The animal kingdom is an amazing place, full of colorful creatures that swim, fly, run, walk, and roam freely around the Earth. Sadly, a lot of animals are on the brink of extinction, including some you might have never even heard of. Here are 15 of the rarest animals in the world.
No, not Pikachu, but pika, or rather Ilia pika (Ochotona iliensis), is a tiny mammal that lives in the Tianshan mountain range and was discovered in 1983. Found in the extremely remote Xinjiang region of China, these animals are only 7–8 inches long and love to live on sloping bare rocks. You can find all 1,000 or so that are left eating grass at high elevations. The number of pika in the world has declined by a stark 70% since 1983, due largely to climate change that’s forced them higher and higher up into the mountains.
2. Amur Leopard
With only an estimated 60 Amur leopards left in the whole world, this species of wild cat is in extreme danger of going extinct. Amur leopards are fast, topping out at running speeds as fast as 37 miles per hour. Originally living in Russia, China, and Korea, you can now only find them in the Amur River basin in eastern Russia. These cats live in solitude, which makes it rare for them to breed. They have actually doubled in population over the last 10 or so years but are still in grave danger of going extinct.
3. Darwin’s Fox
Found in just two parts of the world, Darwin’s fox is named after Charles Darwin, who first discovered the species of fox in 1834. They now live in Chile on the island of Chiloè and in the Nahuelbuta National Park. You’ll find Darwin’s fox out and about between twilight and dawn. Considered an “umbrella species,” which means that keeping them protected will also preserve the rest of the ecosystem, Darwin’s fox faces habitat loss, along with deaths from hunting.
4. White-rumped vulture
There are three critically endangered vulture species, and the white-rumped vulture tops the list. It’s experienced a shocking 99% decline in population since the 1980s, which gives it the uncoveted title of fastest declining bird species. White-rumped vultures are native to the Indian subcontinent and have been on the critically endangered species list since 2000. Their decline is attributed mainly to the introduction of the drug Diclofenac, which is a veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug frequently found in cow carcasses. When the vultures feed on the cows, they ingest the drug, which causes kidney failure in the birds.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of saola. This species, native to Laos and Vietnam, is so rare that scientists have only seen it in the wild a total of four times. That’s part of why it’s referred to the Asian unicorn. It’s also called that because of the two horns on its head and white markings on its face. Saolas are cousins to cattle, though they look a little more like antelopes. Hunting and human destruction of their natural habitat are the main causes leading to Saola’s risk of extinction.
6. Peruvian Spider Monkey
You can find the Peruvian black spider monkey (also called the Guiana spider monkey or red-faced spider monkey) high in the canopy of the Amazon Rainforest. These monkeys are essential for maintaining the rainforest’s ecosystem since they mostly eat fruit and disperse the seeds as they swing from tree to tree. These monkeys have seen a decline in their population of over 50% since the 1970s. The destruction of the rainforest is largely to blame for their declining population, along with fragmentation and hunting.
7. The Bornean Orangutan
It’s hard to regenerate a declining population quickly when female Bornean Orangutansare only able to reproduce every six to eight years. In addition, these Borneo natives are threatened by illegal hunting and by their native forests getting turned into plantations for paper, rubber, and oil palm. This species is now considered critically endangered since the population has dropped by 60% since 1950. Their population is expected to continue to fall and decline by another 22% by 2025.
8. Giant Otter
Giant otters are, well, pretty giant. They can be as long as six feet and are the largest otters in the world. Residing only in South America, Giant otters used to be hunted for their pelts, which led to their decline over the years. You can’t hunt them anymore, fortunately, but now they face the threat of their habitats being destroyed. When the rivers and lakes they live in get destroyed, their food supply of fish dies. Though they look pretty cute to us, fishermen in the area tend to think of giant otters as nuisances.
9. Black-footed ferret
These animals, part of the weasel family, are an incredible story of how conservation efforts can, in fact, bring species back from the brink of extinction. In the late 1980s, 18 black-footed ferrets were part of a captive-breeding program designed to increase their population. Now, there are 300–400 black-footed ferrets in the wild, all of which are descendants of those 18. They’re still threatened with extinction, since their main force of food, prairie dogs, are also rare, and their natural habitats keep getting destroyed by humans.
10. Sumatran Rhinoceros
The Sumatran rhinoceros is the smallest sized rhino. It has two horns (the only Asian rhino to have this feature) and lives in small pockets in the mountain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. They might also reside in Myanmar (Burma). There are several species of rhinos that are endangered, but none as much as the Sumatran rhinoceros. Like other rhino species, the Sumatran rhinos are hunted for their horns. Attempts to breed in captivity haven’t gone well, and only two captive Sumatran rhinoceros females have successfully reproduced in the last 15 years.
You’ve probably never heard of the solitary and nocturnal pangolin, who lives in the forests and grasslands of Asia and Africa. They’re cute and small (about the size of a house cat), and defend themselves by curling up in a ball when they feel attacked. They’re also incredibly popular and are considered to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. People capture them for their scales and their meat. Estimates suggest that as many as 100,000 pangolins are captured every year.
Meet the vaquita, the world’s rarest marine animal. It’s a cetacean, which is an order of animals that includes well-known sea animals like porpoises, dolphins, and whales. Vaquitas are only about five feet long when grown and are very near extinction. Only about 60 of them remain in the wild, which is a 40% population decrease in just the last five years. Illegal fishing operations off the Gulf of Mexico is partly to blame since vaquitas can get caught in nets and drown. They are also likely experiencing declining populations due to climate change.
13. Red Wolves
Though native to Florida and the Southeast, you’ll only find the 25 to 40 of these animals that are left in the wild living in Eastern North Carolina. The IUCN classifies red wolves as a critically endangered species. Conservation efforts have been made to save the species, but they’re still on the brink of extinction. These animals are known for being shy and for mating for life.
14. Madagascar’s Greater Bamboo Lemur
Found in Madagascar’s rainforests, the Greater bamboo lemur is one of the most endangered animals in the world. It was thought to be extinct until scientists re-discovered small populations of the species in 1986. They have the smallest lemur population, with only around 100 individual greater bamboo lemurs documented. As their name suggests, they eat mostly bamboo.
15. Hainan Gibbon
There are only about 28 individuals left in this rare species of Hainan Gibbon apes in the entire world. They’re native to China and are going extinct because roughly 95% of their natural habitat has been destroyed. They now occupy just a .77 square foot section of the Bewangling National Nature Reserve, which is located on the Hainan Island in the South China Sea. They used to be dispersed across half of China.