Many scientists have warned that we are living in a time of mass extinction, caused by man. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which monitors extinctions and endangered species, lists more than 2,400 animal species as “Critically Endangered,” which is one step below the self-explanatory designations “Extinct,” and “Extinct in the Wild.” While scientists might mourn the loss of any species, let’s face it — most people are not going to lose sleep over the possible extinction of Homoeodera major, aka the greater fungus weevil. But when you start talking about better-known species, people take notice. Through September 2016, the IUCN considered 205 species of mammals as “Critically Endangered,” including the following species.
10. Asiatic Cheetah
This cheetah that once widely roamed southwest and central Asia is today found only in Iran. A comprehensive study in 2009 estimated that between 50 and 100 of these cheetahs remain. Highways pose the most significant threat; by one estimate, two-thirds of the cheetah deaths in a recent two-year period were the result of road accidents.
Ancient man captured these desert antelopes and used them to cultivate fields. But modern man’s oil-industry work and geopolitical strife in the Sahara desert have pushed the addax to the “very knife-edge of extinction,” according to the IUCN. The organization reported a 2016 study found only three addax remaining in the wild. A 2010 study had estimated some 200 remained in the wild.
8. Black Rhinoceros
Hundreds of thousands of these rhinos roamed Africa in the early 1900s, but by 2004, an estimated 2,400 remained. Poachers still pose the greatest threat, with rhino horn selling for around $30,000 per pound on the black market. Some have even advocated the legalization of this substance, which would create an incentive for people to breed black rhinos in captivity, and thus reduce the incentive for poaching.
7. Dama Gazelle
This gazelle is a national symbol in Niger, but hunting and habitat destruction continue to threaten its existence. There are fewer than 500 remaining in the wild.
6. Bornean Orangutan
The Bornean orangutan is the largest tree-dwelling animal in the world. Habitat destruction is threatening orangutans everywhere; one Harvard anthropologist told National Geographic that orangutans in the wild could be extinct by 2025.
5. Sumatran Elephant
Poaching and habitat loss have decimated this majestic animal; the IUCN estimates that roughly 50 percent of this species died between 1985 and 2007. Although an estimated 2,500 of these elephants remain, the World Wildlife Federation-Indonesia predicts the species will be extinct within 10 years if the government doesn’t act to stop poachers.
This rare porpoise found only in the Gulf of California is threatened by illegal fishing. A 2016 survey found only about 60 vaquitas remain, making it the most endangered marine mammal in the world. The survey estimated the vaquita will be extinct within five years unless the Mexican government moves to prevent illegal fishing.
3. Red Wolf
The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but determined efforts to breed the species in captivity have rebuilt the population. While dozens of red wolves have been bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated only 45-60 remained as of 2016. The USFWS has found that in the past three years, almost two dozen of these wolves have been shot to death, many by hunters mistaking them for coyotes.
2. South China Tiger
The common ancestor of all tigers, the South China tiger is all but extinct in the wild; it has been more than 20 years since the last confirmed sighting of a South China tiger in the wild. According to SaveChinasTigers.org, there are about 100 currently living in captivity. The organization has been aggressively trying to save the population through breeding at the Laohu Valley Reserve in South Africa.
1. Mountain Gorilla
These are not great times for great apes. The IUCN reported in September 2016 that four out of the six great ape species are critically endangered. That includes the mountain gorilla, a subspecies of the eastern gorilla. The IUCN estimates that only about 880 mountain gorillas remain as of September 2016.