- Ocean Quahog
The Ocean Quahog, or Arctica Islandica, is a large bivalve that grows up to ten centimeters tall. Large populations can be found in the ocean waters around Iceland, but they live buried beneath the sea bed all across the Atlantic Ocean. They hold the record for being the longest known living creatures on our planet, with one specimen that was caught in 2006 thought to be about 507 years old. This means it would have been born in 1499. Despite their longevity, the Ocean Quahog has been put on the list of at-risk species of the North-East Atlantic Ocean because numbers have been plummeting. This has happened due to extensive fishing to send to the USA for the manufacture of clam chowder soup, increased pollution of the seas by plastic and chemical waste, and the destruction of their habitats by deep sea dredge fishing.
- The Vaquita
The Vaquita, a small species of porpoise, was only first discovered in 1958- but today finds itself as being the world’s rarest marine mammal and on the brink of extinction. They are native to the Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico, where large numbers used to gather, but numbers have severely fallen because of human activity in the area. A study in 1997 estimated a population in the region of only 600, but this fell to 100 in a similar survey in 2014 and most recently, in 2016, the total number is though to be around 30. That’s a population decline of over 92 percent since 1997, and means this glorious creature sadly doesn’t have much time left. Unlike other animals that are facing extinction because of hunting, the loss of Vaquita’s is mainly as a by-product of the fishing of an endangered fish called the Totoaba. This large, 300 pound fish is highly sought after for its swim bladder that is popular in Chinese medicine and, as a result, commands a high price. The gillnets that are used to catch the Totoaba also traps large numbers of Vaquita and has been the single most destructive factor towards Vaquita numbers. Despite the Mexican governments attempts to limit the fishing of the Totoaba for this reason, even banning the use of gillnets in 2015 for two years and setting up wildlife refuges, the porpoise has not been able to recover because there are still lots of trawlers using the nets illegally.
- Javan Rhinoceros
Rhinos are one of the more famous animals of the world that are endangered, but rather than the more well-known white and black Rhinos from Africa, the most at-risk type of the five different species is the Javan Rhinoceros. They used to be prevalent across south east Asia, but with the last Javan Rhino of Vietnam having been poached in 2010, the only known remaining ones all live in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia. They are very similar in appearance to the closely related “Greater One-Horned Rhino” and are a dusky grey color with one horn that grows up to about ten inches long. The loose folds of their skin make them look like they have armor plating, and they are thought to live for between thirty and forty years. With only around 60 of these Rhinos left in the wild, and none in captivity, their future survival depends on the ability of park rangers to protect them from the threat of poachers- who hunt them for their valuable horns that are a valuable commodity across the region for their supposed medicinal properties.
- Iberian Lynx
Native to the Iberian Peninsula of Southwest Europe, the Iberian Lynx is the most endangered of all feline species. These cats used to roam the Mediterranean forests of Spain and Portugal but, because of poaching, the destruction of habitats for human construction, and reductions in the populations of rabbits that are their main food source- numbers of these majestic creatures have fallen sharply. They are easily recognizable in the area if you are lucky enough to see one- as they are heavily spotted, have long legs and a short tail with a black tip. They have a tawny coat, and a “beard” around their faces as well as black tufts on the ears. In 2002 it was estimated that there were, at most, 100 Iberian Lynxes left in the wild and conservationists decided to take drastic action to try and help to save them. In an unusual turn of fortune for this species, those efforts have proven worthwhile. The cats are bred in captivity and released in the wild, with recent population counts indicating that there are now over 300 spread across a wider region. Despite these successes, the Iberian Lynx still stands at the precipice of extinction, and efforts must continue if they are to survive the next decade.
- Northern Hairy
Nosed Wombat Wombats are the largest known herbivorous mammals that burrow through the ground, but all three species are facing challenges with survival as a result of human activity. The most at risk one is the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat, which is one of the rarest mammals in the world. Much larger than you would expect, the wombat has a stocky build, short tail and powerful legs with strong claws that make them ideal for digging. With a large head and pointy eyes, the hairy nosed wombat gets its name from the clumps of whiskers that protrude from the side of their nostrils. This unusual creature used to be found across a wide area of Australia- from New South Wales to Queensland even as recently as 100 years ago. Today, though, their numbers are in severe decline and are limited to a small part of the Epping Forest National Park in Queensland where approximately 230 individuals are believed to live. There are a number of reasons why the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat has struggled to survive, including; the already small population numbers, the risk of flooding, droughts and wildfire that have become more frequent, reduced habitat as a result of deforestation, and the competition for food with the eastern grey kangaroo.
