Photo via Science Blogs
While we think that all endangered species are worth saving, the more looks-centered Hollywood crowd tends to throw its support behind the ones that are cute enough (think fluffy adorable polar bear cubs) to hold their own on magazine covers with Leo. Here are our top picks for the animals (including a fish and a tiny turtle) that should be next on the celeb circuit.
1. Egyptian Tortoise
Hollywood likes things small--slender actresses, precocious kids, kittens and puppies--which is why the Egyptian tortoise will fit right in. Full grown at about 10 centimeters, these little guys are miniature versions of their also-endangered relative, the giant tortoise. They live in the dry, arid climate of the Mediterranean coastal desert, mostly between Libya and Israel, sustaining themselves on whatever grasses, plants, and fruits they can find, while their light-colored shells stop them from absorbing too much heat. But their miniature footprint also works against them: The Egyptian tortoise is a favorite target for illegal pet traders; parts of their habitat are being developed; and something as simple as installing telephone poles has given natural bird predators more places to nest--leaving the pint-sized and slowly moving tortoise on the fast track to extinction.
2. Axolotl Salamander
We've already made our adoration for the Axolotl salamander super clear: We even named it Best Looking Endangered Species. But we just can't help it: That little smiley face, that wild hair, that big head paired with skinny little arms--who wouldn't want to save these guys? (The name is a mouthful but the more common nickname--Mexican Walking Fish--would roll nicely off the tongue during late-night interviews.) Over the last 11 years, population density has shrunk from nearly 1,500 fish per square mile to about 25 per square mile, mostly because of new predators (the Axolotls haven't evolved to protect themselves against Asian carp and African tilapia yet) and destruction of their habitats outside Mexico City. After all: A fish may not look as snuggly as a baby polar bear, but that doesn't make him any less endangered.
3. Iberian Lynx
There's a reason sites like Cute Overload are popular, and that reason is: kittens. Even those who can resist the charms of puppies and babies can have their hearts melted by the big eyes and little meows. And while we know the Iberian Lynx is a wild animal--and not a house pet--this cub sure is adorable. Unfortunately, his relatives are few and far between: the Iberian Lynx is listed as a Category 1 endangered species, which means there are fewer than 100 of them still in the wild. While the cats themselves aren't often targeted by trappers (though this guy was dumb enough to take his illegally killed lynx to a taxidermist), their numbers have dropped as their food supply--the Lynx needs about one rabbit each day--has disappeared because of disease. Of course, man-made dangers aren't helping: Big Cat Rescue says that other Iberian Lynx are killed by traps set for other animals and by cars on the increasing number of roads on their home turf, the Iberian Peninsula.
4. Hawaiian Monk Seal
The long whiskers, roly-poly body, and contented smile of the Hawaiian Monk Seal may make you think all's well in the life of these marine mammals, but you'd be wrong: They're the most endangered mammal found only in U.S. waters, and the second-most endangered seal in the world (trailing only the Mediterranean Monk Seal) with only about 1,200 left in their native Hawaiian waters. While the initial depletion of their numbers is attributed to sealers in the early 1900s and then to naval activity during World War II, today the seals face a lowered supply of food (including lobster, eels, and small fish) which leaves them too weak to fight off shark attacks and the risk of getting caught in nets, boat propellers, and other marine equipment. And since they spend part of their time lounging on the beaches of Hawaii (can you blame them?), they come into contact with plenty of curious humans. The Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program sets up educational programs and viewing guidelines to keep the seals protected.
5. American Pika
The American pika isn't officially an endangered species yet--but that's why it could use a boost from Hollywood. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in May that it would investigate the remaining populations and decide in February 2010--it does hold the dubious distinction of being the first mammal outside of Alaska to be considered for the list because of U.S. climate change. The pika, a relative of the rabbit, thrives in the cold mountains of the Great Basin in the western U.S., gathering grass all summer, drying it, and storing it for the winter. But as global warming has increased the temperatures in these mountains, the pikas have moved to higher and higher elevations--from 5,700 feet to above 8,000--and a 2003 study showed that nearly one-quarter of the pika populations previously studied were gone.
6. Slow Loris
The slow loris in this video may just be the cutest animal on this list, with its skinny arms and "Why would you stop tickling me?" look. And while the slow loris hasn't made its way onto the U.S.'s official list of endangered species (reliable population numbers aren't available yet), it has been given the highest level of protection from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The slow loris has a cuddly look and few defenses (when in danger, it curls up tightly into a ball and doesn't move, which makes it easy for traffickers to transport), making them a favorite pet--and the destruction of their habitat has only quickened their decline. They're also used in traditional Asian medicine--turned into wine that's said to decrease the pain of childbirth.