12 Wild Animals That Became Endangered in 2019
These creatures could disappear from the Earth completely if we don’t protect them.
What does it mean when an animal becomes “endangered”?
Tigers. Mountain gorillas. Asian elephants. Sea turtles. Orangutans. What do all these animals have in common? They have the unfortunate distinction of being labelled as “endangered.” But who comes up with the endangered species list?
Scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) created its Red List in 1964 to identify and assess species globally on population size, geographic range, past population reductions, and threats to survival. Then, they’re put into eight categories, from least concern all the way up to the threatened categories of vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered; to the final category of extinct.
“The number of threatened species increases each time the IUCN Red List is updated,” says Caroline Pollock, Programme Officer for the Red List at IUCN. “While much of this is because a higher number of species are being assessed for the Red List—so, lots of the threatened species on the Red List are species that have been assessed for the first time—we are also seeing species moving into higher threat categories.” The IUCN reports that biodiversity is declining, with 28,000 species threatened with extinction, including 25 per cent of mammals. In their last Red List report, no species improved enough to move to a less threatened category.
In the United States, the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, was created to classify species at risk nationally, with assessments made by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Although it may seem like a good thing to have fewer species placed on the endangered list (only one was added in the United States in 2019), scientists want to be certain that no animals are overlooked. “We should list imperiled species while they still have an optimistic shot at recovery, instead of waiting until their populations have declined drastically,” says Tierra Curry, a senior scientist in the Endangered Species Program at the Center for Biological Diversity.
In addition, although the goal is to remove animals from these lists, scientists also work to ensure that species have adequate time and protection to make a full recovery. For example, Curry says the Center for Biodiversity will oppose de-listing the lynx and the Florida Key deer in the United States if it occurs. The potential de-listing of gray wolves is another hot topic among conservationists.
For now, read on to find out about the animals that were added to the national and international endangered categories in 2019.
This little fish lives solely in the Barrens Plateau region of Tennessee, and was the only species to be added to the U.S. Endangered list in 2019. The fish lost 70 per cent of its population due to agricultural practices affecting water quality, drought caused by climate change, and the introduction of a non-native species, the Western mosquitofish, to eat pesky mosquitoes—but which also feasts on Barrens topminnow. While trying to get the species added to the list for years, conservationists did what they could to save the tiny creature.
“Barrens topminnow would be extinct in the wild already were it not for the heroic efforts of scientists to save this special fish,” Curry says. “The story of this flashy little fish shows why we have got to start protecting wildlife under the Endangered Species Act before they have become so very endangered that recovery becomes a costly uphill battle.”
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Andean night monkey
In the most recent 2019 Red List update, “23 species moved from one threatened category into an even more threatened category, for example, the Andean night monkey moved from vulnerable to endangered,” says Pollock. Also called the Peruvian night monkey, this gorgeous primate with large, reddish-brown eyes resides in the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains in Peru. Their large peepers help them see in the night because as their name suggests, they’re nocturnal. Although its exact population size is unknown, the IUCN estimates that the species has lost 50 per cent of its habitat due to deforestation and habitat disturbance. In addition, the Andean night monkey is hunted and also traded illegally as pets.
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Anyone who’s ever watched Shark Week knows about these fast-moving, jagged-toothed predators of the sea—but now they’re two of the wild animal species you never knew were endangered. Unfortunately, both longfin and shortfin makos were moved from vulnerable to endangered in 2019, largely due to over-fishing. “The biggest threat affecting many marine fish species is over-exploitation, either through unsustainable targeted fishing or from by-catch [being caught accidentally while fishing for other fish],” says Pollock. Although mako sharks have a wide range throughout the earth’s oceans, its population is estimated to have declined by 60 per cent according to the IUCN (exact numbers aren’t available). Vulnerable to being caught by accident, makos are often kept for their meat and fins.
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This tiny East African tortoise (about 15 to 18 centimetres long) with a flat shell is unique because it can actually move very fast, and, unlike other tortoises, lives in narrow rock crevices. But, its uniqueness has made it attractive in the illegal pet trade, which has rapidly depleted its numbers. For example, according to the IUCN, a survey in Voo, Kenya, found almost nine tortoises per square kilometre in 2003; but no tortoises were present there in 2014. Collectors have also been known to destroy habitats, using crowbars and jacks to open the rock crevices in order to get to the animals. The pancake tortoise moved from vulnerable all the way to critically endangered in 2019. Other species of turtles are some of the longest living animals in the world.
