These are five of the most endangered animals on Earth. The good news? It’s not too late to save them!
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
What do the following animals have in common: the passenger pigeon, Tasmanian tiger, great auk and the dodo? Yep, you guessed it: they’re all extinct. And why so? The short answer: humans. Mainly because we’ve taken over their habitats, or just out and out killed them for sport or meat.
It kind of breaks my heart to think of how these animals have been wiped out of existence due to mankind. But they’re not the only ones. Plenty of other species now face the same sad fate. Beautiful animals such as leatherback sea turtles, vaquitas, orangutans, and snow leopards may not exist in a few decades if we don’t try hard to protect them.
According to a study carried out by scientists at On the Edge Conservation (OTEC), EDGE species are an irreplaceable part of the world’s evolutionary heritage. With no or few close relatives, they represent an entire branch of the tree of life. Many possess extraordinary looks, behaviours and traits not seen in any other species, as well as unique evolutionary features, some yet to be discovered.
This research has been carried out by Beth Blood, the founder of On The Edge Conservation, to support Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. Her goal is to raise awareness on how we are at risk of losing five key species because of human activities. The good news? There’s still time to act.
OTEC has launched a new mobile game – ‘Kakapo Run’, the first in a series of games to raise awareness and support for EDGE species. Available to download now on App Store and Google Play Store, there are no adverts or in-app purchases.
There’s Still Time
We can still save species, just as David Attenborough explained to Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. In this sweet video, the children asked the 94 year old natural historian about what endangered species will disappear next. Sir Attenborough replied: “Well let’s hope there won’t be any, because there are lots of things we can do when animals are in danger of extinction. We can protect them.”
He even gave the example of how forty years ago, when he was in Africa, there were only 250 mountain gorillas left. But by sharing the story of their potential extinction, he helped to trigger great support around the world. Gorilla eco-tourism began, Africans were educated about not eating their primate cousins as bush meat, and as a result, today there are now over a thousand of these gorgeous creatures in the wild.
On The Edge Conservation is also helping to save the world’s most endangered animals by seeking to work with conservationists, NGO’s, academics, governments and other interested funders to change the outlook for EDGE species. They’re asking the public to go the extra mile for these weird and wonderful EDGE animals by helping them spread the word about their peril.
So with this hopeful example, let’s take a closer look at five of the most endangered species on earth, and try to save them, before it’s too late!
5 Of The Most Endangered Animals On Earth
This weird little creature belongs to the family of lemurs, the mammals from Madagascar. The aye-aye is the biggest of these primates, and has the ability to detect objects in their environment by sensing echoes from objects. Echolocation — which can also be found in dolphins and bats — is crucial for the aye aye to find food.
The aye aye, another of the most endangered animals on Earth, has a unique way of eating: it taps its long fingers on branches and trees to find grubs under the bark. It then gnaws holes in the wood using its forward-slanting incisors, to create a small hole in which it inserts its narrow middle finger to pull the grubs out.
While we think he’s kind of adorbs (just look at our main photo!), some believe that this guy isn’t the cutest creature to behold, but that’s part of the problem. Because he wasn’t gifted with the good looks of, say, a fluffy kitten, some local people in Madagascar believe this creature represents an evil omen. When they see one, they kill one. As if that wasn’t bad enough: they aye aye is under threat due to habitat loss and degradation.
This is one of the world’s longest-living bird. When left alone in the wild, it can reach 90 years of age. This huge, flightless parrot has a beautiful plumage, characterised by green and yellow feathers that hunters covet to sell to decorate clothes. The Maori hunt the kakapo to eat, and other New Zealanders hunt them to keep them as pets. Other predators, such as cats and dogs, that were introduced by humans and would not be natural predators, have helped to wipe out the kakapo on mainland New Zealand, so the species now survives on predator-free islands, such as Maud Island.
Even though its short wings and heavy body don’t allow the kakapo to fly, it can walk long distances and jump up to 15m, thanks to its strong muscular legs. It has a very strong beak, which even helps this bird climb up trees. It can also “parachute” – descending by leaping and spreading its wings. In this way it may travel a few metres at an angle of less than 45 degrees. And here’s another interesting fact: when a male is trying to seduce a female it makes booming calls that can be heard up to 5km through the forest!
Want to learn more about this bird, which is one of the most endangered animals on Earth? Watch the video below, narrated by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.
Here’s another unusual creature that’s not the most attractive, shall we say. It usually lives in the Western Ghats in India, and it spends most of its life underground. In fact, if you happen to see one, it will be during the mating season, because these creatures emerge only for a a few days during the monsoon rains to breed.
The greatest threat to the survival of this amphibian is the alteration of natural habitats by an ever-increasing human population, resulting in large areas being converted for settlement and agricultural use.
Not only are deforestation and damage to its surroundings putting this creature at risk, but also the way frogs in general (including this particular one) are being used for food, medicine and research purposes. Local people in India even eat this poor creature’s tadpoles! It really is time for more people to go vegan…
Australia is a land of unusual creatures that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Naturally, the kangaroo and koala are the most famous ones, but there’s also the emu, the wombat, quokka, wallaby, cassowary and the platypus.
But there is one particular marsupial species – without a pouch – that can be found Down Under. And it’s another one of the most endangered animals on Earth.
This is the numbat, whose closest relative is the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. Rather surprising, since this animal is docile, small and cute! It’s also known as the striped anteater, and is really useful to homeowners, as it feeds on termites. In fact, it can eat up to 20,000 per day!
The reason these little guys are disappearing is related to humans again, but kind of indirectly. It’s because of our pets, actually – namely cats and dogs. They prey on the numbat to the point where they have wiped out the animal from 99% of its former natural habitat range in Australia.
It’s a good thing the Perth Zoo is dedicated to breeding this native species in captivity to then releasing it into the wild. But it would be an even better thing if pet owners behaved more responsibly and kept their cats indoors and their dogs on leads!
Watch the video below to see just how adorable these animals are.
The pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, lives in Africa and Asia, and distinguishes itself from other mammals for being the only one with protective keratin scales covering its skin. When attacked by predators, the poor guy’s only defense is rolling up into a tight ball for protection behind these special scales.
Sadly, that’s not enough to save it. The gentle pangolin is actually the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world, poached for its keratin-based scales, and eaten. This occurs primarily in China, where the scales and flesh are believed by superstitious Chinese to have exceptional protein properties. The truth is, the keratin in the scales of this animal is exactly the same material in your hair and nails. Might as well just bite your nails and save a species!
This nocturnal animal is cute, fun-loving, and sweet, as you can see in the video below.
It lives in hollow trees or burrows, and is highly useful to the ecosystem as it feeds on invertebrates using its claws to dig out insect nests. Pangolins also use their sticky tongues to reach into the ground for insects, and it can go very deep since it’s longer than their bodies.
If you enjoyed learning about these most endangered animals on Earth, please consider supporting On The Edge Conservation. You can also teach children about these animals through free educational activities here.
After all, all animals deserve our love and support!
Images from Wikimedia Commons