12 rare animals that are teetering on the brink of extinction
Every day, species around the planet are going extinct. And for each species that goes extinct, many more become and remain endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, and climate change.
These threatened animals are included on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species — the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species.
Here are 12 species at risk of extinction, including some that you probably didn't even know existed:
The Bornean orangutan
A two-year-old Bornean orangutan.
Found only on the island of Borneo, Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) have a broader face and shorter beard than their cousins, Sumatran orangutans. This July, the IUCN changed their status to critically endangered because the population has declined by 60% since 1950, and, according to Scientific American, new projections estimate that their numbers will fall by another 22% by the year 2025.
The main threats for these animals are habitat loss (forests are turned into rubber, oil palm or paper plantations) and illegal hunting. Aggravating the problem, females only reproduce every six to eight years— the longest birth interval of any land mammal — which makes conservation efforts slow.
The ili pika was photographed for the first time in more than 20 years on July 9, 2014 by Weidong Li, the conservationist who first discovered the species.
Photo courtesy of Weidong Li
Ili pika (Ochontana iliensis) is a small mammal (only 7-8 inches long) that's native to the Tianshan mountain range of the remote Xinjiang region of China. Living on sloping bare rock faces and feeding on grasses at high elevations, this little creature is very rare — there are less than 1,000 left.
The species was only discovered in 1983, but its numbers have declined by almost 70% since then, reports CNN. This is because the mammal's habitat is being affected by climate change. Rising temperatures have forced the pikas to retreat up into the mountain tops. In addition, grazing pressure from livestock and air pollution have likely contributed to their decline.
A giant otter with a Sailfin Catfish in the Cuiabá River of Brazil.
Found only in South America, Giant otters, or Pteronura brasiliensis, are the largest otters in the world, with some as long as 6 feet.
Historically, giant otters were hunted for their pelts, causing a huge decline in their numbers. While they are no longer hunted today, they remain endangered because many of their aquatic habitats (rivers and lakes) have been degraded and destroyed, causing the fish populations they rely on for food to dwindle.
They are often viewed as nuisances by humans, especially by fishermen. They are also threatened by gold-mining in the region, which leads to mercury poisoning.
Amur leopards are critically endangered with maybe 60 living in the wild and around 200 in zoos around the world.
AP Photo/Don Ryan
The solitary Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is one of the world's most endangered wild cats. It has a thick yellow or rusty orange coat with long dense hair, and can weigh up to 120 pounds. It can leap more than 19 feet, and it can run at speeds up to 37 miles per hour.
It's now found only in the Amur River basin of eastern Russia, having already gone extinct from China and the Korean Peninsula. According to WWF, there are around 60 amur leopards left in the wild.
A black-footed ferret crawls out of its burrow in the Aubrey Valley near Seligman, Arizona.
AP Photo/Arizona Game and Fish Department, George Anderson
As a member of the weasel family, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is the only ferret native to North America. They have tan bodies, black legs and feet, a black tip on their tail and a black mask. They are highly specialized carnivores, with prairie dogs making up more than 90% of their diet.
The main threats endangering these carnivores are disease and lack of habitat, brought on largely because prairie dogs were poisoned for a large number of years, eliminating food source in many of their habitats.
The black-footed ferret was twice thought to be extinct, but recovery efforts — notably captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild — have helped bring the animals back from the brink of extinction. Today, there are about 300-400 black-footed ferrets in the wild, according to the IUCN, all of which are descendants of the 18 ferrets that were part of captive-breeding efforts in the