10 of the Cutest Endangered Species

Conservation competition

Photo: Ranjith-chemmad [CC BY-SA 4.0]/Wikimedia Commons

While all endangered species are worth saving, it comes as no surprise that the cute and fuzzy members of the animal kingdom stand a better chance of protection. According to research scientist Ernie Small, after "the cuddlies" and the "poster species" like whales and elephants, human conservation efforts tend to stall.

In addition to those animals that make us go "aww," big predators and species that are useful or commercially important top the list of the most-protected species. The losers in this competition are mostly plants, reptiles and amphibians, which are some of the most endangered groups in the world.

Here's our list of the world’s most adorable endangered species — but not all of them are quite as cuddly as the sand cat kitten pictured here.

Pileated gibbons

Photo: su neko/Wikimedia Commons

This species of gibbon is native to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and today about 47,000 individuals exist in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Like other gibbons, the pileated gibbon is arboreal and lives in monogamous pairs. The animals are threatened by hunting and severe habitat loss.

Mexican axolotls

Photo: LoKiLeCh/Wikimedia Commons

Known as the "Peter Pan" of animals, the Mexican axolotl is a unique type of salamander that spends its entire life in its larval form and is found only in Mexico's Lake Xochimilco. It lives underwater, and its odd appearance and ability to regenerate body parts make it a popular animal kept in labs and schools. Fewer than 1,200 Mexican axolotls remain today because the lake is drained to provide water for nearby Mexico City, and it has suffered from the introduction of invasive species like carp and tilapia, which eat the axolotls. Roasted axolotl is also considered a delicacy in Mexico. In June, writer DBC Pierre collaborated with musicians to create "An Axolotl Odssey," a symphony in honor of the critically endangered animal.

Black-footed ferrets

Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Wikimedia Commons

The black-footed ferret is now considered one of America’s top conservation success stories even though the animal is still endangered. The species declined throughout the 20th century, primarily as result of a decrease in prairie dogs — the ferrets' main prey — which were exterminated as agricultural pests. In 1979, black-footed ferrets were declared extinct, but in 1981, Lucille Hogg's dog brought a dead one back to their Wyoming home, and scientists scrambled to find more, eventually locating a colony of 61 ferrets. Thanks to conservation efforts, about 1,000 of the animals are now thought to live across the central U.S.

Amur leopards

Photo: Robert Franklin Photograph/Shutterstock

Native to southeastern Russia, the Amur leopard is listed as critically endangered, with fewer than 60 animals left in the wild. Also known as the Far East leopard, the Manchurian leopard or the Korean leopard, it’s been reported that some males stay with females after mating and may even help rear the young. The species is threatened by poaching, habit loss and climate change.

Fennec foxes

Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock

Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature doesn't list fennec foxes as endangered yet, conservationists are concerned the species may soon be threatened. Native to North Africa and the Middle East, the animals are intensively hunted, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists them as an Appendix II species and regulates their trade.

Pygmy hippos

Photo: jeep2499/Shutterstock

These animals look similar to their larger hippopotamus relatives, but they grow to only about two and a half feet tall and are extremely rare in the wild, with no more than a few thousand remaining. Their primary threat is loss of habitat due to deforestation, but they’re also hunted extensively for food and trophies. Although they’re endangered in the wild, they breed well in zoos. In 1927 Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, gave President Calvin Coolidge a male pygmy hippo named Billy as a gift, and Billy is the ancestor of most pygmy hippos in American zoos today.

Sand cats

Photo: Alexandr Junek Imaging/Shutterstock

The smallest of all wild cats, sand cats are the size of domestic cats and are found in the deserts of northern Africa and central Asia. Because the animals live in vast, arid locations, they’re difficult to study and population estimates aren’t available. Sand cats are threatened by habitat loss, hunting and collection for pet trade. The species went extinct in Israel due to habitat destruction following the territorial exchange between Israel and Jordan in 1994, but a litter of four sand cat kittens was recently born at the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv.

Egyptian tortoises

Photo: Mtsackid/Wikimedia Commons

Once found in Egypt and Libya, the Egyptian tortoise — one of the smallest tortoises in the world — is effectively extinct in Egypt due to habitat destruction. Although two populations exist in Libya, the species has lost much of its coastline habitat. Today there are about 7,500 Egyptian tortoises remaining in the wild, but populations continue to decline due to hunting for folk medicine and the illegal pet trade. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the species as critically endangered.

Sea otters

Photo: Don DeBold/Flickr

Fur traders once hunted sea otters to near extinction, their numbers dwindling to less than 2,000 during the early 20th century. The species now exists in about two-thirds of its former range at varying levels of recovery. Although the hunting of otters is no longer permitted except for limited harvests by indigenous peoples, the species is threatened by predation, poaching and entanglement in fishing nets. However, oil spills are the animal’s greatest threat. Otters are particularly vulnerable to oil spills because they rely on their fur to keep them warm, but when their fur is soaked with oil it can no longer retain air and the otters die quickly from hypothermia. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill killed an estimated 2,800 otters, and the lingering oil in the area continues to affect the population.

Slow lorises

Photo: Lionel Mauritson/Wikimedia Commons

Despite its toxic bite and the fact that the 2007 CITES conference banned international transport of the animal, the slow loris is a prized pet, making it a target for animal traffickers. The animals are also hunted for use in traditional Asian medicine and are threatened by habitat loss due to logging. The slow loris’ endangered status varies by country, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists most populations as declining.