Extinction watch

16 unique animals that could go extinct by 2030 -- and how to change that

You can't say we weren't warned about this.

Muzzle of a Far Eastern leopard (Amur leopard) close-up, on a background of snow.

Say your goodbyes now?

The world may be in the middle of a sixth mass extinction, a catastrophic consequence of climate change, habitat loss, and human activity that threatens to wipe out more animals than we care to realize — and that includes humans.

Some scientists are even concerned that an insect apocalypse is upon us. But as of right now, cockroaches aren't quite on their way out the door yet. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for these 16 animals. They are listed by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature as "critically endangered," which means they're among the most likely to disappear within the next decade.

Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)

Why are Amur leopards endangered?

This forest-dwelling big cat is the most endangered of all leopards, reports the WWF.

An Amur Leopard Cub lounges in a tree


Where do Amur leopards live?

This adorable creature is native to the Amur-Heilong region, named for the massive river that borders far east Russia and northeastern China.

How many Amur leopards are left in the wild?

According to the WWF, there are less than 100 Amur leopards left in the wild, and some 180 in captivity. These numbers may sound drastically small — but the wild population has actually grown in the last three years. In 2017, 60 leopards were thought to be living in the wild — now, more than 84 are believed to be still out there.

What conservation efforts are protecting Amur leopards?

Groups like TRAFFIC, an organization focused on combating illegal wildlife trading, and the WWF are working to stop poaching, monitor populations, and protect the leopards' habitat. A recent win was a 2013 law update in Russia stepping up enforcement aimed at stopping illegal trade in Amur leopards and other big cat species.

Rhinoceros (multiple species)

Black rhino (Diceros bicornis)

Why are black rhinos endangered?

Thanks to trigger-happy European hunters, populations of black rhino dropped dramatically in the 20th century — and poaching remains a problem today, the WWF says.

Where do black rhinos live?

Black rhinos live in Namibia and East Africa, and are smaller than white rhinos — a northern subspecies of which is likely already extinct in the wild.

Three species of rhino, including the black rhino, are critically endangered.


How many black rhinos are left in the wild?

There are between 5,366 and 5,627 black rhinos left, reports Save The Rhino.

What conservation efforts are protecting black rhinos?

Conservationists are working to stop poaching and grow rhino populations. These efforts have included flying rhinos to new homes where they can thrive.

Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)

Why are Sumatran rhinos endangered?

The Sumatran rhino is also on the critically endangered list — along with a number of other animals that live on Sumatra, a large island located in western Indonesia.

In the past, poaching posed the biggest threat to this rhino — but today, habitat loss is an even bigger danger, according to activist organization Save The Rhino. Humans destroying forest for palm oil and paper pulp, and the resulting fragmentation of rhino populations hurts breeding patterns.

A rare, endangered Sumatran rhino.


What makes a Sumatran rhino unique?

Sumatran rhinos have a number of distinct traits: They are the smallest rhino species and the only Asian rhino to have two horns.

How many Sumatran rhinos are left in the wild?

There are only 80 individuals left in the wild, according to the WWF.

What conservation efforts are protecting Sumatran rhinos?

Conservationists are working to stop poaching, grow rhino populations, and protect the animals' habitat. The WWF has even moved some Sumatran rhinos to consolidate populations in areas that are better protected, and is working on breeding rhinos in captivity.

Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

Why are Javan rhinos endangered?

The Javan Rhino is the most endangered of all rhinoceros species, WWF says. Their tiny population makes their chances at bouncing back lower than most. The species is also particularly sensitive to natural disasters and disease, Save The Rhino reports, both of which are expected to increase with climate change.

Javan rhinos are the most threatened among rhinos.


What makes a Javan rhino unique?

Javan rhinos are smaller than their cousins, Indian rhinos, averaging about 10 feet long and four to six feet tall, according to Rainforest Alliance. These rhinos are happy to eat a a particularly broad range of plant food — shoots, twigs, fruit. Javan rhinos are the "most adaptable" feeders among rhinos. Their big requirement is having salt in their diet, and they're not alone there — the Sumatran rhino requires the same.

How many Javan rhinos are left in the wild?

There are just 72 Javan rhinos left, according to Save The Rhino.

What conservation efforts are protecting Javan rhinos?

The International Rhino Foundation and the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia are working to expand the Javan rhinos' protected habitats, and stop poaching.

Orangutan (multiple species)

Orangutan (Pongo abelii, Pongo pygmaeus)

Why are orangutans endangered?

The primary reason orangutans are in trouble is the destruction of their habitat, reports the Orangutan Foundation International. Legal and illegal logging, destroying forest to create forest to palm oil and timber operation, and mining are high on the list of threats.

Where do orangutans live?

Orangutans live in only in Borneo and Sumatra, islands in Southeast Asia.

How many orangutans are left in the wild?

There are about 41,000 Bornean and 7,500 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

Why are Bornean orangutans endangered?

In just the past 60 years, the Bornean orangutan has seen its numbers cut in half, according to WWF. Logging and hunting threaten its habitat and survival.

