30 Photos of the Rarest Animals on Earth
In honor of Endangered Species Day, here’s a look at some of the animals holding extinction at bay by the slimmest of threads.
Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)
The Saola Working Group calls this ungulate native to the mountains of Laos and Vietnam one of the rarest large animals on Earth. Citing habitat loss and poor attention to its conservation as the primary threats to the saola’s existence, the Group, which strives to keep the species extant, also maintains that with proper care, its demise can be halted. The Saola is only one of 14 animals that could disappear in your lifetime.
Cuban snail (Polymita picta)
Collected to near-extinction by poachers seeking to sell them as jewelry, these large, vibrantly and multi-colored land snails were listed as endangered in 2012. With eyes literally popping out of the end of long stalks on their heads, these hermaphrodites use their shells to attract mates. If only snails’ razor-sharp teeth were effective weapons against human threats.
Northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita)
BirdLife calls this large bird the rarest bird in the Middle East. Indeed, only 100 pairs remain in Morocco and there are a mere two pairs in Syria, although this is an improvement since the bird was presumed extinct in Syria until 2002. Desertification is the primary cause of its demise, although there are attempts to reverse this trend; their breeding area became protected in 2004, and many regional governments and NGOs have stepped in to work on conserving the Syrian population in particular.
Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora)
Ryan M. Bolton/Shutterstock
With only 500 of these animals left in the wild in Madagascar, extinction for the world’s most endangered tortoise is predicted to occur within the next ten years. Luckily, efforts have ramped up to save it. The Turtle Conservancy and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust engage with local communities to help end poaching and to reclaim animals from illegal collections and place them in breeding programs. Some species of turtles are among the longest living animals on earth.
Greater bamboo lemur (Hapalemur simus)
Elsewhere in Madagascar, this five-pound primate with distinctive white ear tufts is down to a mere 250 individuals. Eating bamboo exclusively, like the panda, means that it’s been extremely susceptible to degradation and destruction of the rainforest in which it forages; it’s also been aggressively hunted. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other organizations are working to protect its habitat and discourage locals from hunting it.
Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)
Numbers of these bright green-and-red birds with extravagant plumage are shrinking fast in their native Central American mountains; poaching for sale as pets and habitat loss are the main reasons. Once sacred to Maya and Aztec people, whose “royalty and priests wore its feathers during ceremonies,” according to National Geographic, their favor among eco-birders may help elevate their status locally and ultimately help to preserve them.
Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)
Handoko Ramawidjaya Bumi/Shutterstock
This is the most diminutive of all rhino species (3-1/2 feet tall and a mere 1 ton), and the only one with two horns, and like most of its cousins, it is critically endangered. Two subspecies are barely holding on in Western and Eastern Sumatra, while a third is thought to have gone extinct, according to WWF. Sumatran Rhino Rescue is working to collect the 80 remaining, struggling, individuals from the wild and bring them to sanctuaries where they are safe from poaching and can be bred—efforts which would benefit all rhino species. Find out 15 reasons why rhinos are worthy of your attention.
Bearcat (Arctictis binturong)
These nocturnal, slow-moving, mostly-fruit-eating carnivores that are closely related to civets make their homes in trees in south and southeast Asia. The San Diego Zoo lists them as vulnerable in some regions, endangered in others, due to poaching for the pet and traditional medicines trade, and for food. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has developed a Species Survival Plan for the Bearcat, working to set up vital protections before it’s too late.
Angel shark (Squatina squatina)
Once widespread in the northeast Atlantic, Mediterranean, and elsewhere, the angel shark has seen its populations declining precipitously over the past 50 years. The fact that it’s easily caught up as bycatch in fishing nets, along with it low breeding rates, has boded poorly for its survival, especially in the last 15 years, in which brief time it’s gone from vulnerable to critically endangered. There are action recovery, and regional management plans in place, so hopefully we can turn this trend around soon.
Golden-rumped elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon chrysopygus)
The golden-rumped elephant shrew of Kenya is considered the most endangered of four recognized species of giant elephant shrew. Endemic to coastal forests, which themselves are highly endangered due to development, some 13,000 of these small mammals are thought to remain in the wild. Sadly, there is no current monitoring of their population, nor legislation seeking to protect it.