National Wildlife Day: Most Endangered Species and How You Can Help

National Wildlife Day (NWD)—celebrated on both February 22 and September 4—was created in 2005 by animal behaviorist Colleen Paige to raise awareness of the plight of endangered animals in the United States and around the world, as well as the people who work to protect them.

Initially, the day was celebrated on September 4, but the additional date in February was added to honor the birthday of famed Australian conservationist and broadcaster Steve Irwin, who was killed in 2006 after being pierced in the heart by a stingray barb.

At a time when the Trump administration is seeking to weaken key regulations protecting endangered species in the U.S. and a landmark U.N. report has warned that one million species around the world are at risk of extinction due to human pressures and climate change, now is a better time than ever to turn our attention to this issue.

Here are some of the most endangered species on Earth.

Amur leopards

This rare leopard subspecies which lives in the Russian Far East, numbers less than 80 individuals, according to WildCats Conservation Alliance. It is under severe threat from habitat loss—driven by human development and forest fires in the region—as well as poaching and diseases such as Canine Distemper Virus.

Cross River gorilla

Researchers estimate that there are only between 200 and 300 members of this subspecies of the Western Gorilla left in the wild, although directly counting them is a tough task given that they are wary of humans and live in relatively inaccessible territory. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) these gorillas live in at least 11 groups spread across the forests of Cameroon and Nigeria. The gorilla faces threats from habit loss—as a result of logging and agriculture—hunting and a loss of genetic diversity.

Black rhino

The smaller of the two African rhino species suffered precipitous declines in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, between 1960 and 1995, the black rhino population in the wild was reduced by a staggering 98 percent, largely because of poaching driven by demand for its prized horns—which are used in traditional Asian medicine. Numbers have bounced back to more than 5,000 today thanks to conservation efforts across Africa, although the black rhino is not out of the woods, especially given the rise in demand for its horns, according to the WWF.

Sumatran tiger

This smallest living tiger subspecies now comprises only around 400 individuals, all of which live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Their habitat is being destroyed by rampant deforestation on the island to make way for agriculture, timber harvesting and residential developments. This often pushes the animals into conflict with humans, which can result in them being killed, according to Fauna and Flora International. The big cats are also a target for the illegal wildlife trade with one survey conducted by monitoring group TRAFFIC estimating that 78 percent of Sumatran tiger deaths—about 40 animals every year—are the result of this illegal trade.

Vaquita

The Vaquita—a species of porpoise unique to the northern part of the Gulf of California—is considered the world's most endangered marine mammal. The species is on the brink of extinction with estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released in July 2019 indicate that there may be only 9 individuals left, since fall 2018. The population has been reduced dramatically as a result of illegal fishing operations in protected areas of the Gulf, with the mammals often drowning after becoming entangled in nets intended to catch other creatures, such as the critically endangered totoaba fish.

How you can help

You can help conservation efforts related to these animals—and indeed many others—by supporting the WWF through donations. The world's leading conservation organization is involved in protecting all of the animals listed.

You can also support other more specialized conservation charities (listed below) which are working to protect certain animals.

The NWD website also contains a number of recommendations to celebrate the day and raise awareness for endangered species:

  • Partner with a local animal sanctuary to host a fun and educational event.
  • Help to promote an event at your local zoo or library by handing out flyers and posting info on your website if you have one.
  • Partner with us to host an event at a local zoo or sanctuary.
  • Help support our work by promoting our social media pages to your friends.
  • Suggest to your local zoo, school, library, nonprofit organization or animal sanctuary about hosting a National Wildlife Day event.
black rhino
A female black rhino stands on December 10, 2007 in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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