Did you know that May 21st is Endangered Species Day? Well, now you do! A species can become endangered due to a variety of reasons, including poaching, habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. It’s estimated that over 50% of the world’s species are on the verge of becoming extinct, and Endangered Species Day is dedicated to bringing attention to the animals at risk.
You may be familiar with well-loved, popular animals such as koalas, pandas, and snow leopards. In fact, the attention and support given to them over the years have helped bring these species to “vulnerable” status (just one step above endangered). Keep in mind, they’re still at risk–but awareness and support for these animals is a step in the right direction. But you might not know a lot of the other animals that are also endangered. So today, I’m going to list some endangered species that aren’t commonly talked about and tell you why you should care about them. So grab a friend and be prepared to learn about some new animals.
The axolotl is a salamander, found in Lake Xochimilco, Lake Chalco, and Mexico City. As a salamander, the axolotl is known for its ability to regenerate almost any body part, and scientists think their genetics might hold clues to solving diseases such as cancer. Pink axolotls are often kept as pets because of their appealing color. They became endangered due to habitat degradation and the pervasiveness of invasive fish in the lake, which were introduced into the lakes to alleviate food security in Southern Mexico.
The okapi, also known as a forest giraffe, is a mammal that looks like a cross between a deer and zebra. But it is actually from the family of giraffes! They are native to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and they are so highly valued that they are the symbol of the Ituri Forest and even appear on the Congolese franc notes. They hold great cultural importance to the people. But unfortunately, okapis have become endangered due to poaching and habit loss.
3. Irrawaddy Dolphin
The Irrawaddy dolphin is a mammal found in three rivers in Southeast Asia: the Ayeyarwady (Myanmar), the Mahakam (Indonesian Borneo), and the Mekong. It is considered a sacred animal by both Khmer and Lao people and it’s an essential source of income through dolphin-watching and ecotourism. But it is estimated that there are only 92 dolphins left in the world, thus being classified as an endangered species. They are primarily threatened by bycatch, the accidental capturing of aquatic animals.
4. Tree Kangaroo
The tree kangaroo is a marsupial discovered in New Guinea, Indonesia, but some of the population also lives in Australia. They look like a cross between a kangaroo and lemur and, as their name would suggest, are known for living in trees. They descend from Macropods, a family of marsupials that kangaroos and wallabies are also related to, which still dwells in trees. Indigenous peoples hunt these creatures for food, and overhunting has led to a decline in their numbers.
5. Mary River Turtle
The Mary River turtle is one of several species of turtles that breathe underwater through specialized glands in their reproductive organs. They are native to Mary River in Queensland, Australia, and are highly distinctive in their body morphology and evolution, having evolved over 40 million years ago. They take a very long time to reach sexual maturity and breed. This, combined with the destruction of dams and egg collection for pets, has led to them becoming endangered.
6. Ili Pika
The Ili pika is a small mammal related to rabbits and hares, and it is native to the Tianshan mountain range of China. They have often been referred to as Pikachu-like creatures with teddy bear faces. They were discovered in 1983, but their population has since declined by around 70%, leaving an estimated 1,000 individuals left in the population. The Ili pika is slowly being wiped out due to climate change making their natural habitat unlivable because of the sharp increase in temperature as well as air pollution and grazing pressure from livestock.
7. Kakapo Parrot
The Kakapo parrot is a nocturnal and flightless bird that resides primarily in New Zealand. They are known for their strong feet, which allow them to climb high up into trees despite their inability to fly. They live long lives, with their life expectancy being around 90 years. But they began dying out due to Maori and then European settlers, who cleared out and destroyed large areas of their habitats. In fact, there were only about 17 of them left in the 1970s, but with efforts from biologists, the population has increased to around 150 individuals in recent years.
And those are seven animals that you probably didn’t know were classified as endangered species! As you can now see, each animal serves a purpose in its habitat, and losing them would only harm the biological diversity of the habitat. It’s important to keep in mind how climate change, pollution, hunting, and certain industries continue to put these animals at risk. If you want to do your part and help save these lovely creatures and many more, there are resources on Endangered Species Coalition and the World Wildlife Fund.
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