‘CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!’ We cannot emphasize the phrase enough. The devastating effects that human intervention has caused in nature are countless. While Earth is burning, literally as forests in Australia, Canada, Odisha, and Turkey burned and hundreds or even thousands of trees burnt to ashes, the ones directly affected were the inhabitants of those forests, the wildlife.
There already are an uncountable number of species of animals that our current generation will never see. Species that cease to exist now. And the tragedy continues as many beautiful creatures are facing critical endangerment.
Following is the list of five such ‘Critically Endangered’ animals that our future generations might never get to see.
African Forest Elephants
African forest elephants inhabit the dense rainforests of west and central Africa. They are smaller than African savanna elephants, the other African elephant species. Their ears are more oval-shaped and their tusks are straighter and point downward (the tusks of savanna elephants curve outwards). Forest elephants also have a much slower reproductive rate than savanna elephants, so they cannot bounce back from population declines as quickly at the same rate.
Living in family groups of up to 20 individuals, they forage on leaves, grasses, seeds, fruit, and tree bark. Since the diet of forest elephants is made up of fruits, they are essential for the germination of many rainforest trees. The seeds of these trees only germinate after passing through the elephant’s digestive tract, particularly the seeds of large trees which tend to have high carbon content. They are therefore referred to as the ‘mega-gardener of the forest’.
Unfortunately, these magnificent creatures are now in danger because of habitat loss because of the conversion of forests for agriculture, livestock farming, and human infrastructure. Human-elephant conflict and poaching for ivory are the most immediate threat for African forest elephants. Their populations declined by 62% between 2002 and 2011 and during that period, the species also lost 30% of its geographical range. As this downward trend continues, the African forest elephant was declared Critically Endangered by the IUCN in 2021.
Their last strongholds are in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, with smaller populations remaining in other African countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea) and Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Ghana in West Africa.
The Saola was discovered in May 1992 when a survey team found a skull with unusually long, straight horns in a hunter’s home. They knew it was something extraordinary that later went on to be proved to be the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years and one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century.
Saola has two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 20 inches. Saola has striking white markings on the face and large maxillary glands on the muzzle, which could be used to mark territory or attract mates. They are found only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos.
Often called the Asian unicorn, little is known about the enigmatic saola in the two decades since its discovery. None exist in captivity and this rarely seen mammal is already critically endangered. Scientists have categorically documented saola in the wild on only four occasions to date. The actual size of the remaining population is unknown. Its rarity, distinctiveness, and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation. The current population is thought to be a few hundred at a maximum and possibly only a few dozen at a minimum.
Black rhinos, an African species of the armoured herbivore, have a distinctive hooked upper lip. This distinguishes them from the white rhino, which has a square lip. Black rhinos are browsers rather than grazers, and their pointed lip helps them feed on leaves from bushes and trees. They have two horns, and occasionally a third, small posterior horn.
Rhinos, known as virtually living fossils, play an important role in their habitats, and in countries like Namibia, rhinos are an important source of income from ecotourism. The protection of black rhinos creates large blocks of land for conservation. This benefits many other species, including elephants.
But populations of black rhino declined dramatically in the 20th century at the hands of European hunters and settlers. Between 1960 and 1995, black rhino numbers dropped by a sobering 98%, to less than 2,500. Poaching because of their two horns makes them lucrative targets for the illegal trade in rhino horns. A wave of poaching for rhino horn rippled through Kenya and Tanzania continued south through Zambia’s Luangwa Valley as far as the Zambezi River and spread into Zimbabwe. Today, black rhinos remain critically endangered because of the rising demand for rhino horns, from some Asian consumers, particularly in Vietnam and China, who use them in folk remedies.
Sunda tigers, distinguished by heavy black stripes on their orange coats, are estimated to be fewer than 400 today and are holding on for survival in the remaining patches of forest on the island of Sumatra. Speeding up deforestation and rampant poaching means this noble creature could end up extinct.
The island of Sumatra is the only place where tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants live together in the wild. The presence of the Sunda tiger is an important indicator of a forest’s health and biodiversity. Protecting tigers and their habitat means many other species benefit, including people.
In Indonesia, anyone caught hunting tigers could face jail time and steep fines. But despite increased efforts in tiger conservation including strengthening law enforcement and anti-poaching capacity, a substantial market remains in Sumatra and other parts of Asia for tiger parts and products. Sunda tigers are losing their habitat and prey fast, and poaching is an ever-present threat.
The blue whales are the largest animals on the planet, weighing as much as 200 tons, ie. approximately equal to 33 elephants. They have a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and their stomach can hold one ton of krill. They are the loudest animals on Earth. Their low-frequency whistle can be heard for hundreds of miles and is probably used to attract other blue whales.
They are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. During the 20th century, the blue whale was an important whaling target, and even after it was protected and commercial whaling stopped in 1966, exploitation efforts by the former Soviet Union persisted.
Blue whales are threatened by environmental change, including habitat loss and toxics. They also get harmed by ship strikes and by becoming entangled in fishing gear. Climate change and its impact on krill, blue whales’ major prey, makes this cetacean particularly vulnerable.