The Cuban crocodile is among the world's most endangered species. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.
The world's smallest marine cetacean, the national bird of Grenada, and an island-dwelling fox share a distinction no species would seek out: They are among the rarest animals of them all, according to a new list released this week by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).The organization's recent State of the Wild report highlighted 10 rare species categorized as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), indicating that they "face an 'extremely high risk of extinction in the wild,' often meaning that the species' numbers have been reduced by approximately 80 percent in the last 10 years (or three generations)."
These "rarest of the rare" animals are an eclectic group, comprising birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, and threatened by both environmental changes such as habitat loss and more direct dangers such as hunting and illegal collection for the international pet trade. The endangered species featured on the list include the:
- Cuban crocodile -- Currently restricted to two small areas of Cuba due largely to illegal hunting, chiefly for meat for restaurants serving the tourist industry, the survival of this species is also due to extensive hybridization with American crocodiles.
- Florida bonneted bat -- Thought to be extinct until 2002, the small colony discovered in a North Fort Myers suburb suffers from a loss of roosting sites and pesticide spraying of the mosquitoes that they eat.
- Green-eyed frog -- This once-common species has been decimated by chytrid fungus, as well as agricultural and logging activities.
- Grenada dove -- Habitat loss and threats from introduced predators have left fewer than 150 of the Caribbean island's national bird alive.
- Hirola -- One of the most most highly threatened antelopes in Africa, the hirola, or Hunter's hartebeest, is technically protected in Kenya and Somalia, but lack of effective enforcement leaves it vulnerable to poaching.
- Ploughshare tortoise -- Restricted to five small, unconnected sub-populations in northwestern Madagascar and threatened by illegal collection for the international pet trade, the ploughshare tortoise will be extinct within 30 years if current conditions continue.
- Island gray fox -- Found only on six of the California Channel Islands, there are likely fewer than 1,000 individuals of this fox species left.
- Sumatran orangutan -- The Indonesian forest habitat of these primates is seriously threatened by logging and deforestation for palm oil plantations.
- Vaquita -- The world's smallest marine cetacean at just five feet long, this rare porpoise often gets caught and drowned in fishing gillnets used in the Gulf of California.
- White-headed langur -- Hunted for "monkey balm," a traditional Chinese medicinal preparation, this species has declined 98 percent over the past 40 years, to perhaps less than 100 individuals.
The news isn't all bad however: The tiny Romer's tree frog in Hong Kong and the Przewalski's horse, the only true living species of wild horse, are both "on the road to recovery" thanks to conservation measures, the WCS reports.
"The Rarest of the Rare provides a global snapshot of some of the world's most endangered animals," said Kent Redford, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Institute. "While the news is dire for some species, it also shows that conservation measures can and do protect wildlife if given the chance to work."
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