- Dama Gazelle
The Dama Gazelle is the largest of all Gazelle species, and once existed in large numbers across the arid and semi-arid regions of the Sahara, mainly in Chad and Sudan. They are about a meter tall to their shoulders, have a reddish brown body and white head, rump and underparts, and both males and females have curved horns. In the past century their population numbers have deteriorated as a result of numerous wars in the region, an enlarging desert, overhunting, the destruction of their habitats and the increased spread of human activity and livestock production. This has meant that the once common sight of Gazelles in the area is now a rarity. Very little is known about the life-cycles of these creatures in the wild, which has made the limited conservation efforts tricky. Most of what we know of them comes from observations of ones held in captivity and, if the current decline continues, that will sadly be the only place that future generations have of seeing these animals first hand.
- Chinese Alligator
The Chinese Alligator is one of the only two known species of Alligator in the world. In comparison to the American Alligator they are a lot smaller, have a more robust head, and a snout that tapers up and turns up at the end. Their blunt teeth are ideal for crushing the shelled animals like clams and snails that they feed on. They can grow up to two meters long, but they never attack humans. Books dating back to over 2000 years ago refer to these creatures as “harmless”. They are though to have once been prevalent along the entire Yangtze river, and even the inspiration for the Chinese Dragon- they are called the Yow-Lung by the Chinese, which means dragon- but now, unlike the American Alligator, this species is under major threat of extinction. The main reason for this is the human adaptations to their habitats. What were once swamplands and marshes are now paddy fields- and a large number have been killed by farmers protecting their livestock, and the seepage of agricultural chemicals into nearby water sources. There are now only thought to be about 130 remaining in the wild, all of which are contained to a small areas of drainage ditches and farm ponds around the lower basin of the Yangtze. Attempts are underway to preserve the species, but as long as humans alter the environment, the recovery will be slow and difficult.
- The Pied Tamarin
The Pied, or bare faced, Tamarin is native to South America- in particular the Amazon basin, and have adapted to live in rainforests, swampy regions and even urban environments. They are identifiable by their thick fur, which is white on the upper half of their bodies and fore limbs, and brown on their lower half and rear limbs, as well as the complete lack of fur on their black heads. They are also different from other New World monkeys with their small size and modified claws. They were once found all over the region, but now are limited to small areas of degraded forest and housing estates near the city of Manaus. Designated as Critically endangered, they have come under threat from deforestation, the growth of urban areas, increased cattle ranching and competition for space with the larger Golden-handed Tamarin.
- The Saola
Meaning “Spindle Horns” in Vietnamese, the Saola are often affectionately called the “Asian Unicorns” because of their unique appearance and rareness in the region. They were first identified in Vietnam in 1992 when a skull with unusually straight horns was seen in the home of a hunter, and proved to be the first discovery of a new mammal in more than 50 years. The Saola are one of the most endangered large animal species on the planet, being found only in the Annamite Mountains in Laos and Vietnam. Their striking features of long, virtually straight horns and white marking on the head have made them a prize trophy for hunters. This, as opposed to habitat loss, is the largest contributor to their status as being critically endangered- and is as a result of commercial poaching rather than subsistence hunting by the local communities. Quite often, since their recent discovery means they aren’t a part of Chinese medicine, they will simply be killed as a by-product of hunting for other species, which combined with their already small numbers means that, if things continue the way they are, there won’t be any left in a few years time.
- The Pangolin
This brings us to the number one spot on our countdown, the Pangolin. These creatures are the only mammals in the world that are covered in scales, and their tongues can be longer than their bodies! There are eight distinct species that can be found across Asia and Africa and, sadly, every one of these species is at imminent risk of extinction. Very little is actually known about these animals, with lifespans thought to be of around 20 years. When in danger they are able to curl up into balls that make it difficult for even lions and tigers to pierce the tough scales, and they can even emit a noxious-smelling acid, similar to skunks, to try and deter predators. The main predators of these creatures, though, are humans who capture them to sell to China and Vietnam for their valuable meat and scales. Some estimates suggest as many as 100,000 are traded each year for these purposes, causing their numbers to rapidly drop. Efforts are underway to try to help preserve all species of Pangolin, but unless humans change their ways, time will soon be up for this truly unique mammal.