Continued from last week, this week we count down from 5 to 1.
5. Tooth-billed Pigeon
A relative of the extinct dodo, tooth-billed pigeons are disappearing at an alarming rate. They only live in Samoa and are currently fewer than 400 left in the wild, with no captive populations to help conservation efforts. They are elusive birds, very rarely seen. Even though illegal today, hunting has played a huge part in their decline, along with the main threat being habitat loss due to agriculture, or natural causes likes cyclones or trees.
Gharials are fish-eating crocodiles from India. They have long thin snouts with a large bump on the end which resembles a pot known as a Ghara, which is where they get their name. They spend most of their time in freshwater rivers, only leaving the water to bask in the sun and lay eggs. There are only around 200 left in the wild. Their decline is due to several issues, though all human-made. Habitat loss, pollution and entanglement in fishing nets pose as some of the biggest threats.
The kakapo, also called owl parrot, is a species of large, flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling parrot. The total known adult Kakapo population is 209, all of which are named and tagged, confined to four small islands off the coast of New Zealand that have been cleared of predators. A kakapo’s natural reaction is to freeze and blend in with the background when threatened. It is effective against predators that rely on sight to hunt but not smell.
2. Amur Leopard
Amur leopards are one of the world’s most endangered big cats. They are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In 2015, there were only around 90 Amur leopards left within their natural range. That number is now estimated to be less than 70. Like all species on the endangered list, humans are their biggest threat. Their beautiful coats are popular with poachers as are their bones which are sold for use in traditional Asian medicine. They are also at risk from habitat loss due to natural and human-made fires.
The vaquita is both the smallest and the most endangered marine mammal in the world. It has been classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN since 1996, and in 2018, there were only around 15 vaquitas left. The latest estimate, from July 2019, suggests there are currently only 9. Their biggest threat is from the illegal fishing of totoaba, a large fish in demand because of its swim bladder. Vaquitas accidentally end up entangled in the gillnets set for totoaba and drown because they can no longer swim to the surface to breathe.
*All Images for this blog sourced from Google and WWF
In this two-part series, read on to learn some interesting facts about the 10 most endangered animals in the world and how we, as a race, should be more cognizant of the plight of these beautiful creatures.
Gorillas share close to 97% of their DNA with humans! They are capable of feeling emotions and even behave like us sometimes – did you know they can laugh? There are two species, the Eastern Gorilla and the Western Gorilla, and they both have two subspecies. Three out of four are Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The only one that isn’t is the Mountain Gorilla, a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla.
Rhinoceros comes from two Greek words Rhino and Ceros, which when translated into English mean nose horn. Human beings are almost entirely responsible for this beautiful creature nearing extinction. Poaching for their distinctive horns is their biggest threat. Three of the five species of rhinoceros are among the most endangered species in the world: the black rhino, Javan rhino and the Sumatran rhino. The Javan rhino is the closest to extinction with only about 50 left, of which most are in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia.
8. Sea Turtles
Hawksbill Turtles and Kemps Ridley Turtles are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Hunting is one of the biggest threats to sea turtles, with poachers targeting their eggs, shells, meat and skin. They are also at risk from habitat loss and pollution as well as climate change. Sand temperature determines the sex of hatchlings with eggs developing as females in warmer temperatures. That means even small temperature changes could skew the sex ratio of populations.
The Saola is one of the rarest large mammals on Earth. It was first discovered in 1992 in the Annamite Range in Vietnam. The Saola is elusive and so rarely seen it’s known as the Asian unicorn.
6. North Atlantic Right Whale
They are gentle giants that stay close to coasts and spend a lot of time at the surface skim feeding on zooplankton, all of which makes them an easy target for hunting. They were almost wiped out by hunters for their blubber and are now one of the most endangered large whales. They are now protected, and hunting is illegal, but population recovery is slow. They are only about 400 left, out of which, only 100 are breeding females. Females don’t breed for the first ten years of their life and then will give birth to a single calf every six to ten years. Vessel traffic also creates noise that interferes with their ability to communicate. Whales use sound to find mates, locate food and avoid predators, as well as to navigate and talk to each other.
Stay tuned for the Top 5 World’s Most Endangered Animal Species in the second part of the blog series. Can you guess which animals will feature on the IUCN Critically Endangered List?
*All Images for this blog sourced from Google and WWF
The death of hundreds of elephants in Botswana has been an unsolved mystery for a long time during this pandemic in Botswana. Most of these have shown the symptoms of dizziness and walking in circles before dropping dead face-first. Government officials quote that 281 elephants have been verified to be dead with this bizarre behavior, but the conservationists and the NGOs claim that the death toll is much higher.
Initially, wild life experts have omitted the possibility of tuberculosis and believe that the cause is beyond the known diseases. Though the death number does not sound serious in population perspective, it is absolutely critical to complete the diagnosis and have accurate results in order to avoid any foul play or before elephants succumb to more of such mysterious deaths.
