13 species we might have to say goodbye to in 2015
Jan 05, 2015
British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough once asked: “Are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?”
2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, Martha, who managed to survive only 14 years in captivity after her species became extinct in the wild. More recently, Angalifu, a 44-year-old northern white rhinoceros, died at the San Diego Zoo, leaving just five other white rhinos worldwide, all in captivity. Chances are our grandchildren will never get to see this remarkable creature.
In fact, the world is losing dozens of species every day in what experts are calling the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. As many as 30% to 50% of all species are moving toward extinction by mid-century — and the blame sits squarely on our shoulders.
“Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened,” said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. “The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors.”
About 190 nations met last month at the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, to discuss action needed to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions. It ended with a watered-down agreement that seems unlikely to help much in the battle against global warming.
Corruption and illegal online trafficking also threaten conservation efforts. The illegal wildlife trade is an estimated $10-billion-a-year industry. It’s the fifth largest contraband trade after narcotics, fueled by the rising demand for animals as pets, trophies and ingredients in medicine, food and other products.
There’s no doubt that we’re facing an uphill battle against mankind’s unsustainable greed and consumption, but it’s a battle we can’t afford to lose.
“The thought of having to explain to my children that there were once tigers — real, wild tigers, out there, in the great forests of the world — but that we let them die out, because we were busy — well, it was bad enough explaining about the Tooth Fairy, and that wasn’t even my fault,” English comedian Simon Evans said.
Here are a few of the planet’s most endangered animals who we may have to say goodbye to in 2015:
1. Amur leopard
- A 3-month-old Amur leopard is pictured with its mother during its first time out on July 11, 2012, at the zoo in Mulhouse, eastern France. (Photo: Sebastien Bozon, AFP/Getty Images)
Poached for its beautiful, spotted fur, the Amur Leopard is possibly the rarest and most endangered big cat in the world. Found along the border areas between the Russian Far East and northeast China, this species also faces habitat destruction and a loss of prey animals — i.e., food — due to poaching. Today, around 30 individual Amur leopards remain in the wild.
2. Sumatran elephant
- A 7-day-old female Sumatran elephant calf stands with its mother at the Safari zoo in Pasuruan, East Java, on Nov. 14, 2014. (Photo: Fully Handoko, epa)
The smallest of the Asian elephants, the Sumatran elephant’s numbers have declined by an astonishing 80% in less than 25 years due to deforestation, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict in Sumatra. Around 2,400 to 2,800 individuals survive today.
Male Asian elephants have relatively small tusks, but poachers still kill to sell them in the illegal ivory market, thus skewing the sex ratio among wild elephants and making future breeding and species survival difficult.
3. Javan rhinoceros
- A female Javan rhino walks with her calf in Ujung Kulon National Park. (Photo: WWF-Indonesia and Ujung Kulon National Park Authority, AP)
As the most threatened of the five rhino species, Javan rhinos were killed by trophy hunters during colonial times. Since then, poachers have continued to target them for their highly prized horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicines. With just 35 individuals left in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia, this species is extremely vulnerable to extinction due to natural disasters, poaching, diseases and low genetic diversity.
4. Leatherback turtle
- Members of a World Wildlife team gather for a group photo with a leatherback turtle on July 20, 2003, on a remote beach in Indonesia’s Papua province. The team had just placed a satellite tracking device on the turtle. (Photo: Scott R. Benson, NOAA via AP)
The largest sea turtle species and one of the most migratory, the Leatherback turtle population has severely declined in recent years due to overharvesting, fisheries bycatch, plastic ingestion, egg poaching, habitat loss and expansion of coastal development that continues to disturb and destroy turtle nesting beaches.
5. Western lowland gorilla
- A 57-year-old western lowland gorilla prepares to eat some ice cake she received for her birthday on Nov. 6, 2014, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. (Photo: San Diego Zoo Safari Park via AP)
Although hunting and killing of the species is illegal, western lowland gorillas continue to be killed for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, while baby gorillas are captured and kept as pets. The deadly Ebola virus has also devastated the wild ape population. In Gabon’s Minkébé Forest alone, the virus killed more than 90% of the region’s gorilla and chimpanzee populations.
