The Pinta Tortoise was driven from its natural habitat on Pinta Island when domestic goats were brought to the island and eliminated the natural food source of the tortoise. It is believed that there may be additional Pinta Island Tortoises on the nearby Island of Isabela.
There is a population of around 2,000 mixed breed and Isabela Torotises there and scientists are hopeful that they will find a mate for George. At 100 years old he only has about 60 years left and there is only one confirmed member of this subspecies in captivity. As for now, George remains the only known wild Pinta Island Tortoise and has become an iconic image in the World Wildlife Federation' s fight against extinction.
The Barbary Lion used to roam the region of North Africa from Morocco to Egypt until it was hunted to extinction by local tribes and big game hunters. Lions like the one pictured above were once used to fight gladiators in the Roman Coliseum and found their way into several rulers private collections.
Currently the only living Barbary Lions are found in zoos or in private preserves like Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and Addis Ababa zoo. With the number of confirmed animals somewhere between 30 and 50, captive breeding is the only way to propagate the species. An ambitious project started by WildLink International in collaboration with Oxford University is trying to track the DNA of these animals and then create a breeding colony for reintroduction into the North African Savannah. While the project is under way a significant breeding population isn’t likely for over 100 years.
Black Soft-Shell Turtle
While the Botsami (Black Soft-Shell) Turtle was considered to be extinct in the wild until as of 2002, a recent find in the Jia Bhoroli river in Assam has provided hope for a wild population.
Besides this possible wild population there is a colony of 150 to 300 individuals housed in a man-made pond at the Hazrat Sultan Bayazid Bastami shrine at Chittagong in Bangladesh. Because this colony is completely dependant on the monks at the shrine for survival they are considered “domesticated” instead of wild. There are currently no plans to try to reintroduce the Botsami Turtle back into the wild.
The Guam Rail was brought to the brink of eradication by the introduction of the brown tree snake to the island. The birds evolved in a snake free environment and had never had to deal with this type of predator before. The brown tree snake was so efficient at killing the Rail that it was extinct in the wild from the late 1980s until 1995.
A colony of 100 birds was released on the island of Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in that year. This colony is currently the only attempt to establish a wild breeding colony. Being a flightless bird it has to make its nests on the ground which unfortunately led to the birds becoming prime prey for feral cats in the region and fairly few chicks have survived more than a few weeks.
Père David’s Deer
Relatively little is known about the Père David’s Deer prior to its discovery by Father Armand David in the Emperor’s park in Peking, China. The small community of deer escaped the park during massive flooding in 1900 and 1901 only to be eaten by starving peasants. Fortunately some adult specimens were smuggled out to Europe to be exhibited and bred.
From this small herd there were three smaller groups created and rereleased into the wild in China in the 1980s. Although they initially showed promise the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has had no sightings since early 2007 and declared the Père David’s Deer extinct in the wild in October, 2008.
Native to the Sahara, the Scimitar Oryx fell prey to the greed of man. Their three-foot long horns were a prized trophy for game hunters. While they once numbered in the millions, there are currently about 3,700 living Scimitar Oryx held in private herds, zoos and breeding programs.
There are also rumored to be 4,000 additional head in a United Arab Emirates private collection. Reintroduction plans have included fenced in herds on three reserves in Tunisia, one reserve in Morocco and two reserves in Senegal. With their main predators, Sahara based lions and cheetah also being on the endangered list there is no reason that a breeding population can’t be reestablished throughout North Africa.
Panthera tigris - Wild Tiger
The natural habitat of the tiger has been encroached on by rising sea levels and the spread of man so that their range is only seven percent of what it used to be. If something is not done to stop the infringement of cities and the hunting of these animals for Asian medicinal purposes, we may be one of the last generations to see them in the wild. They will soon go the way of their now-extinct Javan and Balinese relatives.
There are currently an estimated 3,200 tigers in the wild. At the turn of the century there were about 100,000. These numbers were drastically reduced by big game hunters during the early and mid 20th century. Until recently, the tiger was one of the top five game animals in the world. Fortunately there are conservation efforts underway including Project Tiger and Save China’s Tigers.
Polar bears are one of the animals suffering the effects of global warming. As the area of sea ice decreases, the bears have to swim further to find a meal. Unfortunately the main food source of food for polar bears are seals, which are also affected by the reduction in ice.
Currently there are approximately 22,000 polar bears in 19 distinct groupings around the Arctic. Some of these groups are increasing in population but other are measurably smaller than they were even ten years ago. The World Conservation Union projects the bears' numbers will drop by 30% by 2050 due to continued loss of Arctic sea ice.
Oil from illegally dumped ballast water used to be the major problem for Magellanic Penguins with over 40,000 dying every year in the early 1980s. This problem has been rectified and now there is a new threat. As oceanic temperatures have risen, the underlying currents have changed and caused changes in the migratory patterns of fish.
The Magellanic Penguin used to be prolific around the southern tip of Argentina but the recent climatic changes have forced them to more north along with their food source. In 2008 several hundred of these birds washed up along the shore of Rio de Janeiro. All of them had died of apparent starvation. Although there are currently around 530,000 of these birds in the wild this is down nearly 80 percent over the past 15 years.
