The planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction, one that began about 15,000 years ago, according to the scientific community. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) estimates we lose around 10,000 species every year worldwide, at least 1,000 times the natural extinction rate (or, the rate of extinction occurring outside of human impact).
The western black rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011, followed in March of 2018 by the last living male northern white rhinoceros. Just two female northern whites remain, spelling the end of the white rhino altogether unless assisted reproduction can successfully step in. But these rhinos are hardly alone; poaching, environmental changes, loss of habitat, overuse of natural resources, and many other factors mean some species of animals currently roaming the planet may not be around by the time today’s babies reach adulthood.
The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) tracks the conservation status of many species and rates them from “critically endangered” to “least concern.” While tree kangaroos and brown bears are faring well in terms of population numbers, specific varieties of rhinos, gorillas, and tigers are at the highest risks for extinction—followed close behind by certain whales, dolphins, and turtles.
To identify the animal species that may become extinct in our lifetimes, Stacker examined data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as well as the World Wildlife Foundation. Any animal listed as “critically endangered” was considered eligible for extinction in the near future. For this list, an animal is defined as being a member of the phylum Chordata, which includes mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.
Read on to learn of animals facing potential extinction.
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The Achatinella fuscobasis is a species of air-breathing snail found only in Hawaii, and specifically on the island of Oahu. Also called the Oahu tree snail, this species has been in steep decline due to loss of habitat, predators, and overcollection.
Another species of Hawaiian land snail, Achatinella apexfulva, went extinct in January of 2019 when George, a solo captive at a University of Hawaii at Mānoa breeding facility, passed away. The value snails bring to an ecosystem is expansive; from providing nourishment to predators and keeping organisms lower on the food chain in check to providing decomposition of organic matter like fungus.
[Pictured: Achatinella apexfulva]
This massive fish, descended from prehistoric creatures, is prized for its caviar. Illegal fishing in its native Russian and Iranian habitats as well as dam construction has led to a rapid decline of the Russian sturgeon population over the past 45 years. Unless major conversation efforts are undertaken to restock naturally, the wild population of this species will soon be gone.
In the 1990s, this was the third most-recorded variety of sea snake. Today, they’re nearly impossible to find. Biologists think coral bleaching may be to blame, as the short-nosed sea snake lives exclusively on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is suffering greatly from the effects of global warming.
The leopard rocket frog lives in a tiny area of the Venezuelan Andes mountains smaller than 10 square kilometers. Biologists believe their numbers are decreasing due to an infectious disease called chytridiomycosis. There’s a small population of leopard rocket frogs that live in the protected Sierra Nevada National Park in the Venezuelan state of Mérida, so there’s a chance that conservation efforts can help the population survive.
[Pictured: leopard frog]
This chameleon only exists on the humid side of the Namoroka nature preserve in the northwestern part of Madagascar. It’s currently illegal to remove this species from its location, but farming and wood-harvesting are impacting its habitat and leading to a decrease in its population. Limestone reserves surrounding the preserve prevent most human encroachment, but as the habitat continues to decline, so too will the Namoroka leaf chameleon.
[Pictured: Brookesia brunoi]
Native to Southeastern Australia, the mountain pygmy possum is the only Australian mammal confined to an alpine environment. Road construction and the skiing industry are to blame for the decreasing population of Burramys parvus, which is down to roughly 550 adult males and 1,700 females. As the popularity of skiing in Australia continues alongside climate change, the downfall of the mountain pygmy possum will continue as well.
The Red List describes this species as an “enormous, stunning black-and-white woodpecker” with a “huge ivory bill.” It’s been listed as critically endangered since 1994, due to habitat loss and hunting. More specifically, these birds were known to be used for their feathers and bills in indigenous Mexican tribal rituals. The imperial woodpecker hasn’t been spotted with certainty since 1956, and the outlook is bleak.
