Thousands of animals are in danger of extinction throughout the world.
Can you imagine a world without animals? Just take a moment and try.
A world without the humble embrace of nature. The tree in your very own backyard, no longer the conductor to our birds but rather the ambulance to our atmosphere.
A world without animals is a low-spirited, lonely world. Yet, most people either don’t know, or don’t accept that it is a world we are destined to live in.
150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. Humans will cause so many mammal species to go extinct in the next 50 years that the planet’s evolutionary diversity won’t recover for another 3 to 5 million years.
Why are animals in danger of extinction?
“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate (…) We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cell phones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”
The main threats causing extinction of animal species
According to Nature, the main threats for biodiversity on Earth are:
- Exploitation: 37 % (hunting, fishing).
- Habitat degradation and change: 31 %
- Loss of habitat: 13 %
- Climate change: 7 %
- Invasive species: 5 %
- Pollution: 4 %
- Disease: 2 %
21 Animals in danger of extinction – List
How many left: 31 000
Polar bears live most of their life in solitary. They are active for most of the year, always in search for a meal. They are extremely strong, using their bowed legs to cover ground quickly. Their padded feet are full of hair, which gives them more control on slippery ice.
Polar bears are expert swimmers. They use their muscular front legs to propel them through the icy water. They are able to stay submerged for up to 2 minutes, while searching for food. The longest known dive lasted for 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
Video: See the effect of climate change has on the polar bear. (Warning: Graphic content)
- Size: Males 2.4–3 m (7 ft 10 in–9 ft 10 in) & Females 1.8–2.4 m (5 ft 11 in–7 ft 10 in)
- Weight: Males 350–700 kg (772–1,543 lb) & Female 150–250 kg (331–551 lb)
- Diet: Seals, fish and vegetation.
- Geographical location: Greenland, Norway, Russia, Canada & United States (Alaska)
- Cause of extinction: Habitat loss due to climate change
How many left: 3890
Like the polar bear, tigers are solitary animals. They are nocturnal, hunting large animals. They make a kill about twice a week but are forced to do so more regularly if only small animals are available. Sometimes they cover an area of over 32km (20 miles) in one night in search of food.
Tigers are shy animals and make every effort to avoid humans. However, they have been known to attack domestic cattle when food resources are exceptionally low. Female tigers (tigresses) only give birth once every two years. Cubs will rely on their mothers until they are two years old.
- Size: Males 250 to 390 cm (8.2 to 12.8 ft) | Females 200 to 275 cm (6.56 to 9.02 ft)
- Weight: Males 90 and 306 kg (198 and 675 lb) | Females 65 to 167 kg (143 to 368 lb)
- Diet: Sambar deer, Manchurian wapiti, barasingha and wild boar.
- Geographical location: Wild tigers live in Asia. Larger subspecies, such as the Siberian tiger, live in eastern Russia and northeastern China. Smaller subspecies live in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
- Cause of extinction: Habitat loss due to climate change and illegal tiger trade.
How many left: Bornean 104 700 & Sumatran 7500
Orangutans are diurnal. That means they are mostly active during the day, just like humans.
While Bornean orangutans may climb to the ground from time to time, Sumatran orangutans hardly ever venture down, spending the majority of their lives up in the forest canopy.
It’s because of their tree top lifestyle that orangutans have developed stronger and longer limbs than any of the other ape species.
Read more: The illegal trade on orangutans.
- Size: Females 115 cm (3 ft 9 in) tall | Males 137 cm (4 ft 6 in).
- Weight: Females 37 kg (82 lb) | Males 75 kg (165 lb).
- Diet: Bark, leaves, flowers, a variety of insects, and most importantly, over 300 kinds of fruit.
- Geographical location: Borneo and Sumatra.
- Cause of extinction: Destruction of habitat and illegal animal trade.
How many left: 5000 to 15 000
The blue whale is the largest animal to have ever existed on planet earth. Its tongue alone weighs more than an elephant and its heart is the size of a car.
