Guest Post by Anna Miller
Some endangered species get all the attention. Polar bears, pandas, and Siberian tigers are hotshots in mainstream conservation campaigns and are featured in various commercials, complete with melodramatic music and emotional appeals. But there are many animal species that are just as close or closer to extinction than these select few. And many of them are equally cute. The following animals are all considered to be critically endangered and could disappear within our lifetimes.
Golden-Mantled Tree Kangaroo
Less famous than its ground-dwelling, boxing relatives, the golden-mantled tree kangaroo (pictured above) has jumped onto the list of species facing extinction. It looks similar to a kangaroo or wallaby, but has strong forearms and a long ringed tail. Tree kangaroos also have rubbery soles on shorter, wider feet to make them more adept at climbing than kangaroos on the ground. Though they are slow and clumsy on land, tree kangaroos move expertly through trees, wrapping their forearms around a limb and using the hind legs to propel themselves up. They also leap with ease between trees. The golden-mantled tree kangaroo lives in the forested areas of a mountain range in Papua New Guinea and was discovered in Indonesia in 2006 by a group of scientists. As more of the forest is cleared away to be made into cultivated land, the tree kangaroo’s home is shrinking — bad news when it has been run out of 99% of its historical habitat range. In 2008 there were only 250 of its kind left, and experts expect the number to drop under 200 in the next 10 years or so
Siau Island Tarsier
This Gremlin-esque little guy comes, unsurprisingly, from the island of Siau in Indonesia. Tarsiers are nocturnal primates with extremely large eyes, soft fur, and long fingers and feet. Researchers believe the Siau Island tarsier numbers in the low thousands, and local residents have said they’ve seen fewer and fewer of these tarsiers during the past 10 years. Take into account that more than half of the animal’s home is an active volcano and that the island’s human population is rumored to regularly eat five to 10 tarsiers in one sitting, and the future’s not looking good for this species. In fact, it was put on the 2008-2010 list of the 25 most endangered primates, ranking up there with heavyweight names like the Sumatran Orangutan and Cross River Gorilla.
Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth
A slightly smaller version of your average sloth found only on one small island off the coast of Panama, the pygmy three-toed sloth is inching its way toward extinction with presumably fewer than 500 of its kind remaining. Though apparently not helping it survive human threats, this sloth’s set of skills includes the ability to turn its head 360 degrees and to grow algae on its fur. The algae is thought to be a sort of camouflage, but it hasn’t been able to protect the sloth from fishermen, who hunt the sloths and can spot them easily in their habitats near open sea. And while sloths have gotten a bad name for being lazy, what with the whole seven deadly sins thing, maybe that reputation will help them in this instance. Hopefully when it comes to extinction, these sloths will go very slowly.
If something’s not done to protect the beluga, the rich and famous may have to do without their caviar dreams permanently. The beluga, or European sturgeon, is one of the few sturgeons whose egg masses are used to make traditional caviar. Because of this notoriety, though, the beluga is frequently overfished and poached. And because it takes about 15 years for a beluga to mature, it is difficult for the fish to recover from being hunted. Not to be confused with the beluga whale, this ugly fish looks like something that could’ve gone extinct with the dinosaurs. A fully grown sturgeon can grow up to 15 feet long and weigh 2500 pounds. The largest one ever recorded was more than 3000 pounds and measured almost 25 feet. But the numbers of this big fish are dwindling, decreasing about 90% during the last 60 years. Most of the beluga in the world today are raised in hatcheries, and it may not be long until this animal is extinct in the wild.
Namdapha Flying Squirrel
You would think that a mammal that is able to fly would be evolved enough to avoid facing extinction, but that’s not the case with the Namdapha flying squirrel. Being fuzzy and adorable apparently isn’t helping either. This squirrel has only been found in one park in northeastern India so it is in great danger of disappearing. Among the top threats to the squirrel are human and animal predators and the degradation of its habitat. Like other flying squirrels, the Namdapha flying squirrel is able to soar from tree to tree using a parachute-like muscle membrane on the sides of its body. As it’s soaring, the squirrel is able to steer itself by moving its legs, tail and the membrane. The main differences between this squirrel and its cousins, like Rocky the Flying Squirrel, are the coloring and some variations in its features. Maybe this flying squirrel needs some help from Bullwinkle to save the day.