Gray wolves have been the beneficiaries of a massive reintroduction campaign, which may have saved them from extinction. Red wolves, however, aren’t nearly as lucky. Indigenous to North Carolina, the red wolf was actually said to be extinct in the wild before a reintroduction effort in 1987 brought them back. Now that they’re mating with coyotes, there are fewer than 50 mature red wolves alive. That may not be enough to save them from extinction a second time.
Large, green, and forest-dwelling, the Sumatran ground cuckoo can be found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where deforestation threatens the small population of these birds. Some areas of the Barisan Mountains, an area where the Sumatran ground cuckoo lives, have been designated as protected sites, although more strategies to protect their habitat are currently being developed.
[Pictured: Carpococcyx renauldi]
First documented in Thailand in 1898, the giant carp is so-named because it can grow up to 10 feet long. It primarily lives in the Mekong River system of Southeast Asia and previously played a role as an ample food source for local residents. Urbanization has led to the giant carp being named to the Red List, but in an effort to save the species, Cambodia has designated the giant carp its national fish and declared it a protected species.
Mangroves and forests of the coastal islands off Indonesia and Malaysia are the silvery pigeon’s native home. The species was recently rediscovered and is presumed to have a total population of fewer than 50 mature birds. When the silvery pigeon was photographed in 2010, the specimens were found to be quite tame, which suggested to conservationists that they might prove easy targets for hunters.
This species of crocodile lives in just a few areas of the Philippines, and as of 2001, it’s been protected by Filipino law. Killing a Philippine crocodile will lead to a minimum penalty of six years in prison and/or a fine of 100,000 Philippine pesos (roughly $2,500). Many groups, including the Mabuwaya Foundation and Isla Biodiversity Conservation, are doing their best to save the Philippine crocodile so it doesn’t end up extinct.
The African wild ass is mainly found in northeastern Africa, specifically Eritrea and Ethiopia. These animals are major target for hunters, as their meat is a valuable commodity. Their bones are prized for their value in traditional African medicine, said to be the cure for a range of conditions from tuberculosis to backaches. Efforts have been made to preserve the African wild ass in both Eritrea and Ethiopia by way of protected lands, but neither nation has the resources to maintain the conservation’s progress.
Critically endangered since 1996, the hawksbill turtle is known for its pointy beak and beautiful shell, which is highly valuable on the tortoiseshell market and makes it a target of poachers. Hawksbills can be found in more than 70 countries, but their primary habitat is in tropical waters near coral reefs. Sea turtles and their ancestors have existed for 100 million years, and serve as a vital part of marine ecosystems.
Deforestation is the main culprit for the near-eradication of the black-breasted puffleg. An astounding 93% of the hummingbird’s native habitat in the volcanic regions of Ecuador have been degraded or destroyed. Dubbed the “emblematic bird of Quito,” groups like the Jocotoco Foundation are doing their best to keep this species alive.
[Pictured: Eriocnemis vestita]
Similar to a bull shark, but with small differences in its eyes and dorsal fins, the New Guinea river shark is native to Australia. Biologists believe it may reside in Papua New Guinea, as well. Not much is known about this species, but the Australian government deemed it endangered in its 1999 Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
[Pictured: Speartooth shark]
The western gorilla is divided into two subspecies: the western lowland gorilla and the cross river gorilla. Despite numbering in the hundreds of thousands, both groups are suffering from poaching, disease, climate change, and habitat destruction. There are major plans underway to save these gorillas, but only about 22% of western lowland gorillas live in protected areas, so those striving to save these animals have a tall task ahead of them.
[Pictured: mountain gorilla]
Limited to minute patches of forest on three islands in Japan, the Yanbaru whiskered bat was first found in 1996 on Okinawa. Only three other individuals have ever been identified. On Okinawa, the bat is actually found inside a U.S. military base forest, living inside tree hollows.
