Today, across our planet, thousands of animal species are threatened with extinction, largely due to human activities and climate change, which threaten their natural habitats. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, there are approximately 5,000 threatened animals, and each year species vanish unbeknownst to most people. Here is a list of 10 most endangered species of 2012.
The Kakapo parrot of New Zealand is a unique creature in several ways. Not only is it the world’s heaviest parrot, weighing up to four kilograms but it is the world’s only flightless parrot, as well as the only nocturnal one. The bird was once common on both of New Zealand’s main islands. However, by the early 1970’s it was thought to have been driven into extinction by such prolific human-introduced invasive predators as rats and cats, which killed the helpless young birds in their nests on the ground. Currently there are fewer than 150 kakapos left in the wild — so few that almost all of them have names given to them by conservationists.
Chinese giant salamander
The Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianas) is the world’s largest amphibian, growing to lengths of up to six feet. It used to be common throughout central, southwestern and southern China, where it lives in streams in the forested hills and lays up to 500 eggs at a time in underwater burrows guarded by the male. However, the Chinese giant salamander has now almost completely disappeared due to its over-exploitation as a food source.
Amur or Siberian tiger
The Amur, or Siberian, tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is the largest big cat in the world, weighing up to 300 kilograms (660 pounds). Unlike the other tiger subspecies, which are jungle-dwellers, the Amur tiger lives in the birch forests of Russia’s frigid and snowy Far East, and formerly inhabited the colder regions of China and Korea. In fact, the animal thrives in winter temperatures that often drop to -50 degrees Fahrenheit (-45 Celsius). Due to relentless hunting, Russia’s tiger population had dropped to around 40 individuals by the 1930’s. Since then, the animal has been protected, and its numbers have rebounded to around 500.
Leatherback sea turtle
The leatherback sea turtle (Demochelys coriacea) is the earth’s biggest turtle and has the largest range of any species, swimming all over the globe from the tropics to the sub-polar regions. When it comes time to dig a nest and lay its eggs, it crawls out onto sandy sub-tropical beaches the world over. The leatherback is also critically endangered. According to the IUCN, in 1982 there were around 115,000 adult female leatherback turtles in the world; just 14 years later, there were only 20,000 to 30,000 — and the population has continued to plummet. The leatherback’s problems include theft of its eggs by humans, illegal hunting and nesting-habitat loss due to beach development, and the erosion of beaches due to global climate change.
Western lowland gorilla
There are two lowland gorillas native to West Africa: the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), which is the most numerous of the four gorilla subspecies, with over 90,000 individuals in the wild, and the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla diehli), of which only a tiny population of a few hundred remains. Both are listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered because of the fact that their populations have declined by over 60 per cent during the past 25 years—and are projected to continue dropping over the coming decades. Causes for the increasing scarcity include habitat loss and illegal commercial hunting by poachers, who sell gorillas for food in West African markets. But the largest killer of gorillas has been a deadly illness—the incurable ebola virus—which has ended the lives of up to 90 per cent of these great apes in some forest areas.
Northern right whale
The most endangered of all the world’s whale species, the northern right whale (Eubalena glacialis) numbers around 350 individuals that travel the Atlantic coasts of Canada and the US. During the whaling days of the 19th century, the right whale got its name because whalers considered it the “right” whale to kill, as it not only was full of valuable whale oil, but it floated after it was dead, which made it easy to handle and process. As a result, it was driven to near extinction. Although the right whale is now protected, its small remnant population continues to suffer losses due to entanglements in commercial fishing gear.
Greater bamboo lemur
The Island of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, is home to dozens of species of lemurs—and almost all of them are disappearing very quickly due to habitat loss and illegal hunting. But the most critically endangered of all of Madagascar’s lemurs is the greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus), also known as the broad-nosed gentle lemur. Fewer than 100 greater bamboo lemurs remain in the island’s southeastern and south-central forests, and they continue to be threatened by illegal hunting as well as habitat loss due to logging and the burning of forests for agricultural purposes.
The Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is the most endangered of the world’s five rhinoceros species, with an estimated 40-60 animals remaining on the western tip of the Island of Java (Indonesia) in Ujung Kulon National Park. The last member of another tiny population in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park was killed by poachers in 2011. The water-and swamp-loving Javan rhinoceros formerly ranged throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia, but has been hunted to near-extinction for its horn, which is used to make Asian folk medicines. Although it is now protected, it may not have a large-enough breeding population to prevent the species from going extinct.
The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is a very rare leopard subspecies that lives only in the remote and snowy northern forests of eastern Russian’s Primorye region. Its former range included Korea and northern China, but the Amur leopard is now extinct in those countries. A 2007 census counted only 14-20 adult Amur leopards and five to six cubs. Threats facing the species include habitat loss due to logging, road building and encroaching civilisation, poaching (illegal hunting) and global climate change.
Ivory-billed woodpecker, lives—or lived—in the Southeastern part of the US as well as Cuba. This huge woodpecker was considered extinct until 2004, when a handful of tantalising reports of sightings in Arkansas and Florida began to trickle in. However, definitive proof for the ivory-bill’s continued existence has remained elusive, and if a population does exist, it is likely to be tiny and extremely vulnerable. The ivory-billed woodpecker owes its near — or complete extinction to habitat loss as well as over-exploitation by humans, who hunted it for its feathers.