Endemic Species: Top 9 Lonely Animals

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Risk of extinction

Photo: Sam Lu/Shutterstock

Endemic species are geographically constrained to one particular place on the planet. They often live on islands, though humanity has pushed more than a handful of continent-based animals to an endemic state through hunting and habitat loss. Endemic species are more likely to form in biologically isolated areas such as islands and large bodies of water. Endemic species run a higher risk of extinction because of their geographic isolation.

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Hawaiian honeycreeper

Photo: Studio Elepaio/Shutterstock

As their name suggests, honeycreepers are endemic to Hawaii. A beautiful bird with a distinct beak, the honeycreeper specializes in probing flowers for nectar, with a particular taste for the flower for which they are named. Some of the subspecies have developed beaks better suited for catching insects. Only 18 of Hawaii's 51 historic species of honeycreepers still exist, having been driven to extinction by hunters, disease, habitat loss, competition from invasive species, and predation by human-introduced animals like rats, cats and dogs. Efforts are under way to protect honeycreepers by eradicating avian flu-carrying mosquitoes, protecting their habitat and removing invasive species, but six of the remaining 18 are already facing extinction, according to a 2016 study

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Lemurs of Madagascar

Photo: Tatjana Kabanova/Shutterstock

Madagascar, home of the lemur, is one of the global hotspots for endemic species. There are five families of lemurs with 101 species and subspecies. The smallest lemur would easily fit in your hand, while the largest can top 25 pounds. Many lemurs live in matriarchal societies where females call the shots. Most species spend the majority of their time in the trees and travel the forest canopy climbing and leaping — as agile as any monkey. As of 2014, 94 percent of the 101 species are at least threatened, and some have fallen into extinction in the last few hundred years.

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Formosan rock macaque

Photo: ufoncz/flickr

These macaques are a small (2 feet-plus in length) species of monkey endemic to the island of Taiwan. They are listed as a protected species because of over hunting and habitat loss. They are prized for use in medical experiments and have been hunted by locals because the monkeys damage crops. Their numbers fell to an all-time low in the late '80s, but the population has since rebounded thanks to stronger conservation efforts in the last decade.

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Rhinos of Java

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Javan rhinos used to be the most widespread Asian rhinoceroses on the planet but have been hunted to near extinction. The best estimates put the remaining numbers between 46 and 66 individuals. The few Javan rhinos left in the wild live in two small and separate national parks — none live in zoos. The animals are valued by poachers for their horns which can fetch as much as $30,000 per kilogram on the black market. The future does not look good for this rhino — those that aren't killed by poachers can look forward to a uncertain future of disease and health problems caused by inbreeding. Rhinos don't do well in zoos in general, and the Javans have fared even worse; the last captive died in an Australian zoo in 1907.

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Philippine crocodile

Photo: Peter Wey/Shutterstock

This crocodile lives only in the Philippines. The animal lives in freshwater and is relatively small, as crocodiles go, reaching no more than 9 feet in length. It is critically endangered from hunting and dynamite fishing (that's when fisherman toss a stick of dynamite into the water and collect what floats up after the explosion.) Today there are only a few hundred known Philippine crocs in the wild.

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Photo: FishBase

The sinarapan is the world's smallest commercially harvested fish, and is rarely longer than half an inch. They are native to the Phillippines and found in only a few freshwater lakes and river systems. They're prized as a food source in Asia where they are fried in oil, boiled with vegetables, or dried and salted. In addition to having to dodge the fisherman's net, sinarapan are under threat from larger invasive species that find them as tasty as humans do.

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Santa Cruz kangaroo rat

Photo: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

This kangaroo rat lives in the Santa Cruz Sandhills of California and gets its name from its distinctive large hind legs. In the past, this rare animal could be found in the mountains south of San Francisco, but populations been pushed to a single parcel in the Santa Cruz Mountains. One of 23 subspecies of kangaroo rat found in California, the Santa Cruz variety is under a real threat of extinction because of dwindling populations and health problems stemming from low genetic diversity. Their loss would be a withering blow to Santa Cruz mountains — the kangaroo rat is known as a keystone species that support many other species; its loss would send a ripple of damage through the entire food web.

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Galápagos tortoise

Photo: Pandanus/Wikimedia Commons

Galápagos tortoises are the largest living tortoise — fully grown adults can tip the scales at over 650 pounds and grow to be 4 feet long. A long-lived species, this tortoise can live to be 150 years old. They are native to seven islands in the Galápagos archipelago. Though still threatened after a few centuries of over-hunting, Galápagos tortoises have been making a strong comeback in recent years thanks to the development of the Galápagos National Park and a successful captive breeding program. Unfortunately, one subspecies out of the 12 is functionally extinct — the last remaining individual lives in a zoo.

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Haast tokoeka kiwi

Photo: James St. John/flickr

The Haast tokoeka kiwi is a beautiful, unique bird that lives in the foothills of the mountains in South Westland, New Zealand. It is a vulnerable species, with the number of known birds numbering in the low hundreds. This kiwi is a smart bird that uses passive solar energy when nest building, choosing large flat sun-facing rocks to build its nests under to take advantage of the stored heat. Though once widely eaten by native Maoris and early European settlers, the kiwis are under threat today from loss of habitat and predation from invasive species.