Jul 31, 2009
Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus The world’s most endangered cat species, the Iberian lynx once thrived in Spain, Portugal and southern France. Today, its numbers have dwindled to some 120 individuals divided between small populations in Spain’s Andalusia region. Habitat destruction, collisions with vehicles, poaching and a collapsing rabbit population have all contributed to the decline of this feline. As part of a conservation effort, the Spanish government has decided to release rabbits (the lynx’s favorite cuisine) into the wild. If the Iberian lynx disappears, it will be the first feral cat species to go extinct in some 2,000 years.
Sumatran Orangutan Pongo abelii There are no more than 7,500 Sumatran orangutans left in the world, and they are declining at a rate of roughly 1,000 per year, says Adam Tomasek, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Borneo and Sumatra Program. At this rate, the species will be wiped out within a decade. The primary cause of this population slide is rampant habitat loss from logging, fires and other human activities.
Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat Lasiorhinus krefftii Wombats are Australian marsupials with burly builds, stocky legs and powerful claws for burrowing underground tunnels. The northern hairy-nosed variety is the largest wombat, growing as long as one meter and as heavy as 40 kilograms. It also has exceptionally soft fur and a clumsy, waddling gait (yet can run as fast as 40 kilometers per hour). A mere 100 individuals survive in a small, protected area in Queensland.
Wild Bactrian Camel Camelus bactrianus This shy ancestor of domesticated camels lives in the arid Gashun Gobi region of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China and southwestern Mongolia. Unlike Arabian camels, which are distinguished by one prominent hump, Bactrian camels have two humps. Although the camel survived a 45-year period of nuclear testing in China’s Gashun Gobi, it may not be able to withstand current pressures, which include mining, hunting, wolf predation, industrial development and genetic mixing with domestic camels. There are only about 650 individuals remaining in China and 350 in Mongolia, according to John Hare, chairman of the U.K.-based Wild Camel Protection Foundation. Some experts predict an 84 percent population decline by 2033.
Dama Gazelle Gazella dama This antelope species is on a fast track to extinction. In the last decade, some 80 percent of the wild population vanished, primarily the result of unbridled hunting and habitat destruction. Populations of no more than 100 are sprinkled throughout north Africa—in Chad, Niger and Mali. Life does not appear to be improving for these gazelles, as caravans of foreign hunters continue to cross borders and mow them down with automatic weapons.
Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat Coleura seychellensis There may be only 50 to 100 of these furry flying mammals left on the planet. They are endemic to Silhouette, Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, islands in the Seychelles archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar. Researchers believe that only two substantial roosts remain, both in boulder caves on Silhouette Island. The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles is monitoring these populations closely.
Chinese Alligator Alligator sinensis This secretive mini-alligator, which rarely grows longer than two meters or heavier than 40 kilograms, dwells in the wetlands of the lower reaches of the Yangtze—the same river that sheltered the rare and probably now extinct Chinese river dolphin. The Chinese alligator spends a great deal of its time burrowing tunnels, much to the chagrin of local farmers. Although thousands of Chinese alligators have been bred in captivity, experts estimate a mere 150 to 200 individuals persist in the wild, making this reptile the most endangered crocodilian species in the world.
Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis Black rhinos, like their larger white cousins, are actually grayish in color. Their horns are highly valued for use as ornaments and for their “medicinal” properties, even though they are simply made of keratin, the same protein found in fingernails and hair. At the start of the century there may have been hundreds of thousands of Black rhinos roaming Africa but now there are only few thousand. Among the four Black rhino subspecies, the west African is the most threatened and may have already gone extinct in the wild. Poaching and habitat loss continue to threaten the species’s survival.
Pied Tamarin Saguinus bicolor Often called the “bare-faced tamarin” for its hairless face and ears, the pied tamarin inhabits only a small area of land surrounding Manaus, a city of two million in northwestern Brazil. Urban expansion, cattle ranching and agriculture have eroded much of the tamarin’s rain forest home, which extends no farther than 40 to 50 kilometers from Manaus. Worse, the monkeys are being out-competed by their close relative, the golden-handed tamarin, in areas where the two species overlap.
Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea Leatherbacks are the largest of all sea turtles, measuring as long as eight feet and weighing as much as 2,000 pounds. They are also the deepest divers, plunging to depths as great as 1,200 meters as they hunt for jellyfish. Leatherbacks are distributed in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Argentina. They migrate between continents, making both transatlantic and transpacific journeys between feeding and nesting sites. Populations have crashed over the last two decades—the result of poaching for egg and meat consumption, destruction of nesting sites from beachfront development, disorientation of hatchlings from the artificial lighting created by those developments, accidental capture by commercial fisherman and other factors. In 1980 the global population of nesting females was estimated at 115,000. Now that number has dropped to between 26,000 and 43,000.