Botswana has an estimated 130,000 Savanna elephants and is considered to be one of the last strongholds of species in Africa. The earlier estimations were to be around 350,000 and ivory poaching in 20th century has reduced the species to one third of them today. The thousand-square-mile to the northeast of Okavango Delta, which has witnessed the deaths of elephants has around 18,000 elephants roughly. The wildlife experts and veterans believe that the possible causes could be the ingestion of toxic bacteria into the water, viral infection from rodents in the area or a pathogen infection. Conservationists are also considering the possibility of poisoning by humans.
The investigating officials of the Botswana government had sent for the testing to the laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa, US and Canada as well. The wild life department made a press release that the deaths are probably due to natural toxins.
However, the officials have confirmed that the conclusion could not be made about the cause yet. Authorities have so far ruled out anthrax, as well as poaching, as the tusks were found intact. They believe that some bacteria can naturally produce poison, particularly in stagnant water.
Elephants Without Borders (EWB) is a wildlife conservation charity that first flagged about these mysterious deaths. Their confidential report with references to 356 dead elephants was leaked to the public media in early July. The charity suspected that the deaths were not restricted to any specific age group or gender and has also highlighted that many live elephants have shown signs of weakness, lethargy and even disorientation.
Presence of green lush vegetation and the fact that waterholes in the vicinity are still full of rainwater eliminates the possibility of deaths due to dehydration or starvation. Though the blue green algae can be deadly when consumed along with water, elephants generally drink water from the middle of the water bodies, but not edges. But there has been a pre-historic mass elephant deaths due to Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and this cause could only be substantiated with the laboratory results, which is still underway. The neurological symptoms like walking in circles suggests that anthrax poisoning is also a possibility.
The Anthrax bacteria occurs naturally in soil and elephants become infected if they have ingested contaminated soil or breathed in. Anthrax is known to be affecting wild life and domestic animals around the world.
Experts opinionated that it requires a detailed sampling of carcasses, soil and water in the delta area for an accurate explanation. But the challenge is the remoteness and the hot weather in the area which could have degraded the body, erasing important evidences, and scavenging animals which may eat organs making it extremely challenging for the examination. Despite the wildlife conservationists’ huge cry worldwide, there is still no confirmation on the absolute cause for the hundreds of elephant deaths.
The primary threat to most pangolin species is illegal hunting and poaching for local use and illicit international trade. Recent estimates based on seizure data suggest that more than 895,000 pangolins were trafficked globally between 2000 and 2019. This trade mainly involves pangolin scales and meat, which are primarily trafficked to East and Southeast Asia, and to a lesser extent other body parts.
Scales for Traditional Medicines
Pangolin scales are used as an ingredient in Traditional Asian Medicine, particularly in China and Vietnam. They are believed to be a cure for ailments ranging from heart disease to cancer, and to help lactating women produce milk. Like rhino horn and human fingernails, pangolin scales are made of keratin and there is no scientific evidence that they are efficacious in medicine. Similarly, pangolin scales are used to treat myriad medical conditions in Traditional African Medicine, especially in West and Central Africa.
Meat consumed locally or as a luxury product
Pangolins have been consumed as a source of protein in virtually every range country throughout human history. In Asia, this continues, but in many places local consumption has been foregone in favor of selling the animals into illicit, international trade because of the high prices pangolins can fetch. The majority of this trade is destined to China and Vietnam, as well as other countries in Southeast Asia, where pangolins are consumed as a delicacy. The high price and perceived rarity means consumers eat pangolins as a luxury product to demonstrate their wealth and reinforce social status. In Africa, pangolins are eaten as wild meat, especially in West and Central Africa, where local rather than international trade is predominant. Estimates suggest that at least 400,000 pangolins are hunted and consumed locally in Central Africa each year.
Ongoing illegal trade despite international protection
Illicit international trade in pangolins and their parts takes place despite international protection afforded to the species. Pangolins have a long history in CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Each pangolin species was included in CITES Appendix II in 1995, meaning trade should be closely regulated, and in the year 2000, zero export quotas for wild-caught specimens traded for primarily commercial purposes were established for the Asian pangolins, in effect, a proxy trade ban. Due to ongoing concerns about the overexploitation of pangolin populations, each species was included in CITES Appendix I at CoP17 in 2016, establishing an international trade ban on commercial trade in wild-caught pangolins and their derivatives. Pangolins are also protected species in most of their range countries under national legislation, but illegal harvest and trade continues unabated.
The impact of overexploitation on pangolin populations
High levels of off take have resulted in steep declines in pangolin populations, especially the Chinese, Sunda and Philippine pangolins in China and Southeast Asia in recent decades. In some places this has resulted in the commercial extinction of the species, or the loss from some sites altogether.
Since 2008, there has been an apparent increase in the trafficking of African pangolin scales, mainly from West and Central Africa to Asian markets, which appears to be placing greater exploitative pressure on tropical African pangolin populations. Quantifying the impact of illicit, international trade and disentangling it from local use is challenging, as in Asia, in part because there is a lack of standardized population monitoring methods for pangolins. Based on the best available evidence, the IUCN Red List assessments for pangolins were updated in December 2019, resulting in the species being categorized as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable, based on past, ongoing and future population declines attributed to actual or potential levels if exploitation.