Blue whales are found in all the world’s oceans, except for the Arctic. They usually swim alone or in groups of two to four. However, if food supply is in great quantities, as many as 60 blue whales may come together.
They use incredibly loud vocal sounds in order to communicate with one another. Their sounds are the loudest of any animal on the planet, and can be heard for hundreds of kilometers.
Read more: The era of whale hunting.
- Size: 72.1 ft (22.1 m) to 102 ft (31.1 m)
- Weight: Males 100 tons (200,000 lb) | Females 112 tons (224,000 lb) (Northern hemisphere)
- Diet: Krill
- Geographical location: Can be found in all oceans, except the Arctic. (View full list of countries).
- Cause of extinction: The effect climate change has on their food source. Still recovering from the impacts of 20th Century whaling.
How many left: Less than 2500
This is one of the more unusual animals in danger of extinction. The Socorro Isopod is a tiny aquatic crustacean. Females produce broods every two months with April being the peak reproductive period. Brood sizes range from three to 57 eggs.
Read more: about the Socorro Isopod.
- Diet: Algae
- Geographical location: New Mexico
- Cause of extinction: Restricted habitat.
How many left: 84 – 100
When you think of leopards, you probably think of the vast open savannas in Africa. But in the Russian far east, a rare subspecies has adapted to life in the temperate forests.
Amur leopards can run up to speeds as fast as 60km/h (37 mph). What’s more impressive is their ability to jump more than 6m (19 feet) horizontally and up to 3m (10 feet) vertically.
Once the leopard has made a kill, it carries and hides its victim so that it is not stolen by other predators. Interestingly, some males have been reported to stay with females after mating and even help with rearing the young.
The Amur leopard is also known as the Far East leopard, Manchurian leopard, and Korean leopard. In each of these locations, the species is in extreme danger of extinction.
- Size: Males 107–136 cm (42–54 in) | Females
- Weight: Males 32.2–48 kg (71–106 lb) | Females 25–42.5 kg (55–94 lb)
- Diet: Deer, young wild boar, spotted deer and red deer calves.
- Geographical location: Russia, China and North Korea
- Cause of extinction: Habitat loss due to deforestation and poaching
African Wild Dog
How many left: 1400 – 5000
The African wild dog is currently the second most endangered canid in Africa after the Ethiopian wolf. It is furthermore the most endangered carnivore in South Africa. Its behavior is rather unique amongst canid species. African wild dogs form incredibly strong social bonds with one another and are super intelligent.
Wild dogs are some of the most successful hunters in the world and the most successful predatory mammals in Africa. They have a staggering 80% success rate. In comparison, the lion has a measly 30% success rate.
- Weight: Males 32.7 kg (72 lb) | Females 24.5 kg (54 lb)
- Diet: Greater kudu, Thomson’s gazelle, impala, bushbuck and blue wildebeest.
- Geographical location: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique.
- Cause of extinction: Habitat fragmentation, conflict with human activities and infectious disease.
Eastern Lowland Gorilla
How many left: 5000
The eastern lowland gorilla, also known as the Grauer’s Gorilla, is the largest of the four gorilla subspecies. These gorillas follow a completely vegan diet and are solid muscle.
They make their home in the lowland tropical rainforests of eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), a country plagued by many years of unrest. Within 50 years, the gorilla’s range has decreased by a staggering 9100 km2 (3500 square miles).
In the mid-1990s there were nearly 17 000 eastern lowland gorillas. Today, their numbers have dropped by 50%. Many years of violence in the region has made it impossible for an accurate accounting of the animals.
Gorillas are considered highly intelligent. Some individuals in captivity, such as Koko, have been taught a subset of sign language. Like the other great apes, gorillas can grieve, laugh have “fulfilling emotional lives”, develop strong family bonds, make and use tools, and think about the past and future.
Read more: The rarest animals in the world.