Bornean orangutan in the wild.


What makes Bornean orangutans unique?

Both types of orangutan have their signature shaggy, orange-red fur. But Borneans differ in that they're more likely to climb down from their treetop habitat to spend some time on the ground.

How many Bornean orangutans are left in the wild?

There are about 41,000 Bornean orangutans left in the wild.

What conservation efforts are protecting Bornean orangutans?

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation is working to reintroduce these animals from captive populations back to the wild, protect their habitat, and educate nearby communities to help protect the species.

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Why are Sumatran orangutans endangered?

Rapid deforestation and illegal pet trade are causing these orangutan populations to suffer.

Female Sumatran orangutan with a baby.


What makes Sumatran orangutans unique?

Sumatran orangutans' facial hair is longer than that of Borneans, and the group has closer social bonds, WWF reports.

How many Sumatran orangutans are left in the wild?

There are about 7,500 Bornean orangutans left in the wild.

What conservation efforts are protecting Sumatran orangutans?

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme is working to conserve these orangutans by rehabilitating rescued orangutans, confiscating pets and reintroducing them to the wild, increasing conservation education, and research.

Gorilla (multiple species)

Similar to the orangutan, there are more than one type of gorilla in trouble. Despite the current dire outlook, these gorillas could bounce back — in fact, their cousins, the mountain gorillas are among the few success stories of conservation efforts, as Inverse reported in 2018 . That is thanks in large part to the work of primatologist Dian Fossey, mountain gorillas rebounded from just 240 individuals in 1967 to 604 in 2018.

The Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)

Why are Cross River gorillas endangered?

Forest-clearing for timber, agriculture, and livestock cuts into their territory. Poaching is a problem, too.

Cross river gorilla having a snack.


What makes Cross River gorillas unique?

These gorillas are similar to the western lowland gorilla, but have subtle unique differences in their skulls and teeth.

How many Cross River gorillas are left in the wild?

The human-shy species is difficult to track, but estimates show there are about 200-300 left.

What conservation efforts are protecting Cross River gorillas?

Conservationists are monitoring populations, increasing environmental education, and conducting research to better protect these gorillas.

Eastern Lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)

Why are Eastern Lowland gorillas endangered?

Civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo is part of the reason eastern lowland gorillas are endangered, WWF reports. Through the years, habitat destruction, poaching, and illegal mining have all taken a toll.

Silverback eastern lowland gorilla.


What makes Eastern Lowland gorillas unique?

This is the largest gorilla subspecies, with a "stocky body, large hands and short muzzle," WWF reports.

How many Eastern Lowland gorillas are left in the wild?

Accurate counting of these gorillas has been impossible because of violence in their region, WWF says. But it's estimated that the population has declined by more than half of its number in the mid-1990s, which was nearly 17,000 individuals.

What conservation efforts are protecting Eastern Lowland gorillas?

The largest protected population of these gorillas lives in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which is in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Illegal mining and poaching in the park has threatened populations, but conservation organizations and park staff are working to regain control of the land.

Western Lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

Why are Western Lowland gorillas endangered?

Hunting and trade, habitat loss, and disease are all threatening the western lowland gorilla.

Western lowland gorillas. Shown left is a pregnant mother.


What makes Western Lowland gorillas unique?

These gorillas are smaller than other subspecies, with brown-grey coats, auburn chests, wider skulls, pronounced brow ridges, and small ears, according to WWF.

How many Western Lowland gorillas are left in the wild?

There are expected to be up to 100,000 of these gorillas left, though researchers haven't been able to get an accurate estimate of this elusive animal.

What conservation efforts are protecting Western Lowland gorillas?

Efforts to protect these gorillas include stronger protections, better tracking of the animal, encouraging more sustainable development in areas where these gorillas live, and working toward adapting the human Ebola vaccine for gorillas.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Why are Hawksbill turtles endangered?

These turtles are most threatened by the wildlife trade: Pieces of their shells are sold in markets as "tortoiseshell" goods. The sea turtles are also hurt by the loss of their habitats, fishing, pollution, and coastal development.

A Hawksbill turtle swimming above a reef.


What makes Hawksbill turtles unique?

With a pointed beaklike face — hence its name — this turtle swims through tropical coral reefs throughout the world and dazzles with its biofluorescent shell. Sea turtles have been around for 100 million years — WWF calls them a “fundamental link in marine ecosystems” — and they help to keep coral reefs and seagrass healthy.

Where do Hawksbill turtles live?

These turtles live in tropical coral reefs throughout the world, including the Mesoamerican Reef, off the coast of East Africa, and the Coral Triangle, WWF reports.

How many Hawksbill turtles are left in the wild?

Hawksbill turtles are among the animals whose populations are difficult to estimate accurately, but one estimate showed there are probably about 8,000 nesting females remaining in the wild. Global population has dropped by 80 percent over the past century.

What conservation efforts are protecting Hawksbill turtles?

