11 Endangered Species That Are Still Hunted for Food

These animals face many survival pressures, yet are still hunted for their meat.

young male chimp runs through grass on hands

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Endangered species around the planet are threatened for a number of reasons, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and competition from invasive species. Despite this, some are still being hunted for their meat.

Occasionally this happens because communities are impoverished and have limited sources of food. However, many of these species are poached to satisfy an appetite for exotic delicacies. Here are 11 endangered species that are still hunted for food.

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two tan squirrel monkeys playing on tree branch

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The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has revealed that as many as half of all species of primates are in danger of extinction. Although habitat loss from deforestation is a large threat, the bushmeat trade is also a notable factor. All of the great apes—especially chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas—as well as most monkey species are hunted for their meat throughout Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.

An estimated five million tons of bushmeat move through the Congo basin every year. While primates don't make up a large proportion of that, they're more at risk because they're such slow-growing, long-living animals.

Ironically, because humans are primates too, they are susceptible to disease transmitted through exposure to bushmeat. Both HIV and Ebola, for instance, have been linked to great apes.

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Pangolin on sandy ground hunting for ants

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The pangolin is found in tropical regions of Africa and Asia. These cute but scaly creatures are most threatened in China, where they are considered a delicacy and are occasionally consumed for unfounded medicinal reasons. There is even a highly expensive dish called pangolin fetus soup, which is eaten to flaunt wealth. Locals believe it can increase a man's virility. The meat is said to be good for kidney function and costs a lot at high-end restaurants.

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Bluefin Tuna

underwater closeup of bluefin tuna swimming to the right

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As one of the most highly prized fish in Japanese sushi, the bluefin tuna has been overfished and exploited. Unfortunately, the rarity of the species has only made the demand for it grow. A single bluefin tuna has sold for more than $1.75 million.

The creature used to be common in the Black Sea and off the coast of Brazil, but heavy fishing has led to a decline so dramatic that it has not been seen in high numbers there for years. It has experienced the largest range contraction of any species of open ocean animal. But despite the bluefin tuna's grim circumstances, there is still no international fishing ban in place on it.

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Chinese Giant Salamander

profile of gray Chinese giant salamander walking to the right

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The Chinese giant salamander is the largest salamander in the world, and it is critically endangered mostly because of human consumption. It's considered a luxury food item and is added to soups and stews.

The species, which can reach up to 6 feet in length, was once common throughout central, southwestern, and southern China. It was even revered in Chinese culture. Today, however, there are only a few fragmented surviving populations.

The Chinese giant salamander is a member of the family Cryptobranchidae, tracing all the way back to the Middle Jurassic period, so it is especially concerning to see it decline.

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Green Sea Turtle

overhead video of green sea turtle swimming underwater, showing brown shell

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One of the reasons the green sea turtle is threatened is because humans seek it out at all times of its life cycle, whether that's harvesting its eggs or utilizing its fat, flesh, and cartilage. In the past, there have even been turtle farms to breed the animals for sale. The meat is considered a delicacy in many places, including the Caribbean, where it's long been a staple of local diets.

Because they migrate such far distances, the survival of green sea turtles requires international awareness. They are protected from overexploitation by the IUCN and under CITES, but that hasn't stopped concerns of poaching.

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Chinook Salmon

tan chinook salmon jumps above turbulent water

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Native to the Pacific coast, the chinook salmon is the largest of the Pacific salmon family, aka the king salmon. They grow to an average of 3 feet long and 30 pounds. Because of this impressive size, they are highly prized for fishing. The color of the meat changes depending on what the fish has been eating.

As of 2020, nine species of chinook salmon are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Two are listed as endangered, and seven are labeled as threatened. Fisheries are regularly closed in California and Oregon due to low numbers of the fish.

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underwater profile of blue silvery scalloped hammerhead shark with big fin

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Dating back to a time before the dinosaurs, sharks have long been the top predators in the ocean food chain—until humans. Sharks are most commonly killed for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, a popular dish in China since the Ming Dynasty. About 100 million sharks are killed annually for this purpose. Eating shark meat is still legal in the United States.

Shark finning—the process of separating a shark's fins from its body—usually occurs at sea so that only the fins need to be transported. Often, sharks have their fins removed while still alive, leaving them to helplessly sink and die after being thrown back. It's cruel, and it wastes a grotesque 95% of the shark's body.

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elephant walking in open field against light blue sky

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Although these sensitive beasts are most often poached for their ivory tusks, their meat is also highly prized. Illegal hunting of elephants for meat has become lucrative, with its value potentially exceeding that of tusks. According to the IUCN, the meat of an adult male could fetch $5,000, a value that could only be reached by tusks if they are very large. That's a lot of money in a place like the Congo Basin, where the daily average income is $1.

While protections are strong for elephants worldwide, it's likely that illegal poaching will continue so long as there is a demand.

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Giant Ditch Frog

close profile of brown, green, and orange giant ditch frog

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The endangerment of the giant ditch frog began because locals of its native Dominica and Montserrat feasted on its legs. In fact, the frog is known as the "mountain chicken" because of its taste, and it was the unofficial national dish of Dominica for years.

In addition to hunting, the giant ditch frog has suffered at the hands of a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis that has decimated the species, killing over 90 percent of the population. Because of the danger this condition has caused to the survival of the giant ditch frog, hunting it is now banned in both Dominica and Montserrat.

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Western Long-Beaked Echidna

Western Long-Beaked Echidna with spines

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It may not look very appetizing due to its porcupine-like spines, but the western long-beaked echidna is critically endangered primarily because it is hunted for food in its native home of New Guinea. Dogs are trained specifically to hunt the animals and locate their daytime burrows.

The species was thought to be extinct in Australia for about 10,000 years, but a re-examination of a 100-year-old specimen in 2012 has suggested that the creature may have existed as recently as the beginning of the 20th century.

However exciting this discovery, it does not change that the western long-beaked echidna remains in danger today.

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group of dolphins swimming close underwater

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Dolphins are some of the most intelligent and social animals in the world. Unfortunately, they are still viewed as meat by many, particularly in Japan, Peru, and the Caribbean. And this is despite the fact that there are many dangers associated with eating dolphin meat.

Dolphin hunting is largely unregulated and, as a result, remains common. There is even a codified method for hunting them called dolphin drive hunting or dolphin drive fishing. Conservation efforts have made the subject highly controversial; it was highlighted in the Academy Award-winning documentary "The Cove" in 2009 and is also depicted alarmingly in the 2021 Netflix documentary "Seaspiracy."