- Size: Males 1.85 metres (6.1 ft) | Females 1.6 metres (5.2 ft)
- Weight: Males 210 kilograms (460 lb) | Females 100 kilograms (220 lb)
- Diet: They eat every part of the plant, including roots, leaves, fruit, stems, flowers, bark, and even fungi (e.g. mushrooms)
- Geographical location: Democratic Republic of Congo
- Cause of extinction: Habitat loss caused by deforestation and poaching.
The Giant Panda
How many left: 1864
Today, giant pandas are considered a national treasure in China. They make the temperate forests high in the mountains of southwest China their home. For food pandas subsist almost entirely on bamboo. Bamboo has low nutritional value. Thus, they need to eat around 12 to 38 kg (26 to 84 lbs) of it every day.
Despite their bulk, these bears are exceptional at climbing trees. When a newborn panda is born, they are about the size of a lunchbox, about 1/900th the size of their mothers.
- Size: 1.2 to 1.9 metres (3 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 3 inches).
- Weight: Males 160 kg (350 lb) | Females 70 kg (150 lb).
- Diet: Bamboo.
- Geographical location: China.
- Cause of extinction: Loss of habitat and poaching.
How many left: 5500
The most notable difference between the black and white rhino is their upper lip. The black rhino has a hooked upper lip where white rhinos have square upper lips. This hooked upper lip allows it to eat casually from bushes and trees, whereas the white rhino grazes the ground for food.
Between 1960 and 1995, the black rhino population dropped by a staggering 98%. Their numbers measured only 2500. Since then, the species has made an amazing comeback from the brink of extinction.
Despite the comeback, black rhinos are still considered critically endangered and in danger of extinction. Wildlife crime, in this case the illegal trade of rhino horn, continues to plague the species and threaten their recovery.
- Size: 3–3.75 m (9.8–12.3 ft) in length.
- Weight: 800 to 1,400 kg (1,760 to 3,090 lb) – Unusually large male specimens have been reported at up to 2,896 kg (6,385 lb).
- Diet: Leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny wood bushes, and fruit.
- Geographical location: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
- Cause of extinction: Illegal wildlife trade – Demand for rhino horn, particularly from Vietnam and China.
How many left: Less than 750 (Rough estimation by IUCN)
The saola, also known as the Asian unicorn, was only discovered in May 1992 in the forests of north-central Vietnam. The find turned out to be the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years.
A saola’s two parallel horns can reach a mighty 20 inches in length. The horns are found on both male and female.
These antelope-like animals have snow white markings on the face and large maxillary glands on their muzzle, which is thought to be used to mark their territory or to attract mates.
The saola are found solely in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos.
- Weight: 176-220 lbs
- Diet: Leafy plants.
- Geographical location: Vietnam and Laos.
- Cause of extinction: Hunting (their horns are prized possessions) and habitat loss.
How many left: Fewer than 25 000 nesting females remain.
The hawksbill turtle has a long narrow beak, hence the name. They have a beautifully distinct pattern of overlapping scales on their shells. It’s these colored shells that make them a target for illegal hunting. They are valuable and commonly sold as “tortoiseshells” in markets.
The hawksbill turtle is mainly found in the world’s more tropical oceans, mostly in coral reefs.
Interestingly, these sea turtles are living representatives of a group of reptiles that existed on our planet many millions of years ago. They are the primary link in marine ecosystems, ensuring the overall health of coral reefs.
Furthermore, sea turtles are a keystone species, which means they are an important part of their environment and influence other species around them.
Read more about the illegal turtle trading network.
- Size: 76cm – 88cm (30-35 inches)
- Weight: 40kg – 60kg (90-150 pounds)
- Diet: Primarily sea-sponges. They also feed on algae, jellyfish and anemones.
- Geographical location: Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.
- Cause of extinction: The harvesting of hawksbill turtles for their shell and plastic pollution.
