Endangered Species Day
The last of their kind
Many animals and plants are on the verge of extinction, thanks to poaching, overfishing, climate change and habitat loss. Here are some of the rarest among them.
The Maui's dolphin only lives in the coastal waters of New Zealand and only its North Island. While there were still about 2000 Maui's dolphins in the 1970s, there are only 45 of them left today. The small dolphins are primarily threatened by unsustainable fishing methods and despite the country's reputation for conservation the beautiful and unusual sea mammals will soon be extinct unless action is taken.
Drastic action was recently taken on the other side of the world to save a relative of the Maui's dolphin, the vaquita. The small porpoise is endemic to the Gulf of California and at most recent count, there were only about 30 of them left. This has led conservationists to taken an unusual step: They decided to capture several of the animals in order to breed them in captivity. This protects them from the illegal gillnets that have killed many of the animals in the wild but it's also risky because nobody really knows enough about the animals to make sure they are kept under the right conditions. If worst comes to worst, they could die in captivity without having produced offspring and the conservationists could have unwillingly contributed to the final demise of the species.
The Amur leopard is the only leopard species that is adapted to living in cold climate. It has a thick coat and despite being smaller than than other leopards, it has comparatively long limbs and is adapt at walking through deep snow. The big cat's habitat used to span much of Manchuria in China, the adjacent part of Siberia and the entire Korean peninsula but today, there are estimated to be less than 60 Amur leopards left.
Sadly, compared to our next candidate, Amur leopards are almost abundant: The picture above shows the northern white rhinoceros. The truly sad part is that it also show the entire remaining population of the species. Three animals, that's it. Sudan, Najin and Fatu live with a constant armed guard to protect them from ivory poachers but the fate of their kind is sealed regardless. There have been extensive efforts to get Fatu, Najin and Sudan to produce offspring but to no avail.
Our next animal lives in the water but is no less rare. Native to China's Yangtze river there are now only three Yangtze giant softshell turtle left (as far as we know). Two of them live at Suzhou Zoo in China. Unlike the northern white rhinos, there is still hope among conservationists that the turtles will breed. If they do, that could mean 60 to more than 100 eggs and many baby turtles but for now, there is no offspring in sight.
If you thought 3 animals left was bad, it gets worse: This ivory-billed woodpecker is so rare, it may already be extinct. Endemic to the southeastern United States, it was already considered extinct until there were several unconfirmed sightings in recent years. Researchers have even offered large rewards to anyone who could lead them to a ivory-billed woodpecker nest or feeding sight, so far, unsucessfully. Case in point: this photo shows a stuffed one.