The Most Endangered Animals on the Planet—and Why They Remain Under Threat

From a chubby-cheeked orangutan to a tiny pygmy elephant.
The Most Endangered Animals on the Planet—and Why They Remain Under Threat Newsweek

Scientists believe that Earth has suffered five mass extinctions. They were caused by cataclysmic natural disasters—an ice age, volcanoes spewing poison gas, and even a space rock smashing into the Earth.

Now it's believed that the Earth is on the brink of another mass extinction. Scientists say that "the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 100 times higher" than in previous centuries, at the most conservative estimates.

But this massive loss of organic diversity doesn't come from flaming asteroids or raging volcanoes. Scientists are putting the blame squarely on human activity. "Our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate," the report says. This is setting into motion a "mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years."

The Trump administration seems indifferent at best. Despite the public appetite for NASA to focus on climate change as revealed in a recent Bloomberg poll, the Trump administration has instead re-focussed the agency's budget towards space exploration.

Trump himself is openly skeptical about climate change, tweeting in 2012 that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

Whatever he believes, the planet is getting hotter, losing huge swathes of forests while more plastics poison the sea. Along with the illegal wildlife trade, this has been a factor in many animal species vanishing, and many more becoming threatened—the IUCN Red List estimates the number is as high as 26,197, including plant life.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have put together a species directory, listing which species are critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or near threatened. This slideshow collects the animals at the top of their list, that are most in danger of disappearing completely.

From a chubby-cheeked orangutan to a tiny pygmy elephant, the extinction of any of these creatures would be a massive loss to biodiversity. Some of these animals were discovered as late as the 1990s, and their disappearance could take many clues about evolution and biological history with them. Here are the most endangered animals on the planet—and why their existence is threatened.

Amur Leopard — Critically Endangered This rare leopard, which can be found in the Russian Far East, can reach speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. There are thought to be less than 100 left in the wild, making it one of the rarest cats in the world. The leopard has been extensively hunted, and its habitat has been destroyed by logging and industrial development. Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images