How many left: A population of 7011 was reported in 2016
Whale sharks, known as marokintana (many stars) in Madagascar, are indeed both the largest shark and fish alive today. Whale sharks cover huge distances, always in search of food. This is the only way they can sustain their massive weight.
The majestic creatures are found in all the tropical oceans of the world. Even so, scientists have yet to observe females giving birth to their young. This practice remains a mystery til this day.
Mature whale sharks can often be found feeding at the ocean surface, but have been known to dive to depths of up to 1000 m (3300 feet) in search of food.
Read more about the chaotic world of whale shark tourism.
- Size: 9.8 m (32 ft) (Average size) – 18 m (59 ft) (Exceptionally large).
- Weight: 9 t (20,000 lb).
- Diet: Plankton.
- Geographical location: Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
- Cause of extinction: Commercial fisheries threaten this species.
Yangtze Finless Porpoise
How many left: 1000 to 1800
The Yangtze finless porpoise is characterized by its mischievous smile and has the same level of intelligence as that of a gorilla.
The longest river in Asia, the Yangtze River, was once home to both 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 dolphin species was wiped off the face of the planet due to human activity. Now, the Yangtze finless porpoise faces a similar fate.
- Size: 2.27 m (7 ft 5 in)
- Weight: 72 kg (159 lb)
- Diet: Fish, crustaceans, shrimp, squid, octopus and cephalopods.
- Geographical location: Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Bangladesh.
- Cause of extinction: Overfishing, pollution and ship movement.
Borneo Pygmy Elephant
How many are left: Approximately 1500
The pygmy elephants of Borneo are the smallest elephants in the whole of Asia and in danger of extinction. These elephants are characterized by their oversized ears, plump bellies, and overly long tail, which sometimes even drags on the ground as they walk.
The Borneo pygmy elephant is also more “chilled out” than their Asian elephant counter parts, which are known to be quite aggressive at times.
The fable goes that these elephants were the remnants of a domesticated herd once given to the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century. However, it was determined by the WWF that they are in fact genetically different from other Asian elephants. DNA has proved that these majestic creatures were isolated from their cousins around 300 000 years ago. As time passed, they became smaller and smaller, whilst their ears continued to grow along with their tails.
- Size: 2.4m (8.2 ft) to 2.9m (9.8 ft) tall
- Weight: 2948 kg – 4989 kg (6,500-11,000 pounds)
- Diet: Roots, grasses, leaves, bananas and sugarcane.
- Geographical location: Indonesia and Malaysia.
- Cause of extinction: Deforestation and habitat loss due to the palm oil industry.
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
How many are left: Unknown
Bluefin tuna are the largest species of tuna and can live up to 40 years. These animals are migrants, swimming across all oceans and can dive deeper than 1000 m (3300 ft). Their anatomy is built for speed, shaped like torpedoes they can reach speeds of 60 km/h (620 mp/h) or more.
From the moment they hatch, they use their incredible sight (the best of all bony fish) to hunt schools of fish like mackerel.
In all, there are 3 species of bluefin: Atlantic (the largest and most at risk of extinction), Pacific, and Southern. The majority of bluefin are caught in the Mediterranean sea, the most pivotal location worldwide for the bluefin fishing industry.
A report by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species, shows the present population of bluefin tuna has dropped by 94% due to overfishing.
Read more about the illegal fishing of Bluefin tuna.
- Size: 2–2.5 m (6.6–8.2 ft) long.
- Weight: 225–250 kg (496–551 lb).
- Diet: Small fish, squid and crustaceans.
- Geographical location: Western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. (These animals have become extinct in the Black Sea.)
- Cause of extinction: Overfishing, driven by the demand for this fish in high-end sushi markets.
How many are left: 172,700 to 299,700
Chimpanzees are extremely intelligent, social animals, who care for their young for many years. These apes are in fact our closest cousins. We share around 98% of our genes.