This species of cat is just about out of lives. The near-relative to the common bobcat has earned the title of “world’s most threatened species of cat” and could become the first feral cat to become extinct in about 2000 years. The Iberian lynx lives in Spain and possibly in Portugal, and while this cat’s preferred food is rabbits, it has been forced to hunt other types of prey as the rabbit population has decreased drastically due to disease. The lynx has also increasingly been killed by speeding traffic on Spain’s growing network of roads. In 2000, there were thought to be 400 Iberian lynx remaining. By 2003, that number had been cut to about 160 and then possibly to 100 by 2005. It’s rumored that the Spanish government is releasing rabbits into the wild to replenish the lynx’s hunting grounds and organizations are calling for the closure of the busiest road that runs through the lynx habitat. It’s yet to be seen if these actions could help this cat species land on its feet.
- Considered by many to be the world’s most beautiful tortoise species, the radiated tortoise is in a losing race against time. It’s found on the southern coast of Madagascar, and though it once numbered in the millions, it has been hunted to a point that the species may not survive. People use its meat for food, but it is also said to be an aphrodisiac — some people from China will pay $50 to eat one. The bright star pattern on its shell also makes the tortoise a commodity in the illegal pet trade market. Madagascar park authorities and law enforcement are poorly equipped to deal with poachers, and the poachers have even started hunting the radiated tortoise on protected areas, like reserves or World Heritage Sites. Some scientists have predicted that this tortoise could be extinct in 20 years if drastic measures aren’t taken.
Only two kinds of monk seals still exist: the Hawaiian monk seal and the Mediterranean monk seal. And both are close to extinction. To make matters more serious, the third monk seal species, the Caribbean monk seal, went extinct sometime in the last 60 years. (To make matters less serious, native Hawaiians call their monk seal ‘Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, a name that means “dog that runs in rough water.”) The threats to monk seals include angry fisherman who are afraid they can’t compete with the seals for fish, water pollution and the use of boats and the beaches where seals frequent. There are about 1000 Hawaiian monk seals alive today, but experts predict that number will fall to 200 in the next 20 years. Only 350 to 450 Mediterranean monk seals remain and that number is also falling.
This blue-and-yellow Bolivian bird has quickly decreased in number during the past few generations. Its bright feathers makes it a favorite as a pet, and though it’s illegal to trade macaws, it continues to happen. Parrot-stealing seems like the perfect crime for a pirate. There are also a few instances of the bird being hunted for its feathers to make indigenous headdresses or for its meat to bait fish hooks. This parrot’s habitat is also being threatened because it’s located on cattle farms where trees are being cut down to create pastures and provide fuel. The blue-throated macaw is also facing competition for nesting sites from other birds such as toucans and big woodpeckers, as well as other macaws. There are only about 300 blue-throated macaws in the wild today.
Florida Bonneted Bat
No matter how many bat signals Florida authorities cast into the sky, the bonneted bats aren’t coming out. This bat, Florida’s largest with a wingspan of up to 18 inches, is named for its big ears that stick out over its eyes like a hat and can only be found on the southern tip of the state. It lives in hollowed-out trees, in suburban places like attics or under Spanish roof tiles and sometimes in foliage or under rocks. But because the suitable hiding places are normally older buildings or trees with large cavities, many of the bat’s habitats are being destroyed, by both humans and hurricanes. With only 250 or so bonneted bats left, this species could be on its way out. Holy extinction, Batman!
Dama gazelles used to graze all across northern Africa, presumably showing up in herds to join in a chorus of “The Circle of Life.” But now the animals that once numbered up to 10,000 on just one reserve can only be found in a few isolated areas in Chad, Mali, and Niger. Experts say there are definitely less than 500 of these gazelles left in the wild and they can’t be found in groups of more than 20, which are normally hundreds of miles apart. The main threats to this gazelle are hunting by nomads, military and hunting parties, and a loss of its habitat because of overgrazing of domestic livestock. The dama gazelle is expected to follow the same path out of the circle of life as the Scimitar-horned Oryx, which is now extinct in the wild.