Endangered species are those considered to be at risk of extinction, meaning that there are so few left of their kind that they could disappear from the planet altogether. Endangered species are threatened by factors such as habitat loss, hunting, disease and climate change, and usually, endangered species, have a declining population or a very limited range.
According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), 15 of the most endangered species (and classified as “Critically Endangered” by IUCN), are:
“Critically Endangered” is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List for wild species. Critically Endangered species are those that are facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
(Alphabetical order list)
1. Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus ssp. orientalis)
The Amur leopard, also known as the Far East leopard, has less than 40 individuals left in the wild. The Amur leopard is poached largely for its beautiful, spotted fur, used for humanly desires like selling and trading. This continuous poaching may result in their world wide extinction.
2. Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
The prominent horn for which rhinos are so well known has also been their downfall. Many animals have been killed for the hard, hairlike growth, which is revered for medicinal uses in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The horn is also valued in North Africa and the Middle East as an ornamental dagger handle. The black rhino once roamed most of sub-Saharan Africa, but today is on the verge of extinction due to poaching fueled by commercial demand.
3. Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla ssp. diehli)
Like other sea turtles, hawksbills are threatened by the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, excessive egg collection, fishery-related mortality, pollution, and coastal development. However, they are most threatened by wildlife trade.
Hawksbills are particularly susceptible to entanglement in gillnets and accidental capture on fishing hooks. Sea turtles need to reach the surface to breathe, and therefore many drown once caught. Known as bycatch, this is a serious threat to hawksbill turtles. As fishing activity expands, this threat is more of a problem.
5. Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
Indonesia is home to the only population of Javan rhinos left on the planet. Only about 40 of these rhinos exist there—making the Javan rhino one of the rarest mammals in the world.
The population in Ujung Kulon National Park represents the only hope for the survival of a species that is on the brink of extinction. They are extremely vulnerable to extinction due to natural catastrophes, diseases, poaching, and potential inbreeding.
6. Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei ssp. beringei)
The world’s smallest population of mountain gorillas—a subspecies of the eastern lowland gorilla—is split in two and scientists have debated whether they may be two separate subspecies. A bit more than half live in the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes that border the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The remainder can be found in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Since the discovery of the mountain gorilla subspecies in 1902, its population has endured years of war, hunting, habitat destruction and disease—threats so severe that it was once thought the species might be extinct by the end of the twentieth century.
7. Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)
With its unusually long horns and white markings on the face, the saola is a strong symbol for biodiversity in Lao and Vietnam. Little is known about the enigmatic saola in the two decades since its discovery. None exist in captivity and this rarely-seen mammal is already critically endangered.
Scientists have categorically documented saola in the wild on only four occasions to date. The actual size of the remaining population is unknown. Its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the region.
8. South China Tiger (Panthera tigris ssp. amoyensis)
The South China tiger population was estimated to number 4,000 individuals in the early 1950s. In the next few decades, thousands were killed as the subspecies was hunted as a pest. Today the South China tiger is considered by scientists to be “functionally extinct,” as it has not been sighted in the wild for more than 25 years.
South China tigers are a reminder that the threat against the world’s tiger is an urgent one. South China tigers are found in zoos and in South Africa where there are plans to reintroduce captive-bred tigers back into the wild.
9. Sumatran Elephant (Elephas maximus ssp. sumatranus)
Sumatra has experienced one of the highest rates of deforestation within the Asian elephant’s range, which has resulted in local extinctions of elephants in many areas. Over two-thirds of its natural lowland forest has been razed in the past 25 years and nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s habitat has been destroyed in one generation.
10. Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)
The Sumatran rhinoceros is covered with patches of stiff hair, most prominent on its ears. The horns for which rhinos are so well known have been their downfall. Many animals have been killed for this hard growth, which is made of a hair-like substance and is revered for medicinal use in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The horn is also valued in the Middle East, Yemen especially, and North Africa as an ornamental dagger handle.
With possibly as few as 100 animals left in a handful of small, isolated populations, the Sumatran rhino is arguably one of —if not the most— threatened large mammal in the world.
12. Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae)
Today, the last of Indonesia’s tigers—now less than 400—are holding on for survival in the remaining patches of forests on the island of Sumatra. Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching mean this noble creature could end up like its extinct Javan and Balinese relatives.
The island of Sumatra is the only place where tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants live together and the presence of Sumatran tiger is an important indicator of biodiversity in a forest. Protecting tigers and their habitat means many other species benefit—including humans.
13. Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)
In the upper part of Mexico’s Gulf of California lives the world’s smallest porpoise, the vaquita, rare and elusive. Vaquita are under threat from the fishing industry. They often die after being caught in gillnets, a problem known as bycatch.
The vaquita is the most endangered cetacean in the world. With likely fewer than 200 left, the species may go extinct without further protective measures.
14. Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
The Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, used to be one of the only two rivers in the world that was home to two different species of dolphin—the Yangtze finless porpoise and the Baiji dolphin. However, in 2006 the Baiji dolphin was declared functionally extinct. This was the first time in history that an entire species of dolphin had been wiped off the planet because of human activity.
Its close cousin, the Yangtze finless porpoise, is known for its mischievous smile and has a level of intelligence comparable to that of a gorilla. Overfishing is the main factor that contributes to the decrease in finless porpoises’ food supply, but pollution and ship movement are factors as well.