In a world heading towards becoming the junk heap featured in Wall-E, the endangered tag is being placed on more and more animals. Some of these animals are fortunate enough to hold enough meaning to humans through cuteness or historical/national value that they receive press and funds towards their preservation. Others are not so lucky, and many more still go largely unnoticed. This list is an attempt at shedding light upon some lesser known and lesser valued endangered creatures. Ordering this list was quite difficult. After all, how do you put a number on life?
10. Common Sawfish (Pristis pristis)
Once common in its range, hence its name, the common sawfish is now a rare sight in the ocean’s waters. This species uses its unique saw-like protrusion in a variety of ways. With sensitive pores, it can locate movement on the ocean floor then use its bill for digging up crustaceans and other goodies. Its saw is also used for defense from larger predators like sharks that may be looking for a tussle. It breathes through its cute little “eyebrows” as shown in the picture (called spiracles) which bring oxygen to its gills. The species has been removed from 95% of its ranges due to exploitation through mass fishing. The actual population of this curious creature is unknown but based on recent surveys it is thought to be exterminated from the Mediterranean and European parts of its range. Its remaining population is believed to be seriously declining in northwest Africa.
9. Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)
Behold the ever smiling, quaint and quirky vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise. The recent 2006 extinction of the Chinese river dolphin, or the baiji, leaves the vaquita as the most endangered creature of the cetacean order, a common by-catch in fishing nets. This porpoise is endemic (only found in) the northern reaches of the Gulf of California. These “little cows” (as the Spanish word vaquita translates) live in shallow lagoons with high turbidity and nutrients. There are likely less than 300 of these marine mammals left in the world. Unlike many of their cetacean cousins, the vaquita tends to favor being alone or in small groups instead of large social gatherings. They are among the introverts of the sea. Their babies take an estimated 10-11 months to cook before they are birthed, and adult vaquitas only live to about 21 years of age. The slow rate of reproduction might not bode well in the coming fight these cute creatures of the sea will face.
8. Chinese Crested Tern (Sterna bernsteini)
If you asked the giant panda in panda-speak who is the worst modernized region when it comes to conservation, it will tell you that China is, beyond a doubt, a terrible place for endangered species. Don’t let the panda programs fool you; China’s nature is suffering greatly in the face of its recent industrialization. The Chinese crested tern is one example of fauna that has been extirpated from the mainland through hunting and egg collection. By chance, two pairs of nesting birds were found in Taiwan’s Matsu islands. Ironically, it is thought that China’s political turmoil with Taiwan had helped save the last few of these crested terns. The inlet they were found in has been highly contested by both China and Taiwan, so not many people have frequented the area making it an ideal nesting area. It has since been protected and now holds an estimated 50 or so birds.
7. Estuarine Pipefish (River Pipefish)
The river pipefish is a tiny stick-looking fish that has found its habitat in the estuary systems on the Eastern Cape coast of South Africa where it prefers brackish, tidal waters and feeds exclusively on zooplankton. Interestingly enough the pipefish came back from certain extinction. In 1994, it was officially listed as extinct by the IUCN Red List. After a 1996 survey, a breeding population was discovered in a new estuary. This success didn’t last long as a flood flushed out their preferred eelgrass habitat and with that hope of its recovery. Although that population was never found again, a 2006 survey discovered 20 juvenile pipefish in its original habitat along the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Unfortunately, no mature individuals were identified. This fish has been listed as critically endangered since 1996. Its habitat quality continues to decline due to lack of freshwater pulses which bring nutrients in for the pipefish’s food source. Man-made dams and other structures have seriously crippled aquatic species that rely on freshwater pulses to survive.
6. Peacock Parachute Spider (Poecilotheria metallica)
Peacock Parachute Spider is a species of tarantula that reflects a beautiful metallic blue coloration. It is arboreal meaning tree dwelling and lives in the holes of tall trees. This crafty spider creates funnel webs in the holes and captures a number of flying insects before paralyzing them with their bite. The spider is only known to dwell in a fragmented forest patch located in India and it is threatened by further habitat loss from deforestation and firewood collection. Because of its dwindling territory, these spiders are sometimes known to live with other members of its species but it is unknown how many of these sapphire spiders are still living in the wild. This beautiful colored spider is also desired by many tarantula enthusiasts and is popular in the pet trade industry.
5. Attenborough’s Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi)
Of three other long-beak echidna species that are critically endangered, the Attenborough’s echidna is only found in the Cyclops Mountains of Papua (Indonesia). Echidnas have been deemed evolutionary distinct than any other mammals alive today– they are warm-blooded, land dwelling creatures that lay eggs! Little else is known about this shy, solitary creature. Worms are its primary food source which it finds by digging into the earth and searching for them with its long snout. This particular species was actually presumed extinct until a 2007 expedition. While it wasn’t actually observed by the researchers, evidence of its continued existence included digging and burrowing sites as well as information from the local people who often hunt and kill them for food. Their habitat is also under threat through logging and agriculture operations. While its cousin species are being protected in other reserves, the Attenborough’s echidna is not currently part of any conservation program.
4. Angel Shark (Squatina squatina)
Looking more like a ray than a shark, the angelshark skirts its way around the bottoms of shallow waters. This cross between a pancake and a tadpole was once common off Northeast Atlantic shores. Its sand-colored camouflage has helped them adapt well to the natural environment, but no amount of evolutionary traits could help this fish from overzealous harvesting of commercial fishers. This guy has been on dinner plates since the days of Ancient Greece, often gracing markets under the name “monkfish”. Even when the angelshark is not the fishing target of the day they often find themselves a victim of bycatch, being unintentionally caught in nets meant for other species. It is now extirpated from many of its natural recesses and remains only in fragmented populations with unsure futures. Like many creatures of the sea, the angelshark has a slow cycle of reproduction and so finds it hard to rebound from past transgressions even as it gains protection from local governments.
3. Hainan Gibbon Nomascus hainanus
You’d think that the charismatic primates of the world would get some media attention. Sure, the orangutans have their own show on Animal Planet which leads to money being invested in their conservation efforts. Unfortunately for the Hainan gibbon, they have no such luck. Who wouldn’t love an adorable face like that? Sadly, the Hainan gibbon is the rarest primate species on the planet with only 20 individuals left in the world. Every day they face the threat of extinction due to illegal hunting and deforestation.
2. Red-Crested Tree Rat (Santamartamys rufodorsalis)
Granted, ever since the bubonic plague, humans haven’t found much fondness for anything associated with the word rat. Perhaps the fuzzy, charismatic nature of these Colombian natives can help change our minds. There have been only three of these critters even spotted, let alone studied extensively. The people who located it only did so by chance: It walked up to them and said hi. Since the area they are known to live has been largely deforested and cleared, the Red-Crested Tree Rat is marked as critically endangered. Massive areas of Colombia are still unexplored, so maybe this little guy (who disappeared once only to appear over a hundred years later) still has a chance at a miracle.
1. Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)
Also known as the Red River giant softshell turtle, this gentle giant is native to China and faces an immediate risk for extinction. It is also the largest freshwater turtle species in the world. Only four individuals are known to be living (with only 2 in the wild; one in China, one in Vietnam). A pair of turtles at the Suzhou Zoo, China is currently in a breeding program with the hopes to bring some aid to this species’ survival but unfortunately all efforts to date have been unsuccessful. As such a large animal, it has been exploited in the food trade business over generations and if captured alive, it is sold as pets. This species is particular to river/wetland habitats which are under constant threat of destruction and degradation worldwide. The only confirmed area where the Red River giant softshell turtle has been observed by researchers is seriously threatened by pollution.