The most endangered species on Earth

FAN Editor
  • In 2019, the Trump administration announced several rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act. The changes made it easier to remove animals from legally protected status and allowed commercial projects to take place on land previously deemed critical habitat.

    This policy only impacts conservation efforts in the United States. But around the world, ecosystems and wildlife face growing threats from human activities, habitat loss and climate change. If one species dies off, its predators don’t have as much to eat — and the cycle repeats.

    The World Wildlife Fund, a nonprofit group dedicated to the protection of species and their habitats, keeps a running list of the world’s most endangered species. 

    Keep going to see photos of the world’s animals that are most at risk of extinction.

    Credit: Juergen Ritterbach/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    In the wild, you’ll find these small penguins on the coasts of Argentina, Australia, Chile and the Falkland Islands. But in the past three decades, their population has dropped 25%, as climate change threatens their habitats.

    Here, rockhopper penguins waddle — and, yes, hop — around a zoo in Munich, Germany.

    Credit: Frank Leonhardt/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    There are an estimated 4,080 to 6,590 snow leopards left in the wild. Those few thousand cats are spread across the high mountains of 12 countries including China, Nepal, Afghanistan, Russia and Mongolia.

    Credit: James Devaney/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    The Savanna elephant is native to sub-Saharan Africa and is the largest subspecies of elephant on Earth. Habitat loss and poaching are to blame for the decline in this population.

    Credit: Edwin Remsberg/VW Pics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    There are fewer than 31,000 polar bears left in the wild. Polar bears are considered vulnerable because climate change is melting their sea ice habitat.

    Credit: Bernd Wastneck/ZB/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    The good news: This olive-colored reptile is the most abundant sea turtle in the world. 

    The bad news: large groups of olive ridleys nest in a small number of locations around the world. If any of their preferred nesting beaches are disturbed, populations can shrink precipitously.

    Credit: Soren Andersson/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    Wild marine iguanas are only found in one place on the planet: the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. 

    These iguanas experience population declines when El Niño conditions affect the Pacific archipelago. Pollution and non-native predators are also challenges for the big lizards, and when all three problems occur at the same time, their numbers can get dangerously low.

    Credit: Gunter Fischer/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    Loggerhead turtles, sometimes seen on beaches in the Mediterranean, are considered a vulnerable species because they often get unintentionally swept up in fishing operations.

    This newly hatched loggerhead was given a quick checkup by scientists at a sea-turtle rescue center in Turkey before he dove in for his first swim.

    Credit: Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    Growing as large as 1,500 pounds, the leatherback is the largest species of sea turtle. Like loggerhead turtles, these big reptiles sometimes get caught up in fishing gear. 

    In some countries, people collect leatherback eggs to eat them. The eggs are thought to be an aphrodisiac or a festive holiday treat.

    Credit: Jody Amiet/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    Scientists believe there are between 115,000 and 130,000 hippos living in the wild in sub-Saharan Africa. Hippos are classified as vulnerable because of poaching — they are hunted for their meat and teeth — and shrinking habitats.

    Credit: Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    The greater one-horned rhino almost became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century. Fewer than 200 of them were left on Earth. 

    But for more than a century, conservationists in India and Nepal have protected these rhinos against sport hunters and farmers who view them as pests. Today, the greater one-horned rhino population is around 3,700 strong.

    Credit: Jerry Redfern/LightRocket/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    The world’s largest predatory fish gets a bad rap as a bloodthirsty man-eater, but, in reality, humans kill significantly more sharks than the other way around. A perfect example: Great whites are a vulnerable species primarily due to unregulated hunting.

    Credit: Brad Leue/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    Giant tortoises have an average lifespan of more than 100 years, that is, if they can manage to hatch in the first place. Their eggs are frequently stolen by feral pigs, dogs and other carnivores.

    Credit: Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    Deforestation and poaching were serious threats to the world’s panda population as recently as the 1980s. But after decades of conservation efforts, their numbers recovered such that the giant panda was upgraded from endangered to vulnerable.

    Today, there are around 1,864 pandas in the wild.

    Credit: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    Like many elephants, this subspecies of African elephants are hunted for their ivory tusks.

    Credit: Amaury Hauchard/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    The dugong is the saltwater cousin of a manatee. Scientists have classified these “sea cows” are vulnerable because the fragile shallow sea grass they eat is easily destroyed by coastal development and run-off pollution.

    Credit: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

    The black spider monkey is native to South America. Their population numbers are vulnerable to forest fragmentation. Spider monkeys are also sometimes captured by illegal pet traffickers.

