records indicate 15,000 tortoises being taken by 105 whaling ships. One of the subspecies, the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, is believed to have become extinct after the last known specimen, "Lonesome George," died in captivity earlier this year. Natural habitat: Ten of the original 15 subspecies exist on seven of the Galapagos Islands.
Status: Endangered src Threat: The chimpanzee's decline is due to habitat destruction and degradation (slash-and-burn agriculture and logging), poaching (for their meat, pet trade, and crop-protection), and disease (they're susceptible to human disease, and as human population grows so does contact between the two). Species info: The reason for the chimpanzee's Endangered status is the fast decline in numbers over the past 20 - 30 years, which is expected to continue for the next 30 - 40 years. Natural habitat: Chimpanzees can be found "from southern Senegal across the forested belt north of the Congo River to western Uganda and western Tanzania, from sea-level to 2,800 m."
Status: Endangered Threat: Farming developments have been the main reason for the declining population. src Species info: The Rothschild Giraffe -- aka Baringo or Ugandan Giraffe -- is the second most endangered subspecies of giraffe, next to the West African Giraffe. As of 2010 there were less than 670 left in the wild. Natural habitat: The remaining population all live in protected areas in Uganda and Kenya. Captive breeding programs, for example the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, are looking to increase these numbers. src
Status: Vulnerable src Threat: The main causes for the decline are exploitation and habitat loss; there is no evidence that these threats will cease in the near future. Species info: Over the past decade hippo populations are estimated to have decreased between 7 and 20% and projected over 30 years (three generations) will decrease overall by 30%. The pygmy hippopotamus, found in West Africa (Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, and Liberia) is an Endangered species.
Natural habitat: Rivers, lakes, and swamps throughout sub-Saharan Africa
Status: Vulnerable src Threat: Elephant poaching for the ivory trade is, unfortunately, old news. Earlier this year NYT published a story in which Congolese authorities suspected the Ugandan military to be using helicopters to slaughter the animals. Historically, armed groups such as the LRA have poached elephants to sell their ivory to buy weapons and support their causes.src Species info: Despite the poaching, the African elephant's status has been upgraded from endangered to vulnerable. While regionally some populations are in decline, the large majority has seen an increase of 4% annually. It's estimated that the overall effect will be an increase in population. Elephants have become extinct regionally in Burundi, Gambia, Mauritania, and Swaziland, although they were reintroduced to Swaziland throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Natural habitat: You can find them in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Status: Endangered src Threat: "The major threats to Grevy's Zebra include: reduction of available water sources; habitat degradation and loss due to overgrazing; competition for resources; hunting; and disease." Species info: It is estimated that the Grevy's Zebra population has declined 50% over the last two decades. This species has "undergone one of the most substantial reductions of range of any African mammal." Natural habitat: The Grevy's Zebra can be found in Ethiopia and Kenya.
View a list of MTS safaris.
Status: Vulnerable src Threat: Habitat loss and fragmentation; conflicts with farmers (cheetahs who prey on livestock are seen as "pests"); poaching. Species info: The current population is estimated at around 7,500 to 10,000. Based on an estimate in the 1970s of 15,000, the population has declined at least 30% in the past two decades. Natural habitat: The vast majority of the remaining population can be found in Southern and Eastern Africa. The Asiatic Cheetah is found in Iran.
Status: Endangered src Threat: The decline in population has mostly been due to human overpopulation, habitat loss, and predator-control killings.src Species info: African wild dogs, which hunt in packs, are very efficient hunters with a kill rate of around 80%, compared to 30% for lions and, surprisingly, less than 2% for polar bears. At one point, over 500,000 African wild dogs existed in over 39 countries, but that has shrunk to between 3000 and 5500 in as low as 14 countries. Natural habitat: Eastern and southern Africa is where you're most likely to spot them, with the two largest groups in Tanzania (Selous Game Reserve) and northern Botswana / eastern Namibia.
Status: Least Concern to Critically Endangered Threats: Across the different sloth species, common threats are loss of habitat due to deforestation, hunting / poaching, and illegal pet trading. Species info: The Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth, listed as Critically Endangered src, is the smallest of all the sloths and lives on a single uninhabited island off the coast of Panama. The Maned Three-Toed Sloth, listed as Vulnerable src, has shown a decreasing population. Natural habitat: Sloths are tree-dwelling animals found in the jungles of Central and South America.
Status: Near Threatened to Critically Endangered src Threat: The major threat across all species is poaching. The rhinoceros horn is traded on the black market for ornamental and medicinal uses. Habitat loss due to agricultural development is also a big threat for some species. Species info: There are two species in Africa: the White Rhinoceros and the Black Rhinoceros. The Black Rhinoceros has been given the status of Critically Endangered; its population has declined almost 98% since the 1960s. The Asian species are the Javan, Sumatran, and Indian Rhinoceros. Of these, the Sumatran and Javan Rhinoceros are Critically Endangered. As of 2008 there were fewer than 50 mature males of the Javan species; the Sumatran population has seen a decline of around 80% over three generations (approx. 60 years). Natural habitat: The White Rhino is native to South Africa while the Black Rhino is native to Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and the United Republic of Zimbabwe. Both species have been reintroduced to several other African countries. In Asia, the Indian Rhino is native to India and Nepal, the Javan Rhino to Indonesia and Vietnam, and the Sumatran Rhino to Indonesia and Malaysia.
Status: Threatened src Threat: Human development that is clearing away eucalyptus trees, the koala's food source. In addition, "the remaining eucalypts' nutritional value has been tarnished by increased CO2 in the atmosphere, leading the IUCN to list the koala as one of the 10 most vulnerable species in the world to climate change." src Species info: The population of koalas varies greatly in Australia. Some populations are declining while others are growing and eating themselves out of foraging habitat. Natural habitat: Regions in Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia
Status: Near Threatened src Threat: This is mostly due to oil pollution (in a report published in 1994, it was thought that this has led to over 40,000 deaths every year). In addition, the fishing industry is playing a big role in the decreasing numbers. Natural habitat: The Magellanic Penguin breeds on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America in Chile, Argentina, and the Falkland Islands.
Galapagos Sea Lion
Status: Endangered src Threat: A cessation of reproduction during El Nino events and possible transmission of diseases from feral dogs. Species info: In 1978 a census estimated the population at around 40,000, but a recent survey discovered a 50% decrease. Natural habitat: Throughout the Galapagos Archipelago.
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