- This photo taken in 1993 and released by WWF shows a Saola in Vietnam when it was captured. It was one of two Saola captured alive in central Vietnam, but both died months later in captivity. (Photo: WWF, AP)
Known as the Asian unicorn, the saola is rarely seen in the wild, and none live in captivity. The current population is estimated to be between a few dozen and a few hundred. Saola are hunted to supply growing demands for traditional medicine in China and food markets in Vietnam and Laos.
Habitat loss and reduced genetic diversity also threaten this species’ already dwindling population.
This Vaquita died in a gill net intended for sharks in the Sea of Cortez near San Felipe, Mexico. (Photo: Flip Nicklin, Minden Pictures via Getty)
As the world’s most rare marine animal, the vaquita is on the brink of extinction with fewer than 100 individuals left in the world.
Found in the upper Gulf of California, one out of every five vaquita gets entangled and drowned in gillnets that are intended to catch another critically endangered species, the totoaba, whose swim bladders are illegally sold for about $4,000 a pound.
As long as this illegal international trade thrives, the vaquita population will continue to decline.
8. Siberian tiger
- A Siberian tiger plays with a pumpkin at the Dierenpark Amersfoort zoo in Amersfoort, The Netherlands, on Oct. 30, 2014. (Photo: Remko de Waal, AFP/Getty Images)
Also known as Amur tigers, Siberian tigers are the world’s largest cats, hunted for their use in traditional Chinese medicine on the black market or even as trophies.
Hunting, mining, fires, poor law enforcement, forest destruction and illegal logging also continue to threaten this species, leaving an estimated 400 to 500 individuals in the wild.
9. Mountain gorilla
- A baby mountain gorilla is pictured in the Sabyinyo Mountains of Rwanda on Dec. 27, 2014. (Photo: Ivan Leiman, AFP/Getty Images)
Mountain gorillas are found in the Virunga Mountains that border Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Poaching, destruction of habitat, disease and charcoal production that destroys gorilla habitat have left around 880 individuals struggling to survive.
10. Greater bamboo lemur
- This Greater Bamboo Lemur lives in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park. (Photo: Konrad Wothe, Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM)
Found in southeastern Madagascar, the greater bamboo lemur is the most endangered lemur species in Madagascar with as few as 60 believed to still exist in the wild and no more than 150 in captivity.
Climate change, illegal logging, lemur hunting and severe depletion of bamboo mean this species might not survive much longer.
11. Sumatran orangutan
- A Sumatran orangutan holds her 3-week-old baby at the zoo in Prague on March 15, 2013. (Photo: Michal Cizek, AFP/Getty Images)
Orangutan habitats in Sumatra are depleting at an astonishing rate due to forest fires, development of oil palm plantations, illegal logging and other agricultural development, posing a serious risk to this species.
Hunted for food and even captured alive to be kept as status symbols, this species is facing a downhill spiral due to inadequate law enforcement and an increase in illegal trafficking. About 7,300 individuals are left in the wild.
12. Black rhino
- A black dehorned rhinoceros followed by a calf walks at the Bona Bona Game Reserve, in Klerksdorp, South Africa, on Aug. 3, 2012. (Photo: Stephane de Sakutin, AFP/Getty Images)
During colonial times, black rhinos were killed daily for their prized horns, food or just for sport. One of the oldest groups of mammals, this species is considered an important source of tourism in many African countries.
Sadly, even the most fervent conservation efforts are being hampered by habitat change and increases in poaching due to severe poverty and rising black market demand for rhino horns, particularly in Asia. Just 4,848 individuals are left in the world.
13. Yangtze finless porpoise
- A Yangtze finless porpoise is rescued on Dec. 31, 2013 in the Duchang section of Yangtze River in China. The finless porpoise was trapped in fishing nets and freed to river by local people. (Photo: Zhan Dingpeng, Corbis)
Known as the “giant panda of the water,” these clever creatures are one of the most famous species found in China’s Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia.
Due to overfishing, decrease in food supply, pollution and changing conditions caused by dams, only 1,000 to 1,800 individuals remain. The finless porpoise’s close cousin, the Baiji dolphin, has already been declared functionally extinct due to human activity.