Due to various destructive human activities, the populations of many species are in steady decline around the world. Let’s take a look at five of the most critically endangered species.
Endangered species are not mere casualties of environmental degradation; they are irreplaceable components of our planet's ecosystems. Each species, from the vaquita to the hawksbill sea turtle, has evolved through unique adaptations and fulfills particular ecological roles. Their presence maintains the balance of nature and contributes to the overall health and stability of ecosystems.
Here are five species that may be on the verge of disappearing into the abyss of extinction:
1. Sumatran Orangutan
One of our primate cousins, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is critically endangered due to habitat loss caused by deforestation for agriculture, such as palm oil plantations on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the species’s only home. Illegal hunting by local farmers, who see the orangutans as pests, and the illegal pet trade pose lesser threats to their survival. The World Wildlife Fund estimates only around 14,000 Sumatran orangutans exist in the wild.
(Credit: Paula Olson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, via Wikipedia)
The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is a critically endangered porpoise that inhabits the northern reaches of the Gulf of California. At less than five feet in length, it is the smallest species of cetacean. More importantly, the vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the world, with as few as ten individuals believed still to be alive. The primary reason for its decline is accidental entanglement in fishing nets, particularly those used in illegal gillnet fishing targeting the also-endangered totoaba fish (Totoaba macdonaldi), whose swim bladders are prized for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
3. Amur Leopard
(Source: Russian Ministry for the Development of the Far East, via Wikimedia Commons)
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is possibly the most critically endangered of all big cats. Only 19–26 members of its species are thought to survive in its native habitat of eastern Siberia and northeastern China. Its remaining population is threatened by habitat loss due to logging, development, and poaching for its beautiful fur.
4. Hawksbill Sea Turtle
(Credit: Thierry Caro, via Wikimedia Commons)
Endemic to tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are endangered due to several factors, including the illegal trade in their shells, habitat destruction, pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear. Marine biologists believe that their population has declined about 80 percent in the past 100–135 years, and the IUCN has red-listed the hawksbill as critically endangered.
5. North Atlantic Right Whale
North Atlantic right whale and calf (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, via Wikimedia Commons)
Like so many other declining species, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is critically endangered primarily due to human activities. Collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, specifically vertical lines used in fishing and lobstering, are major threats to their population. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that there are fewer than 350 remaining North Atlantic right whales in the world.
All of the five magnificent creatures highlighted in this article – and too many others – face the extinction of their species due to one overarching factor: human activity. For a deeper dive into the causes of extinction and what you can do to help save these animals, click here.
Title Image: Sumatran orangutan (Credit:lessysebastian – stock.adobe.com)