These monkeys, also called Sclater’s guenon, have extremely long tails that help them balance in their tropical forest habitat of Nigeria in West Africa. Its distinctive look makes it one of the most strikingly beautiful animals you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, their habitat is rapidly diminishing and fragmented, with the monkeys unable to travel between isolated spots. “The biggest threat to most species is habitat loss and degradation,” Pollock says. “Terrestrial species [like this monkey] are competing for space against expanding agriculture, and urban and commercial developments.” The IUCN points to the rapidly growing human population of Nigeria, poised to be the third-largest globally by 2050, as leading to this development. Sclater’s monkey is paying the price: With a decline of at least 50 per cent in the last 30 years, it moved from vulnerable to endangered in 2019.
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This tawny-coloured North American butterfly, currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, made the move from vulnerable to endangered on IUCN’s Red List in 2019. Although exact population numbers aren’t known, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service historically documented 284 sites where the butterfly was present—but by 2014 that number had dropped to 83. Its prairie habitat has been degraded due to agriculture, controlled and wildfires, and overgrazing; according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Dakota Skipper has lost 85 to 99 per cent of its original tall-grass prairie in the United States and Canada. In addition, flooding due to climate change is a threat to the species, says the IUCN.
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Hispaniola rhinoceros iguana
This horned iguana (hence the name “rhinoceros”) lives only on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, with around eight sub-populations in the Dominican Republic and five in Haiti. The lizard faces multiple threats that caused its status to bump up to endangered in 2019, including habitat destruction and powerful hurricanes that cause flooding and wind damage to the iguana’s environs. “Climate change is certainly an issue for a great many species,” Pollock says. But perhaps the main threat to this iguana is from invasive species, including feral dogs and cats, donkeys, mongoose, pigs, and cows. On the inland Cabritos Island, removal in 2017 of these invasive animals was effective in recovering the rhino iguana population.
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The stunning, ombre fur of this primate fades from dark gray to white, with patches of auburn. But its numbers are decreasing in its habitat along the west-central coast of Africa, thanks to the actions of humans. “West Africa is one of the very highest priority areas on Earth for primate conservation,” Russ Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group, said in a statement. “The combination of forest destruction and heavy bushmeat hunting—probably the highest level of this latter threat anywhere in the word—has pushed a number of primate species there to the brink of extinction.” The red-capped mangabey moved from vulnerable to endangered in 2019: There may only be a few thousand of these animals left.
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Hungarian birch mouse
This adorable little creature could be one of the cutest tiny animals from around the world. Unfortunately, it entered the Red List in 2019 as endangered, largely due to competition with humans over land use. Intense agricultural activity, particularly with mechanical mowers, and overgrazing by sheep in the mouse’s native Hungary and Romania have destroyed much of the tall and dense vegetation it prefers. Common in the region up until at least 1950, the rodents’ numbers in Hungary were estimated in 2014 to have dwindled to between 1,500 and 3,000. Already declared extinct in Austria, the mouse has actually become extinct in up to 98 per cent of its former range, and may also have disappeared from Slovakia and Serbia.
Closely related to sharks, wedgefishes and guitarfishes are known as “rhino rays” for their big noses. With 11 of these rays making the move from vulnerable to critically endangered in 2019, all but one of 16 assessed species of rhino ray are now in the Red List’s critically endangered category. The fish, which live throughout the world in shallow tropical waters, are over-fished, caught by accident, and prized for their fins; but habitat destruction is also a factor. “Marine fish can be seriously affected by habitat loss and deterioration, particularly those that are more restricted to particular habitats, such as shallow coastal areas and coral reef habitats,” Pollack says. “And, of course, there is pollution of the oceans by plastics and other pollutants.”
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Menabe monkey grasshopper
Madagascar is famous for its biodiversity, with the vast majority of its animals found nowhere else on earth. But the poor island nation faces many threats to its species, mostly due to humans—who are just trying to survive themselves. “One of the main drivers of extinction risk is the ever-increasing demand for resources,” says Craig Hilton-Taylor, Head of the Read List at IUCN. One creature feeling this burden is the Menabe monkey grasshopper, whose habitat is being destroyed due to deforestation on the island, and who entered the list as critically endangered in 2019. Between 2007 and 2017, 34 per cent of the species’ forest habitat was lost. The rate of deforestation increased from 0.3 per cent in 2001 to 10.5 per cent in 2016, and at this rate, a complete loss of the forest is expected by 2027. This grasshopper will also decline, to 90 per cent by the same year, if the destruction isn’t stopped.
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Over half of Japan’s native freshwater fish are now threatened with extinction—and this little fish is one of its latest victims, moving from vulnerable to endangered in 2019. “Freshwater species are affected by habitat loss and degradation—often caused by over-extraction of water from freshwater systems, dam construction, droughts, and pollution—but can also undergo serious and very rapid declines caused by alien invasive species,” Pollack says. Such was the case with the Tokyo bitterling, which in addition to environmental threats has to compete with another introduced bitterling species, as well as the perils of being eaten by introduced largemouth bass and crayfish. In 2015, the estimated number of remaining Tokyo bitterlings was just 2,533.
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