A critically endangered (CR) species is one which has been categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. It is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List for wild species.
As of 2014, there are 2464 animal and 2104 plant species with this assessment, compared with 1998 levels of 854 and 909, respectively.
The World Wildlife Fund tracks the most critically endangered species today. These are ten magnificent animals who are designated as critically endangered.
1. The Tiger
Four subspecies of tiger—the Caspian, Javan, Balinese, and South China tigers—have already gone extinct due to habitat loss and relentless hunting by humans. Five subspecies remain: the Amur, or Siberian, tiger, the Bengal tiger, the Indochinese tiger, the Malayan tiger, and the Sumatran tiger. All of these tigers live in parts of Asia, with fewer than 3,000 remaining in total, and illegal hunting claiming more of them on a weekly basis. The main driver of this looming and seemingly inevitable extinction is the insatiable appetite for tiger bones, skins, eyes, and other body parts in China and Vietnam, where tiger organs are used to make an array of traditional folk medicines. In those countries the complete carcass of a single tiger can be sold for as much as U.S. $50,000, which means that a poacher who kills a wild tiger can earn enough money to support his family for several years. Because of this huge incentive, poachers—illegal hunters—are willing to take great risks to kill tigers.
2. The Vaquita
The vaquita, a tiny porpoise that lives in the Gulf of California, is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Vaquitas—which are the size of a loaf of bread a birth—often drown after becoming entangled in illegal gill nets used by fishermen in Mexican waters. Vaquitas were only discovered by scientists in the 1950s; there may now be as few as 30 of them remaining.
3. AMUR LEOPARD
The Amur leopard has adapted to live in the cold, temperate forests of southeast Russia and northeast China. Its winter fur is the longest of any leopards, with each hair growing to 3 inches (7 centimeters) long. It’s estimated there are only about 60 of these unique cats left.
With such a low population, a distinct threat to their survival is inbreeding. Researchers have found hazardously low genetic diversity in the existing leopards. Also, cub survival rates have been decreasing for decades, which is likely due to genetic abnormalities.
The saola, also known as the Asian unicorn, was first discovered by scientists in May 1992. They have only been found in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos.
The nickname unicorn relates to their two sharp horns, which can reach up to 20 inches (51 centimeters).
IUCN estimates the total saola population to be much less than 750.
5. JAVAN RHINO
This is the most endangered rhinoceros in the world, with only 63 animals surviving in a national park in Indonesia. They are also potentially the rarest large mammals on earth.
Very little is known about the Javan rhino’s way of life. They live in extremely dense jungle, making them difficult to study. Adults live alone and only come together occasionally to mate. Their days are typically spent wallowing in mud holes, which they might deepen with their feet and horns for extra comfort.
6. HAWKSBILL TURTLE
Hawksbills inhabit the world’s tropical oceans. They can weigh up to 150 pounds (68 kilograms) and live 30 to 50 years. It is the only reptile known to eat primarily sea sponges, spending most of its time around coral reefs. Hawksbill eggs are still eaten around the world, and they are often killed for meat and their colorful shells.
7. BORNEAN ORANGUTAN
This orangutan is native to the island of Borneo in the South Pacific. It’s the largest tree-dwelling animal on earth. Social groups build nests from bent tree branches to sleep on each night. Bornean orangutans are also the slowest breeding of all mammals. Scientists are concerned that their low reproduction rates may cause these orangutans to be the first of the great apes to become extinct.
8. CROSS RIVER GORILLA
IUCN has listed them as Critically Endangered because of the fact that their populations have declined by over 80 percent during the past 25 years—and are projected to continue dropping over the coming decades. only a tiny population of a few hundred remains. Causes for the increasing scarcity include habitat loss and illegal commercial hunting by poachers, who sell gorillas for food in West African markets.
9. SUMATRAN ELEPHANT
Sumatran elephants play a vital role in their local ecosystem. They eat a wide variety of plants and deposit seeds throughout their range.
Unfortunately, pulp and paper industries as well as palm plantations have deforested vast areas in Sumatra. Nearly 70 percent of the elephant’s natural habitat has been destroyed in one generation. Elephant populations have dropped by 80 percent in less than 25 years. To help turn this trend around, the World Wildlife Fund has partnered with local groups to counteract poaching and create protected areas for the elephants.
10. Chinese Giant Salamander
The Chinese giant salamander is the world’s largest amphibian, growing to lengths of up to 6 feet. It used to be common throughout central, southwestern and southern China, where it lives in streams in the forested hills and lays up to 500 eggs at a time in underwater burrows guarded by the male. However, the Chinese giant salamander has now almost completely disappeared due to its over-exploitation as a food source.