8 Incredible Animals Being Hunted Into Extinction

While we are busy adding another 3,500 human lives to the planet every 20 minutes, we are losing one or more entire species of animal or plant. At least 27,000 species per year are lost. At the present rates of extinction, we could be seeing an end to as many as 20 percent of the world's species in the next 30 years. This rate of extinction has been unprecedented since dinosaurs ended their reign 65 million years ago. Although a major player in this tragedy is habitat destruction, illegal wildlife trade and trophy hunting take a heavy toll as well. Mythical health benefits, status and hanging a head on a wall are leading to the loss of some really incredible species that once gone, will never return. Among the many animals being hunted into extinction, the following are some that we'll miss the most.

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credit: Ring-tailed lemur listed as IUCN endangered, victim of unsustainable levels of hunting. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Madagascar's 101 lemur species are "the most threatened mammal group on Earth," say the 19 authors of a study warning that 90 of the 101 known lemur species on the island nation, to which lemurs are endemic, are threatened with extinction. Twenty-two of those species are critically endangered. WIth the country's political crisis has come a wave of violent unrest and environmental crime, which has led to poaching of lemurs that are sold to restaurants as a luxury product. Bristol Zoo Gardens primatologist Christoph Schwitzer says that any lemur disappearance could start "extinction cascades" in their habitats, "lemurs have important ecological and economic roles, and are essential to maintaining Madagascar's unique forests through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism."

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credit: Wikimedia Commons

For ages gorillas had the protection that Mother Nature provided by way of expansive tracts of unspoiled Central African forest. Then came logging and roads and suddenly, people were in much closer range to our primate cohabitants. Next came subsistence hunting, which escalated into an illegal commercial trade in gorilla meat that sees the animals butchered, transported and sold. "An increasing number of them make it as far as cities, where restaurants serve up “bushmeat” to wealthy clientele," reports USA Today. And the rich don't just want to dine on primates. Poachers now also illegally hunt gorillas for body parts used in folk remedies and for trophies; heads, hands and feet are sought after. In Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo’s, mountain gorillas are shot execution-style by traders who illegally harvest protected wood from there. All species of gorilla are feeling the impact of plummeting numbers; at this point reproduction is so constrained that the deaths of even a few animals at the hands of poachers stand to have a major impact on the population, notes The Week: "According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, by the middle of this century we may well have wiped out more than 80 percent of all western gorillas in just three generations."

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Snow leopards

credit: Pixabay

Listed as an endangered species, there are only 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards left on the planet; and if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate, 30 percent of their habitat in the Himalayas may be lost to treeline shift. Snow leopards have it tough. Their beautiful fur is highly valued in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russian for fashion; their bones and other body parts are sought for use in folk medicine. They are also captured for private animal collections. Meanwhile, as their traditional prey is being increasingly hunted by an expanding human population, the big cats are turning to livestock for food, resulting in a high number of retaliatory killings of snow leopards by farmers.

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credit: Valerius Tygart/Wikimedia Commons

So maybe the pangolin doesn't have the big-eyed lure of the lemur or the majesty of the snow leopard, but it sure makes up for it in prehistoric charm and a whole lot of scales. Not to mention the best defense mechanism ever, roll up into an armoured ball and the shop is closed. Which is why the pangolin has so few predators ... except humans who can just pick it up and whisk it away. Which is, unfortunately, what we do. There are eight species of pangolins; they range from vulnerable to critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Each year some 100,000 of them are scooped from the wild and shipped to China and Vietnam, where their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used in traditional medicine in the (erroneous) hope that they will cure anything from acne to cancer. Believe it or not, these little guys have become the world’s most trafficked mammal. As the Duke of Cambridge noted, "The humble pangolin ... runs the risk of becoming extinct before most of us have even heard of it."