[Pictured: whiskered bat]
The dama gazelle is down to 250 mature individuals in Africa, split into five sub-groups with no more than 50 gazelles each. Unchecked hunting and reduced land availability due to livestock grazing has significantly cut back the dama gazelle population, which was first identified as a vulnerable species in 1986 and reached critically endangered status just 20 years later.
The Yangtze finless porpoise lives mainly within the Yangtze River system in China, but can also be found in Korea and Japan. The main cause for its dwindling numbers is by-catch—getting caught in fishing equipment intended for other animals. Current estimates place the remaining population number at fewer than 2,000 porpoises, which means it may not be too long before the Yangtze finless porpoise goes the way of its already extinct close cousin, the Baiji dolphin.
[Pictured: Indo-pacific finless porpoise]
The Wuchuan frog is found in a tiny area of China that’s smaller than 6 square miles: a stream in a limestone cave in Guizhou province. Unfortunately, its habitat is currently under assault by tourism activities, which have a significant negative impact on the species.
[Pictured: Odorrana chloronota]
The Himalayan quail hails from northwestern India and hasn’t been officially sighted since 1876. There was a possible sighting in 2003, but its qualifications as “critically endangered” originate largely from its scarcity. There are conservation efforts underway in India, but first, they’ll have to actually locate the birds.
The Singida tilapia was once a thriving species in Lake Victoria (situated between Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania), but its populations have declined by 80% over the past 20 years. Numerous factors are to blame, but predation and complications of dealing with newly introduced fish seem to be the most prevalent reasons as to why their numbers have fallen so low.
[Pictured: red tilapia]
This toad lives in—you guessed it—Puerto Rico, usually on the northern and southern coasts. Recently, though, it has only been spotted in one location on the south coast in the Guanica National Forest, which makes human development the biggest threat to its survival. There are efforts to bolster the crested toad’s numbers through captive breeding and reintroduction programs. The good news is, those efforts are proving successful.
The Bornean orangutan has become a bit of a celebrity thanks to the success of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise. While native to Borneo, an island in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, they can also be found in Indonesia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, their numbers have plummeted due to habitat degradation and hunting, which has led to an 86% population decrease since 1973.
These salamanders live in the Oaxaca state of Mexico, and they’re not only critically endangered, they’ve also possibly already gone extinct. They were previously found in Oaxacan forests underneath logs, but not a single claw-toothed salamander has been seen since 1976.
[Pictured: Pseudoeurycea lineola]
The resplendent shrubfrog is distinct for its bright orange/red coloration and size: Females grow only to 1.1 inches, with males just shy of one inch from snout to vent. The frog was first discovered in 2010 and thought to occupy a small area on the Anamudi summit in Eravikulam National Park. Since then, another site was found within the same park where the frogs live. A 2016 census was the first to focus on the resplendent shrubfrog, with researchers canvasing the Munnar grasslands for the creature at a time when the shrubfrog was at greater risk than the tiger.
The central Philippine islands are home to these pigs, which have already been eradicated from three of the six islands they were originally found. While the pigs are officially protected by law, lax enforcement has led to a significant increase in hunting for their meat, which commands a premium at market. The Visayan Warty Pig Conservation Programme was established in 1992 in an effort to save the species, although the once vulnerable population has nevertheless descended into critically endangered status.
One of the most tragic stories in the fishing world, the southern bluefin tuna has seen its numbers rapidly decline because of its popularity among sushi lovers. Native everywhere from Argentina to South Africa to New Zealand, this species can grow up to 450 pounds. Overfishing is so severe, however, that worldwide stocks of southern bluefin tuna could reduce to just 500 mature fish in the next century.
[Pictured: Thunnus albacares]
There’s only one place on Earth where the ultramarine lorikeet lives: the island of Ua Kuka in the French Polynesian Marquesas Islands. With its habitat in jeopardy, the colorful small bird known for its high-pitched whistle and aggressive screech may have nowhere else to go. Habitat isn’t the only factor contributing to the lorikeet’s demise, though. They’re also the preferred prey of black rats.
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