    Credit: Getty Images

  • Credit: NOAA

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Whale sharks are the largest shark species. Though whale sharks are a protected species in many countries, unregulated fishing remains a threat to their population numbers.

    Credit: Auscape/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Tiger populations were on the decline for a century — a result of poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss. But thanks to conservation efforts, the numbers are now on an upward trajectory. Today, there are around 3,900 tigers in the wild in Asia.

    Credit: Xinhua News Agency/U Aung/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    There are between 2,500 and 4,000 Sri Lankan elephants left in the wild on the island just south of India. Habitat loss to development is a major challenge these elephants face.

    Credit: CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    The sei whale faces two challenges in the ocean today: vessel strikes and accidental run-ins with fishing nets. 

    Credit: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Sailors and fishermen alike view these aquatic mammals as pests, and climate change is unlikely to help mend their reputation. 

    As sea waters become warmer, the fish that sea lions eat migrate or die off. That sends hungry sea lions into rivers and tributaries to look for food — disrupting migratory patters of fragile fish populations.

    Credit: Yuri Smityuk/TASS/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Researchers believe that the red panda population has been cut nearly in half in the past 20 years. There are approximately 10,000 of these fuzzy mammals left in the wild.

    Habitat loss to farms and logging operations and a growing illegal pet trade both threaten the red panda.

    Credit: Guido Kirchner/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Like with other species of whale, boat collisions and entanglement in fishing nets pose a threat to the North Atlantic right whale.

    They’ve been a protected species since 1935, but populations have struggled to recover with increased maritime shipping. Only around 350 of these whales remain in the wild.

    Credit: Gilles Martin/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    War, hunting and a shrinking habitat have plagued these great apes for over a century, but their story may yet have a happy ending. After years of conservation efforts, more than 1,000 mountain gorillas now live in the lush mountains of central Africa.

    Credit: Lorena de la Cuesta/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    These dolphins that live in coastal South and Southeast Asia were once critically endangered. 

    Bombing during the Vietnam War killed off a large number of these dolphins, but their population has recovered somewhat in recent decades.

    Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Experts believe just 1,816 of these dolphins remain in stretches of muddy river in India and Pakistan. They are functionally blind, an adaptation to living in murky conditions.

    Credit: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Scientists have listed the Indian elephant as endangered since 1986. There are between 20,000 and 25,000 of these elephants left in the wild.

    Credit: Anuwar Ali Hazarika/Barcroft Media/Future Publishing/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Conservationists continue to urge people not to capture these reef fish for food. The humphead wrasse, which can grow up to six feet long, is considered a luxury food in parts of Asia.

    Credit: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Only around 7,000 of these small dolphins remain in the wild. What remains of their species is found off the coast of New Zealand.

    Credit: NOAA via Flickr

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Humans are the main threat to survival of this species. These turtles can perish if they are struck by boats or are caught up in fishing gear. 

    Credit: Joe Bunni/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    This species lives in freshwater rivers in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Like the Indus river dolphins, Ganges river dolphins are functionally blind and use ultrasonic sound to hunt for prey. Between 1,200 and 1,800 of these dolphins remain in the wild.

    Credit: Bhim Ghmire/AFP/Getty Imagges

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Climate change is a major threat to these penguins. When ocean waters warm, food becomes scarce. And when there aren’t any fish to eat, these penguins stop reproducing and even abandon their young.

    Fewer than 2,000 of these birds remain in the wild.

    Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    After the blue whale, the fin whale is the second-largest mammal on Earth. Fewer than 90,000 of these whales remain in our oceans. Underwater noise pollution, or human-generated noise that drives marine life away from important habitats, is one threat to the fin whale’s survival.

    Credit: Francois Gohier/VW Pics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Genetically speaking, chimpanzees are the closest cousins to humans in the animal kingdom. Despite our similarities, humans are putting tremendous pressure on chimpanzee populations.

    Between 172,700 and 299,700 chimps are left in the forests of Central Africa. The highly social apes have already been eliminated in four countries by poaching, logging and disease. Organizations like the Jane Goodall Institute work to protect chimpanzees from extinction.

    Here, a chimpanzee named Arm rides a bicycle at a zoo in Thailand.

    Credit: Anusak Laowilas/NurPhoto/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Bornean elephants are the world’s smallest and least-understood subspecies of elephant. Fewer than 1,500 of these elephants remain on the island. 

    Habitat destruction is the most imminent threat to the species’s survival.

    Credit: Sylvain Cordier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Bonobos are closely related to chimpanzees, but they’re smaller and leaner with more peaceful, matriarchal societies. 

