It is estimated that at least 10.000 species are going extinct every year and while there is a natural rate of extinction, the loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, all because of human intervention.
While some of the creatures that disappeared are insects or amphibians, not very well-known to the large public, other animals, like the Tasmanian tiger, the Dodo bird, the Great auk or the California Grizzly are now admired in museums as a permanent reminder of how much danger human action poses to biodiversity. And if our actions continue, the Amur Leopard, the Eastern Lowland Gorilla and the Java Rhino could soon follow suit.
The black rhino, native to eastern and southern Africa, is mainly endangered because of excessive hunting. Europeans are responsible for their decline in numbers with hunters killing up to six animals a day for food or simply for amusement.
European settlers that arrived in Africa in the early 20th century to colonize and establish farms continued this slaughter.
Three subspecies have already been declared extinct in 2011 and rough estimates say that currently there are about 5,455 individuals, with numbers being as low as 2000 in 1990. Black Rhinos are also poached for their horns. The rhino horn is used for curing diseases in traditional medicine with China and Vietnam being the biggest clients.
The black rhino still has a better change of survival than the Sumatran Rhino, with a population of less than 100 individuals or the Javan rhino, with a population of 61 individuals, dubbed the rarest animal on Earth. There are no individuals in captivity and Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park is the home of all remaining Javan rhinos today.
The Bornean Orangutan
Habitat loss is the main contributing factor to the demise of this specie, native, as its name suggests, to Borneo. The Bornean orangutan is the third-heaviest living primate after two species of gorilla, and the largest truly arboreal animal alive today.
Deforestation, palm oil plantations and hunting pose a serious threat to its continued existence. Bornean orangutan populations have declined by more than 50% over the past 60 years, and the species’ habitat has been reduced by at least 55% over the past 20 years. Efforts are being made towards conservation and also legal actions are being taken against hunters and poachers that threaten the orangutans.
The Amur Leopard
The Amur Leopard is just one of the species that are currently critically endangered according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. It is a special kind of leopard, adapted to life in the temperate forests of Russia’s Far East.
The Amur is a solitary creature with incredible features. It has been reported that this specie is capable of running at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour, leap more than 19 feet horizontally and up to 10 feet vertically. They can live up to 15 years in their natural habitat and up to 20 years in captivity.
Data published by the World Wide Fund indicates that there are roughly 70 adult Amur leopards in the wild today while other studies estimate that the number is actually lower, around 60 individuals.
Poaching and deforestation are the biggest problems for Amur leopards and their numbers have also been reduces because of tigers encroaching on their territories. Due to their small numbers, inbreeding has also become a problem. Russia and China have established institutions with the role of protecting the Amur Leopard and secure its future.
The Eastern Lowland Gorilla
The eastern lowland gorilla, also known as Grauer’s gorilla, is the largest of the four gorilla subspecies. It is distinguished from other gorillas by its stocky body, large hands and short muzzle.
Their numbers have been reduced due to civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo which left the animals vulnerable to poachers. Also, efforts to preserve the species have been undermined by the same political context that led to violence.
Scientists estimate that the population of eastern lowland gorillas has declined by more than 50% since the 1990s when their population numbered 17,000. An accurate number is hard to be determined because of the situation in the Congo valley, the eastern lowland gorilla’s main habitat.
According to some estimates, in 2016, there were fewer than 3,800 individuals left. Gorillas are hunted as souvenirs or bushmeat and deforestation also limited their habitat. Inbreeding is a serious problem giving way to birth defects in the already small population.
Solitary, primarily nocturnal animals, pangolins are easily recognized by their full armor of scales. Pangolins are increasingly victims of illegal wildlife crime, mainly in Asia and in growing amounts in Africa, where they are hunted for their meat and scales.
Eight species of pangolins are found on the two continents. They range from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered. These insectivores are now protected by law and improvements to their habitat have been made in order to increase the number of individuals.
The pangolin has been dubbed the world’s most hunted animal as the armor scales that cover it are used in traditional Chinese medicine and sold on the black market for over $3,000 a kilogram. Also, the scales, made out of keratin, have been used to make armored coats. Pangolins have little defense against humans, usually, to fight off predators, they roll-up into a ball and emit toxins, just like skunks do. These mechanisms make them easy prey for poachers.
The vaquita has been named the world’s most rare marine mammal, on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 60 individuals left in the wild.
This little porpoise wasn’t discovered until 1958 and a little over half a century later, we are on the brink of losing them forever.
Vaquita are often caught and drowned in gillnets used by illegal fishing operations in marine protected areas within Mexico’s Gulf of California.
More than half of the population has been lost in the last three years, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. Unless new efforts are made, the vanquita is estimated to go extinct in the next five years.
The vaquita is an evolutionary distinct animal and has no close relatives.
The saola is a recently discovered animal, first recorded in 1992 and already on the edge of extinction. It was the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years and one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century.
The Saola, also called the Vu Quang ox or the Asian bicorn, is one of the world’s rarest large mammals. It is a forest-dwelling bovine, found only in the Annamite Range of Vietnam and Laos and it is related to cattle, goats, and antelopes.
Saolas suffer losses through hunting and illegal trade in furs, traditional medicines. Their meat in also restaurants and food markets. Its habitat is endangered by human intervention. There are no official numbers about the saola population but the animal is considered to be critically endangered.