Every year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) adds new animals to the list of endangered species — those creatures deemed likely to become extinct. This list is called the Red List of Threatened Species, and it’s updated at least once every year, with any new updates within a year assigned separate version numbers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also lists species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. list mostly focuses on animals in the United States but also includes a few species outside the nation’s borders, while the IUCN list includes animals from across the planet. The Endangered Species Act is what provides the legal authority in the U.S. to protect certain species.
Endangered animals are one broad category and two more specific categories away from becoming extinct. The conservations classifications run from best to worst as follows:
- Least Concern
- Conservation Dependent
- Near Threatened
- Critically Endangered
- Extinct in the Wild
The majority of species actually fall into two other categories — data deficient and not evaluated — which means we don’t yet know their status.
Here are some of the species that the IUCN recently added to the endangered list.
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee
There’s been a lot of concern recently about the fate of bees. Their numbers have been falling and recently the rusty patched bumble bee was named the first wild bee species in the contiguous United States to be listed as endangered.
Since the late 1990s, its populations have decreased by almost 90% in numbers and in distribution. This is, of course, especially concerning because we need bees to pollinate many different kinds of plants that produce foods and play an important role in ecosystems.
Five different species of African antelope also unfortunately found their way on to the list this year. Four of those species previously belonged to the least concern category. The Giant Eland, the world’s largest antelope, is now classified as vulnerable, the Mountain Reedbuck and the Heuglin’s Gazelle are now listed as endangered and the Southern Lechwe as well as the Grey Rhebok are now in the near threatened category.
This sharp decline was due to poaching, damage to habitat and competition with livestock. As the human population in Africa grows, many other creatures are experiencing similar problems.
An organization called All About Wildlife recently gave the top spot on its 10 most endangered species list to the vaquita, an extremely small porpoise that inhabits the Gulf of California. These marine animals are only as big as a loaf of bread when they’re born. They often get entangled in illegal fishing nets and drown.
Now listed as critically endangered, the U.S. first listed the vaquita as endangered in 1979. It’s recently gained the unfortunate title of ‘world’s most endangered marine mammals’ with no more than 30 individuals estimated to live in the wild.
We don’t know the conservation status of most invertebrates, but the IUNC recently determined that approximately 40% of the 145 Madagascan millipede species are in danger of going extinct. 27 of these are listed as critically endangered.
This is due primarily to habitat destruction. One species, the Shiny Giant Pill Millipede, requires a very specific type of sandy soil that is quickly disappearing. A proposed strip mining project may destroy the rest of its habitat.
Grasshoppers in Madagascar are in a similar predicament. 40% of the 71 species are at risk for extinction, and seven of those are classified as critically endangered. The Rumplestiltskin Pygmy Grasshopper, which lives only in Manakambahiny forest in eastern Madagascar, is one of those critically endangered species. The species hasn’t been spotted since 1995 and is disappearing because of habitat destruction.
The Amur Leopard has been in danger for some time but more recently it’s become the rarest cat in the world. It’s now listed as critically endangered, and there may be as few as 40 of them left. Although they used to live in China and Korea, it’s now extinct in those areas and can only be found in remote parts of eastern Russia. Habitat destruction, poaching and climate change are putting this species at risk.
Thongaree’s Disc-Nosed Bat
This rare bat species was just discovered in 2015 and entered the IUCN Red List as critically endangered this year. It lives only in the Bala forest south of Thailand, which is being destroyed to make room for agricultural land.
Chinese Giant Salamander
The Chinese Giant Salamander is the world’s largest amphibian. It can grow up to six feet long. Although the animal lays up to 500 eggs at a time, it’s listed as critically endangered. It’s been listed as such since 2004, but it’s believed that its population continues to decline rapidly, bringing it closer to potential extinction. This is largely due to overhunting caused by the fact that it’s considered a delicacy in China. Habitat degradation and pollution also play a role.
Every year, new animals are added to the endangered list. This is a pattern that we need to change not only for the sake of the animals but also for our sake and for the planet as a whole. Each creature is an important part of the ecosystem they live in. When one species dies out, the others are affected too – including us.
There are many ways you can help, and some are easier than others. On a basic level, try to live the most eco-friendly life possible so that we can progress toward cleaning up the environment that these animals live in. Try carpooling or riding your bike to work. Stay vigilant about the various origins of wildfires so that you don’t inadvertently cause species in your geography to face endangerment. Decrease your usage of products containing harmful oils. The list goes on.
Additionally, you can make your voice heard by getting involved with organizations that fight for endangered animals. You can even go as far as contacting your representatives about environmental issues that are close to your heart. Every little bit of help counts.
Seeing entire species disappear from the planet is a saddening and frightening. Knowing that humans are often the cause makes it hit even closer to home. If we don’t change the way we treat animals and our environment and work towards creative solutions to this issue, this pattern will just keep happening and getting worse.