Chimps spend most of their days in the treetops of central Africa. When they do decide to come down to earth, they usually move on all fours, but have been known to walk upright for over a mile (1,6 km).
Chimpanzees are also known to use tools, such as fishing for termites with a stick and using bunched up leaves to collect rainwater.
Despite being our closest connection to the animal kingdom, humans are putting these animals in danger of extinction. Chimps have already disappeared from as many as four countries and are under tremendous pressure where they do remain.
- Size: 100–150 cm (3 ft 3 in–4 ft 11 in) tall.
- Weight: Males 40–70 kg (88–154 lb) | Females 27–50 kg (60–110 lb).
- Diet: Prefers fruit above all other food items but also eats leaves and leaf buds, seeds, blossoms, stems, pith, bark, resin, honey, soil, insects, birds and their eggs, and small to medium-sized mammals, including other primates.
- Geographical location: Central and western Africa.
- Cause of extinction: Habitat destruction, hunting, and disease.
How many left: 97 000
Have you ever wondered who the tallest mammal is? Well, incase you never guessed it, it’s the giraffe. This is thanks to their incredibly long neck and legs. The legs alone are taller than most humans. They allow giraffes to sprint as fast as 56km/h (35 mph) or cruise comfortably at 16km/h (10 mph).
These fascinating animals are usually spotted in groups, roaming the vast open grasslands in search of the freshest twigs and shrubbery.
Today, giraffes are in serious danger of extinction. The overall population has declined by 40 percent within the last 30 years. The herds that remain face many threats ranging from habitat loss to poaching.
- Size: 4.3–5.7 m (14.1–18.7 ft) tall.
- Weight: Males 1,192 kg (2,628 lb) | Females 828 kg (1,825 lb).
- Diet: Twigs of trees, preferring trees of the subfamily Acacieae and the genera Commiphora and Terminalia. They also eat shrubs, grass and fruit.
- Geographical location: Kenya, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Uganda, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Angola, and South Africa.
- Cause of extinction: Habitat loss, civil unrest, illegal hunting, and ecological changes (climate change and habitat conversion).
How many left: 23,000 to 39,000 in the wild.
Unlike other members of the cat family, lions tend to live in a family group (pride) of between 20 to 30 members. Some prides have only one male, other up to four. Lions are incredibly territorial and will fight and very often kill any stray male wondering into their zone. The winner of this fight takes over the pride and dominance of the territory.
The majority of lions hunt at dusk, spending most of their days sleeping and recovering from the previous hunt. Usually, it is the females who do the hunting. Although male lions don’t really take part in the hunting, they eat their share of the kill before the rest of the pride. So goes the expression “the lion’s share”.
Read more: why is the lion population plummeting.
- Weight: Males 186.55–225 kg (411.3–496.0 lb) in Southern Africa | Females 118.37–143.52 kg (261.0–316.4 lb) in Southern Africa.
- Diet: Blue wildebeest, plains zebra, African buffalo, gemsbok and giraffe. Lions also hunt common warthog depending on availability.
- Geographical location: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa and India.
- Cause of extinction: Habitat Destruction.
Great White Shark
How many left: Unknown
The great white shark is the world’s largest, most fearsome predatory fish. Even though it has over 300 teeth, it never chews its food. Instead, it rips mouth-sized pieces of flesh off its prey and swallows it whole.
The sharks have a torpedo shaped body, making cruising through the water an effortless task. They are able to switch from cruising to high speeds of up to 56 km/h (35 mph) and dive down to depths of 1,200 m (3,900 ft).
The white shark is known to leap out of the water off the coast of South Africa, in False Bay. This act is known as breaching.
- Size: Males 3.4 to 4.0 m (11 to 13 ft) long | Females 4.6 to 4.9 m (15 to 16 ft) long. The largest females have been verified up to 6.1 m (20 ft)
- Weight: 522–771 kg (1,151–1,700 lb) on average.
- Diet: Fish, dolphins, whales, seals, sea turtles and sea otters.