Habitat protection, satellite tracking, and getting fishers to use "turtle-friendly fishing hooks" are all part of the efforts to conserve the Hawksbill.

Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)

Why are saola endangered?

The funky saola was only discovered in 1992, and unfortunately it has already landed on the list of the most endangered species. Habitat loss is the main threat: Saola depend on the forest to survive, and humans' agriculture and infrastructure are shrinking and fragmenting saola habitat.

The mysterious saola was only discovered in 1992.

Windmill Books/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Where do saola live?

The cattle relative’s name means “spindle horns” in Vietnamese, and it’s native to the Annamite Mountains in Vietnam and Laos, WWF reports.

How many saola are left in the wild?

There are fewer than 750 saola left in the wild.

What conservation efforts are protecting saola?

Conservation organizations like WWF are working to strengthen protected areas, partner with communities to improve forest management, and are working with law enforcement to help secure protections.

Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus)

Why are Sumatran elephants endangered?

As Sumatran elephants' habitat has diminished over time, conflicts with humans have arisen. Sumatra's high deforestation rates have driven the elephants into human settlements, where the animals sometimes raid crops, trample people's homes, or even kill people. As a result, communities may retaliate by poisoning or shooting the elephants.

Sumatran elephant cools off.


What makes Sumatran elephants unique?

Like the hawksbill turtle, Sumatran elephants make their environments better, in this case by depositing seeds the natural way. The other animals in its habitat all benefit from the presence of this elephant population, WWF says.

Where do Sumatran elephants live?

These elephants live on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

How many Sumatran elephants are left in the wild?

There are between 2,400 and 2,800 left in the wild.

What conservation efforts are protecting Sumatran elephants?

WWF and others are working to reduce human-elephant conflict by setting up warning systems when elephants enter human settlements, and driving the elephants back into the forest. They are also protecting forests to conserve habitat.

Sunda tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica)

Why are Sunda tigers endangered?

Illegal wildlife trade is the main threat to these tigers. Most of them are killed for their market value — which accounts for nearly 80 percent of these tigers' deaths each year.

Fewer than 400 Sunda tigers remain today.


What makes Sunda tigers unique?

These tigers stand out with their bold black stripes on stunning orange coats.

Where do Sunda tigers live?

These tigers live on the island of Sumatra in Southeast Asia.

How many Sunda tigers are left in the wild?

Fewer than 400 of these tigers are still with us, WWF reports.

What conservation efforts are protecting Sunda tigers?

Efforts to curb poaching include setting stricter laws, and working with law enforcement to enforce them.

Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)

Why are vaquitas endangered?

These small, shy porpoises often fall victim to rogue fishing operations in marine protected areas.

Conservationists are working with the Mexican government to protect this tiny porpoise.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

What makes vaquitas unique?

Vaquitas are the world's smallest porpoises, known for their shyness.

Where do vaquitas live?

Vaquitas live in off the coast of Mexico, in the northern part of the Gulf of California.

How many vaquitas are left in the wild?

It’s the world’s most rare marine animal, and it’s “on the edge of extinction,” WWF says.

Only 10 individuals are still living in Mexico — and it has already been declared “functionally extinct.”

What conservation efforts are protecting vaquitas?

Activist groups like ¡Viva Vaquita! are working with scientists and the government in Mexico to devise fishing equipment that doesn't harm vaquitas. The efforts include buyouts for old fishing gear and loans for new businesses selling the safer equipment.

Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis ssp. asiaeorientalis)

Why are Yangtze finless porpoises endangered?

Fishing nets, boat propellers, and toxic waters from human development all endanger the porpoise, WWF reports.

What makes Yangtze finless porpoises unique?

This porpoise is a smart and potentially sneaky animal. It's "known for its mischievous smile and has a level of intelligence comparable to that of a gorilla," WWF writes.

Where do Yangtze finless porpoises live?

The porpoise are native to Asia’s Yangtze River. The river was previously also home to the highly intelligent Baiji dolphin, but unfortunately, that species was declared functionally extinct in 2006, WWF reports.

How many Yangtze finless porpoises are left in the wild?

There are about 1,000 of these animals left in the wild.

What conservation efforts are protecting Yangtze finless porpoises?

Efforts to protect these porpoises include tracking populations, conserving habitat, creating lake reserves, and influencing policy to better protect these animals.

The finless porpoise (pictured) and the vaquita each find themselves on the critically endangered list.


Despite the doom conjured up by this list, there is hope: Research shows that environmental protection efforts really do work.

Populations of mountain gorillas, reindeer, wolves, and humpback whales have all seen their numbers rebound, thanks to humans making the effort to protect them.

In his own effort to preserve vulnerable species, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is on a mission to document every single species in captivity — and sometimes that means capturing, if you will, an animal that’s the last of its kind. Sartore has been working on his “Photo Ark” for 15 years, and he expects to take another 10-15 to finish it, the photographer told Inverse in 2019. “It’s a big responsibility, but a great honor and privilege as well,” Sartore said.

Only time will tell if he can meet that goal while there are still plentiful species to photograph.

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