The sad plight of rhinoceros and elephant species threatened by extinction has been well publicized. Most people are also aware of the threat facing certain gorilla and shark species. But according to many wildlife resources, the world’s most poached and trafficked animal is the pangolin. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. The insectivore native to Africa and Asia is highly prized in certain cultures for its meat and supposed medicinal uses — and that has created a thriving black market for poachers to kill this protected creature. Here’s a look at the pangolin and several other surprising animals that are being hunted to the brink of extinction.
5. Humphead Wrasse
This funny-looking fish’s odd shape explains its strange name. Native mostly to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Cheilinus undulatus is considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia, and is one of the most expensive fishes on Asian markets. For various reasons, governments have been slow in enacting protection for this species, not even preventing spearfishing. Juveniles are actively caught in many areas for the global aquarium industry.
4. Chinese Giant Salamander
When you think of a salamander, you probably think of a tiny, lizard-like creature — not the Chinese giant salamander, which can reach almost 6 feet in length. This so-called “living fossil” native to, yes, China, is valued by many Chinese for medicinal purposes. It is also a luxury food. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Andrias davidianus as Critically Endangered, only one step above the ominous “Extinct in the Wild.”
Native to the Sahara Desert, this antelope is listed as Critically Endangered. Its meat and leather have made it a popular target for hunters for centuries, and its numbers have been further threatened in recent years by the collapse of Libya and the growth of oil production in the Sahara. In a strange twist, the species is being bred in captivity in the U.S., with steady growth in herd size, for hunters.
This manatee-like creature has been hunted for thousands of years in the Indo-Pacific region. Early European explorers spying these creatures from afar spotted human traits in dugongs and related species, giving rise to the legend of mermaids. Despite the fact many countries have laws protecting the dugong, cultural hunting practices continue to thin the population.
As noted earlier, most people have likely never heard of this animal. Found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, this little creature subsists on ants and termites, much like the giant anteater. Wildlife experts call it the most trafficked mammal, and possibly animal, in the world. While this protected animal is hunted for food in some areas, it is more popular for medicinal uses, which some cultures believe can cure everything from cancer to kidney disease. The IUCN considers all eight species of pangolin as Threatened, and a couple are Critically Endangered. A few years ago at a UK event designed to draw attention to the plight of pangolins, Prince William said, “The Pangolin runs the risk of becoming extinct before most people have even heard of them.”