- Geographical location: South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and North America. (Full list here.)
- Cause of extinction: Hunting and being caught in nets as bycatch.
How many left: 115,000 to 130,000
Hippos are much bigger than most of us realize. They are in fact the second heaviest land mammal behind the elephant. During the day, hippos seek refuge from the baking sun by living in the water. However, when night falls, they head to land in search of soft, short grasses and fallen fruit.
Their eyes are situated on top of their head, which allows them to look out for enemies (mainly crocodiles), while lying low in the water.
- Weight: 1,300 kg (2,870 lb) for males and females respectively. | Very large males can reach 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) and exceptional males can weigh 2,660 kg (5,860 lb) to 3,200 kg (7,050 lb)
- Diet: Short aquatic grasses.
- Geographical location: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, north through to Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, west to The Gambia, and south to South Africa.
- Cause of extinction: Unregulated hunting for their meat, skin, and teeth. Habitat loss.
How can we help animals in danger of extinction?
Here are 12 things you can do to save endangered animals from extinction.
1 – Educate your friends and family about endangered species in your area.
- It’s not only about the exotic animals in the snowy mountains of Russia, it’s about the ecosystem in your very own backyard. Teach your friends and family about the wildlife, birds, fish and plants that live near you. A simple awareness about these animals is already a critical first step.
2 – Recycle and buy sustainable products.
- Avoid buying wood that is harvested from rainforests or endangered trees. Recycle your cell phone, there is a mineral found inside the phone that is mined in gorilla territory. Don’t use products that contain palm oil, forests where tigers live are being cut down and replaced by palm oil plantations.
3 – Grow native plants.
- Local animal species rely on local plants. By growing native plants you are providing food and shelter for wildlife and reducing your water usage at the same time. For more information about native plants in your area, visit https://www.plantsocieties.org
4 – Reduce your overall water consumption.
- Clean water supply is a global problem for humans, but also for our wildlife. Reducing our water usage will benefit them greatly. Never ever dump chemicals or pharmaceuticals down toilets, storm drains or into streams or lakes.
5 – Reduce your personal carbon footprint.
- Walk more, drive less. Support the local transport system. Eat local from your farmers markets.
6 – Avoid buying plastic products.
- Buy a material bag that you take with you to the grocery store, avoid plastic bags like the plague. Wild animals get tangled up in these and die, plus the plastic bag can take 400+ years to decompose. Read this article here to learn more about how plastic bags are made.
7 – Put pressure on your civil servants.
- The scientific community needs your help, voters and consumers need to make a stand. This means you need to sign petitions, write letters and make donations.
8 – Volunteer some of your time to protect the wildlife in your area.
- There are so many organizations doing everything to protect the wildlife of this planet. Often, they are underfunded and in serious need of volunteers to lend a helping hand. Simply google wildlife volunteer work and your city to find a local organization you can assist.
9 – Do not buy products from companies that are known polluters.
- So many major corporations pollute natural water resources and lobby hard so that they don’t have to clean up their own messes. Avoid supporting these companies and spread bad business as much as you can.
10 – Make contact with your fish and game department.
- If you hunt, make sure your permits are up to date and stay in touch with your local WFG to make sure you know which animals are endangered.
11 – Do not support black markets.
- Sometimes tourists don’t realize that the souvenirs they buy are actually from animals who are in danger of extinction. Stay away from tortoise shell, ivory and coral.
12 – Avoid using herbicides and pesticides.
- These chemicals are extremely harmful to animals such as hawks, owls and coyotes and can completely decimate whole populations. Amphibians are particularly vulnerable. The craziest thing is these chemical are not even necessary. For alternatives look at Beyond Pesticides.
Kyle was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. In his spare time he kitesurfs with whales, gets attacked by jellyfish, SUP’s with great white sharks and rescues seals. He is not a best selling author like every other Tom, Dick and Harry out there but loves to write nevertheless. Especially about climate science and animals.