15 Endangered Species That Are Still on the Menu

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Delicacy?

33karen33/iStockphoto.

Endangered species around the planet are threatened for a number of reasons, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change, competition from invasive species and overhunting. A number of animals on the verge of extinction are still being hunted for their meat. While occasionally this happens because people are impoverished and have limited sources of food, some of these species are poached to satisfy a culture's appetite for exotic delicacies. Here are 15 endangered species that are still on a menu somewhere in the world.

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Primates

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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 the primary threat, the bushmeat trade is also a principal 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. 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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Markhor

Wiki Commons/GNU/F. Spangenberg.

A large, mystical-looking species of wild goat native to Afghanistan and Pakistan, fewer than 2,500 mature markhors remain, with a 20 percent decline in the population as a whole over the last two decades. And yet, the animal continues to be hunted for its meat. It's likely that the war in Afghanistan may be intensifying the hunt, as fighters take refuge in the mountains where markhors live.

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Pangolin

savepangolins.org.

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's even a dish in Indonesia called "pangolin fetus soup," which locals believe can increase a man's virility. Pangolins are also under threat of extreme habitat loss, as forests are rapidly cleared to make room for agriculture and development.

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Bluefin tuna

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As one of the most highly prized fish in Japanese sushi, bluefin tuna has been overfished and exploited. The problem is so severe that WWF has predicted that the Atlantic bluefin could be eaten into extinction by 2012. Unfortunately, the rarity of the species has only made demand for it grow. A single bluefin tuna can sell for more than $100,000 at Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market, and despite the animal's grim circumstances, there is still no international fishing ban in place.

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Chinese giant salamander

Photo: By tristan tan/Shutterstock

The largest salamander in the world is considered critically endangered mostly because of human consumption. The species, which can reach 6 feet in length, was once common throughout central, southwestern and southern China, but today there are only a few fragmented surviving populations. Although there is some commercial farming of this species, the majority of the animals are believed to originate from the wild.

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Green sea turtles

Photo: By Jao Cuyos/Shutterstock

Although they are greenish in color, these sea turtles get their common name from the green fat found beneath their carapace. Now protected from overexploitation by the IUCN and under CITES, green sea turtles are nevertheless still under threat because they are illegally harvested for food throughout their life cycle. Because they migrate such far distances, their survival truly requires international awareness.

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Big cats

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Believe it or note, lion meat burgers were prepared by an Arizona restaurant in celebration of the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa. The story behind how a restaurant in Arizona got its hands on lion meat is a prime example of how trade in exotic, endangered animals is an international racket. All of the world's big cats, though especially lions and tigers, are occasionally poached for meat and questionable medicinal purposes.

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Chinook salmon

Photo: By Kevin Cass/Shutterstock

Chinook salmon, the largest of the salmon family, are native to the Pacific Coast and are highly prized among the species because of their size. As many as nine subspecies of these fish are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Fisheries are regularly closed in California and Oregon due to low numbers of the fish.

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Manatees

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Manatees have long been targeted by hunters because of their plump shape and sedentary lifestyle. Shortly after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the hunting of manatees became widespread in the Americas. Although they are protected by federal law in U.S. waters, the animals are not so lucky elsewhere, where they can still be targeted for their meat.

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Sharks

Photo: By solarseven/Shutterstock

Dating back to a time before the dinosaurs, sharks have long been the top predators in the ocean food chain — until now, that is. At least a third of all shark species are threatened and over 100 million sharks are killed by fishermen every year, often with complete disregard to whether the species is endangered. Sharks are most commonly killed to make shark fin soup, popular in Chinese cuisine since the Ming Dynasty. Shark finning usually occurs at sea, so that only the fins need to be transported. Often sharks have their fins removed while still alive, and are thrown helplessly back into the ocean to sink and die.

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Elephants

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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 is becoming more lucrative for poachers than killing them for their tusks. For instance, a poacher can fetch up to $180 for the ivory, but as much as $6,000 for the meat. 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 frogs

Wiki Commons/Tim Vickers/public domain.

The endangerment of the giant ditch frog due to demand for frog legs is a good example of what is happening to many of the world's endangered frog species. In the last 10 years, the giant ditch frog population has plummeted by 80 percent, primarily through consumption. Aside from overhunting, frogs worldwide also must contend with habitat loss, pollution and the fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which now threatens almost all frog populations.

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Western long-beaked echidna

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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. It's possible the species may already be gone — none have been recorded since the 1980s. Echidnas, along with the platypus, are the only mammals in the world that lay eggs, making their existence important for understanding mammalian evolution.

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Worcester's buttonquail

AFP via Telegraph.

The Worcester's buttonquail was believed to be extinct and known only from drawings until this picture was snapped in 2009 in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the picture was taken in a marketplace where the bird was immediately sold, cooked and eaten. It may very well have been the last living member of its species. Remote third-world markets often deal in endangered species, as people trying to eek out a living selling or eating whatever they can find of value in their environments.

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Dolphins and whales

Photo: By Andaman/Shutterstock

Cetaceans are some of the most intelligent and social animals in the world. Unfortunately, they are still viewed as meat by many cultures. Although commercial whaling was banned in 1986, there are loopholes in the ban that allow for scientific whaling and smallscale hunts by some aboriginal cultures. Furthermore, dolphin hunting for meat is still largely unregulated, and is the subject of much controversy, as was highlighted in the Academy Award-winning documentary, "The Cove." Dolphin slaughters still happen in many places, including in Taiji, Japan, and across Scandinavia.