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credit: TNS Sofres/Flickr

What is more expensive by weight than gold, diamonds, or cocaine? Unfortunately for members of the family Rhinocerotidae, the answer is their horns. For some crazy inane reason, we rediculous humans decided that consuming an animal part that has the same composition as our own fingernails could cure everything from cancer to hangovers. The demand comes from Southeast Asia – particularly Vietnam – where the black market surge for rhino horn has led to exuberant poaching of the critically endangered black rhino as well as the southern white rhino across southern Africa since 2008. Meanwhile, those who want a rhino head above the couch can pay more than $100,000 to be allowed to kill a rhino (and keep its horn) in a government plan that permits one rhino per year to hunters with proper paperwork. Increasingly drastic measures are be taken to discourage the barbaric slaughter – sometimes horns are removed while the animals are still alive. But drone surveillance, a rhino DNA database and even poisoning rhinos' horns don't seem to be working. "The western black rhinoceros went extinct in 2011," reports The Week. "The rest of Africa's wild rhinos could follow suit within 20 years."

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credit: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

Oh, the tigers. In just over a century we have have lost 97 percent of wild tigers. While there were once nine subspecies of tigers: Bengal, Siberian, Indochinese, South Chinese, Sumatran, Malayan, Caspian, Javan and Bali, there are now just six. The last three are extinct, one is extinct in the wild, and the rest are endangered. As few as 3,200 tigers exist in the wild now, and demand for them on the black market is extraordinary. Almost every part of their body is sold for use in traditional Chinese medicine and their pelts are used for decor. A single tiger can be worth around $50,000 in the wildlife trade industry. Poaching is the most immediate threat to wild tigers. Resources for protecting these big cats from illegal hunting are limited and enforcing the laws has proven very challenging. Even the loss of one tiger has far-reaching impact; the death of a mother cubs means her cubs will likely die and her potential for future breeding is gone. The death of a male tiger can result in a disruptive shift of hierarchy and competition can complicate the breeding structure. Adding insult to injury, illegal trade is further encouraged by tiger farms in China and Vietnam, where tigers are bred to supply body parts. Talk about a world gone wrong.

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Sea turtles

credit: MagicOlf/Flickr

The hawksbill turtle has a fatal flaw; its exquisite gold and brown shell is particularly appealing to homo sapiens. Millions of the sweet slow turtles have been hunted over the past century to fuel the fashion for tortoiseshell jewelry, glasses, ornaments, instruments and other assorted items. While the international trade of tortoiseshell has been banned for four decades, the black market nonetheless thrives in China and Japan, as well as in the Americas. Hawksbills are also hunted for their flesh; and other body parts are used in the manufacture of leather, perfume, and cosmetics. Some people find that they make attractive decor when stuffed. Because of all of this, they are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, which notes that some protected populations are stable or increasing, but the overall decline of the species, when considered within the context of three generations, has been in excess of 80 percent. Along with leatherback and green turtles – and all turtles that are poached – the results are severe. And in fact, currently, all seven species of marine turtles are in danger of becoming extinct. Sea turtles can take up to 30 years or more to reach breeding age. Many are killed before they have a chance to reproduce.

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credit: Artush

In the early part of the 20th century, there were up to ten million African elephants according to some estimates; now there are around 500,000. Poachers are the single most severe threat to elephants' survival. A landmark study found that 100,000 African elephants were poached across Africa between 2010 and 2012. In 2011 poachers killed roughly one in every 12 African elephants. The ivory from their tusks is the main attraction, but their meat and skin are also traded. Although the international trade of ivory was banned in 1989, the lust for it persists; it is generally carved into ornaments and jewelry. Most of it goes to China, where it fetches roughly $1,000 per pound. Central Africa has lost 64 percent of its elephants in a decade. A lot of ivory comes from Kenya; experts say that elephants there will be gone in 10 years if current poaching rates endure. “What is special about elephants is just how similar they are to us – socially and developmentally,” says Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, a Stanford ecologist and elephant expert. “If you watch a family group reuniting, their behavior is exactly like ours – the little cousins darting off together, the elaborate greetings of adults. Elephants offer a way of looking into the mirror, for better or worse,” she adds. “If we value human rights, we should also value animals that have the same level of sophistication that we do. We should keep those beings with us here on earth.”