Pacific Walrus' are quickly becoming the latest victims of the shrinking ice shelf in the arctic. At last count there were approximately 200,000 of these creatures left in the wild. This count was done back in 1990 and conditions have been getting progressively worse. It is likely that the population has decreased significantly in the past 20 years. Scientists are comfortable with a rough estimate of 100,000 but this may be optimistic. If recovery happens it will be slow due to the breeding process and advanced age at which mating begins.
The largest of the marine turtles, the Leatherback, has survived in the ocean for more than a hundred million years but is now on the brink of extinction. While the total number of turtles is remaining steady, the change in the ocean temperature is causing major changes in the population’s gender distribution.The sex of the turtle is determined by the temperature of the water in which it is produced. The higher temperatures have resulted in an excess of male babies in the past twenty years.
There are currently only 2,300 female Leatherback turtles in the wild, and with ocean temperatures on the rise, we may be seeing the last generation of wild females to be born. The only remedy for this is to artificially lower the temperature of the area in which the turtles are in during the formative period, which would mean rearing them in captivity and then releasing them into the wild.
In the forests in the mountains of central Africa lives one of the most endangered animals on the planet, the Mountain Gorilla. There are currently about 720 surviving in the wild with 480 of those located in the Virunga National Park of Congo. The other location that houses these wild animals is the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Although there has recently been a slight increase in both of these populations, they are still critically endangered. Conservation efforts are localized to national parks and as more forest is destroyed, the habitat for these giants dwindles. There is virtually no chance of these Gorillas ever living outside of a National Park setting.
One of the most critically endangered of all animals is the Javan Rhinoceros. There are only 60 wild ones left in the world split between two breeding herds. Between the use of their parts in traditional Asian medicine and the conversion of the forest they called home to farmland there was little chance for them to thrive.
Conservation efforts began in 1998 but this was far to late to save thousands of Rhinos from being harvested each year by poachers to supply the underground Asian medicine market. A recent effort to locate Vietnamese Javan Rhinos employed the use of highly trained tracking dogs. They found and tagged twelve Rhinos and took blood samples for testing. Hopefully this will lead to a greater understanding of the needs of this creature and allow them to be bred in captivity to be rereleased back into the wild at a later date.
The Amur Leopard used to roam the forests of China and Korea but its habitat has been reduced to areas of far east Russia. There are only 30 to 35 individuals left in the wild. Deforestation and poaching were the major factors that brought this Leopard to the brink of extinction. Poaching of both the Leopard itself and its main prey, the sika deer. While there are several of these big cats in zoos around the world, there isn’t another breeding population on the planet. If the poaching isn’t stopped (and it hasn’t been, as of this writing nine skinned corpses of Amur Leopard have been found in and around Vladivostok, Russia) the small breeding community will be decimated.
Puerto Rican Parrot
The Puerto Rican Parrot is native to Puetro Rico and the nearby Islands of Vieques and Mona. It is currently only found on the main island. There are 34 to 40 known individuals in the wild and 304 individuals in private collections or zoos.
When it was officially put on the endangered species list in 1967, there were 70 individuals in the wild; in 1975, there were only 13. The fact that conservation efforts have failed to propagate a viable breeding community has made it imperative that captive breeding programs be introduced. There are currently two aviaries that practice Puetro Rican Parrot breeding. They have successfully grown the population to 161 individuals.
The Philippine Eagle (or Monkey-eating Eagle as it is sometimes called) entered the critically endangered list due to massive deforestation across its habitat. The UNIC believes that there are between 180 and 500 of these majestic birds left in the Philippines.
As the national bird of the Philippines and with its placement on the endangered species list, the killing of this bird carries a large fine and up to twelve years in jail in the country. This doesn’t mean that captive bred birds that are released in the wild are free from danger. The first one, released in 2004, was accidentally electrocuted in 2005. Another of the released birds was shot and eaten by a local farmer in 2006.
The red wolf was hunted to near extinction by livestock farmers throughout the United States. It was only due to actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1973 that its erradication was prevented. A captive breeding program was started from 43 wild caught specimens. Because the offspring were so closely related the breeding was slow but has, as of 2011, brought the population of red wolves in the United States to upwards of 300 (207 of those being in captivity). The individuals released into the wild were radio tagged and have resulted in the tracking of 70 “known” individuals, 26 packs, 11 breeding pairs, and 9 additional individuals not associated with a pack.
The Kakapo is the world’s only flightless parrot. It is native to New Zealand where it has been brought to the edge of the abyss by heavy deforestation in the 1840s and the fact that, as a large flightless bird, it made for good eating. The conservation efforts for the Kakapo began in 1891 making it one of the longest continual endangered species on the planet. It has recently been moved to predator free islands to help it establish a new foothold. This is one of the few endangered species that has a good chance of making a full comeback.
While these are not the only animals on the endangered species list, they are some of the most unique and likely to go extinct. Someday image galleries like this one may be the only way to experience the beauty of these creatures. Hopefully, with a concerted effort, some of these animals may still have a chance.
CBS News:DeadPenguins Washing Ashore In Brazil
Parrots International: The Crown Jewel of Puerto Rico http://www.parrotsinternational.org/Species_Pages/Puerto_Rican_Amazon_pages/PR_Parrot_status_page.htm
Alaska Dispatch: Walruses suffer from similar disease afflicting Alaska ringed seals
The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species: Oryx dammah
New Scientist: Climate myths: Polar bear numbers are increasing http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11656
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Red Wolf Recovery Program http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/index.html