Endangered species: urgent actions and success stories

Discover some of today's most endangered animal species and success stories in which extinction was averted. Also learn how you can help.

Currently, there are about 41,415 species (animals and plants) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, 16,306 of them are endangered species. A species is classified as "threatened" when its population has declined between 50% and 70% or when its population is restricted to fewer than 250 adults.

6 of the most endangered species in 2023

Learn about 6 of the most endangered animal species in 2023 and which entities have been working to protect them.

1. Java Rhinos

They are one of the most endangered species of large mammals. Currently, it is estimated that there are only 67 Java rhinos left.

Visit the International Rhino Foundation website and find out how you can help.

2. Mountain gorillas

For decades, mountain gorillas have been the target of uncontrolled hunting, disease, and loss of their habitat. Right now, they remain an endangered species.

Visit the International Gorilla Conservation Program website and find out how you can help.

3. Tiger

Tigers are globally classified as "Endangered," with the Malayan and Sumatran subspecies listed as "Critically Endangered." It is estimated that there are only 3,500 tigers in the wild worldwide.

Visit the Wildlife Conservation Society website and find out how you can help.

4. The Vaquita

The Vaquita (literally "little cow") is a small porpoise native to the Gulf of California in Mexico. It is the smallest (known) cetacean alive, currently, and is at risk of extinction due to the danger posed by fishing nets.

Visit the Porpoise.org website and find out how you can help.

5. Asian elephant

The Asian elephant population has declined by about 50% in the last 75 years, and there are an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants left in the wild.

Visit the International Elephant Foundation website and find out how you can help.

6. Orangutan

A century ago, there were probably more than 230,000 orangutans. Today, there are an estimated 104,700 orangutans from Borneo (Endangered), and 7,500 from Sumatra (Critically Endangered).

Rainforest destruction and degradation, especially in lowland rainforests, is the main threat to this species. Palm oil, an ingredient found in many foods and cosmetic products marketed today, contributes to the rapid deforestation of Sumatra. Orangutan habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate to convert the land to plantations.

Visit the World Wildlife.org website and find out how you can help. 

Success stories on species extinction

It's not all alarming news, however. In some cases, it has already been possible to reverse the state of near extinction and there are species that are recovering. Here are some examples.

The Chinese Alligator

This freshwater reptile, one of the smallest alligator species, has seen its population almost eradicated. The Anhui Research Center for Chinese Alligator Breeding, established in 1979, has been very successful in captive breeding of the species.

At their center, they house about 75% of the 20,000 specimens born in captivity worldwide. In 2019, 228 Chinese alligators were released into the wild in the Anhui Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve.

The Southern White Rhino

In 1900, it was the most endangered of the five rhino species, with fewer than 20 located in a reserve in South Africa. Over the decades, their numbers have gradually increased, aided by successful protection and management measures.

Currently, there are an estimated 18,000 in the wild, making the southern white rhino the most abundant rhino of all. In contrast, there are only two female northern white rhinoceros left, and they live in captivity.

The Mexican Gray Wolf

This is the rarest and most endangered subspecies of gray wolf in North America. In 1950, the gray wolf no longer existed in the wild in the United States and fewer than 50 individuals remained in Mexico. It survives today thanks to joint conservation efforts between the U.S. and Mexican governments.

Five wolves were captured in Mexico between 1977 and 1980 to begin a captive breeding program, and by 1998, 100 wolves were released into recovery areas in Arizona and New Mexico. A population survey done in early 2021 concluded that there are 186 Mexican gray wolves in the wild.

The Iberian Lynx

The Iberian lynx has always been one of the most endangered felines. Until 2015, it was on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as a "Critically Endangered" species for extinction. The species was even in pre-extinction in Portugal in 2002, because there were only 52 adult lynx in the wild.

The population grew again thanks to efforts made in Spain and Portugal. Twenty years later, it has an estimated population of about 200 lynx in Portugal and has already exceeded 1000 adult lynx in the wild. 

Our responsibility

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, habitat destruction is the main threat faced by 85% of all endangered species.

We can all help, in various ways:

  • by supporting the institutions that work most directly to protect these species;
  • by making conscious choices as consumers;
  • planting native trees (or supporting institutions that do so);
  • cleaning land and beaches;
  • practicing conscious tourism.

These are just a few options that are within our reach, to reduce the extent of the impact that human actions have on natural habitats.

In the words of Sir David Attenborough: "The truth is, it's not just about saving endangered animals; we're working to save ourselves. Endangered species are a warning that our very survival is in danger."