    Scientists estimate that there are between 10,000 and 50,000 of the apes left in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bonobos are threatened by poaching and habitat destruction.

    Credit: Bert Van den Broucke/Photo News/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    These big fish can grow up to 1,500 pounds. The Atlantic bluefin is considered a delicacy for sushi and sashimi. Some fish have brought in more than $1 million at auction.

    Overfishing has driven their population decline. One conservation group has a guide to how you can help save this tuna species.

    Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Commercial whaling nearly drove the blue whale to extinction, but legal protections in 1966 forbade whalers from hunting the species.

    Today, between 10,000 and 25,000 blue whales swim the seas.

    Credit: Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    These North American critters were once believed to be extinct, but after 30 years of efforts from conservation groups, zoos and Native American tribes, these ferrets are making a comeback.

    Today, approximately 370 black-footed ferrets live in the wild.

    Credit: Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Endangered

    Just 1,409 wild dogs still roam the African continent. Habitat fragmentation and conflict with ever-expanding human activities are the main threats to their survival.

    Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    The Yangtze river used to be home to two species of dolphin — the Yangtze finless porpoise and the baiji dolphin. The baiji dolphin was declared extinct in 2006, becoming the first dolphin subspecies to be eliminated by human activity.

    Between 1,000 and 1,800 of these super intelligent porpoises live Asia’s longest river today.

    Credit: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    Poaching and disease have ravaged the western lowland gorilla populations in Africa. Scientists estimate that, even if all threats to the species were eliminated, it would still take around 75 years for their numbers to rebound. 

    Here, two young western lowland gorillas play at Bristol Zoo Gardens in England.

    Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Images/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    Experts estimate there are only 10 vaquitas left on Earth. They are the world’s rarest marine mammal. Illegal fishing practices in Mexico’s Gulf of California have driven the species to the brink of extinction.

    Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    Fewer than 400 Sunda tigers remain on the island of Sumatra. Deforestation is the main threat to the species’s survival.

    Credit: Markus Heine/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    Growing to just 5 feet tall, the Sumatran rhino is the smallest remaining rhinoceros species. There are fewer than 80 of this subspecies left on Earth, on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

    Poachers destroyed previously healthy Sumatran rhino populations in Bhutan, India and Thailand.

    Credit: Perdiansyah/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    The Sumatran orangutan used to roam the rainforests on island of Sumatra. In the last few decades, however, forests on the island have been cleared out in favor of oil palm plantations, restricting these great apes to the northernmost portion of the island.

    Only 14,613 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild.

    Credit: Panyahatan Siregar/NurPhoto/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    In 2012, the Sumatran elephant was deemed critically endangered when half the species’s population was lost in just one generation. 

    Fewer than 2,800 of the Asian elephant subspecies remain.

    Credit: Afrianto Silalahi/NurPhoto/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    This critically endangered species, a genetic cousin of the cow, was only discovered in 1992. The large mammal is found in the mountains of Vietnam and Laos. The saola (pronounced sow-la) is often prey to commercial poachers.

    Credit: World Wildlife Fund via Facebook

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    With around 60 individuals left of its species, the Javan rhino is the most endangered rhinoceros subspecies on the planet.

    Credit: Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    The world’s most endangered sea turtle was hunted for hundreds of years for its beautifully patterned shell. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working to help this sea turtle population rebound.

    Credit: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    Civil unrest in their native Democratic Republic of Congo and severe habitat loss have taken a toll on the eastern lowland gorilla. The current population numbers for this subspecies are unknown.

    Credit: Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    There are an estimated 200 to 300 Cross River gorillas left in the wild. Habitat loss and poaching are the major threats to this species. The governments of Nigeria and Cameroon are actively working with conservation groups to help sustain this fragile ape population.

    Credit: WCS Nigeria via Facebook

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    Like with many of the great apes, habitat destruction and illegal hunting are to blame for the decline in the orangutan population. 

    There are an estimated 104,700 Bornean orangutans left on Earth.

    Credit: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    In 1995, there were fewer than 2,500 black rhinos left in Africa, but over the past 25 years, the species had experienced a major recovery, thanks to conservation efforts in Africa.

    Today, there are around 5,600 black rhinos alive, but scientists stress that there is still more work left to be done. In 1960, there were approximately 125,000 black rhinos across the African continent.

    Credit: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

  • Conservation status: Critically endangered

    This leopard is found in the forest of the Russian Far East. Around 84 of these big cats survive in the wild.

    Poaching and deforestation are the biggest challenges that this species faces.

    Credit: Sebastian Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

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