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Sample Environmental Science Essay: Animals Most in Danger of Extinction

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The Earth is home to billions of species. While scientists have admitted that we have yet to discover all that is out there, they have also confirmed that the earth’s species is going extinct at a rate of 0.01%/year, meaning that a minimum of two thousand species go extinct every year (“How many species are we losing?”). Animals that are in the most danger of extinction are classified as "critically endangered," meaning they face the highest risk of extinction in the wild. The animals listed in this provided sample essay by Ultius are in the highest danger of becoming extinct than any other animal species on earth.

Which animals are the most endangered?

The Amur leopard

The Amur leopard is the number one most critically endangered animal in the world. When people think of leopards, they usually think of a great, spotted animal stalked the savannas of Africa. The Amur leopard, though, resides in the Russian Far East and has adapted to the temperate forests of the species northern territory. Like other leopards, the Amur leopard can sprint as fast as almost forty miles per hour and can leap more than ten feet vertically into the air and nineteen feet horizontally (“Amur Leopard”). The Amur leopard lives in temperate broadleaf and mixed forests in a mountainous region. They are strong, nimble, and clever animals that carry their unfinished kills away and hide them away from other predators. Amur leopards are solitary animals, though it has been reported that males remain with females after mating and sometimes help with the rearing of their young. Several males will sometimes follow and fight over one specific female. The leopards will live between ten and fifteen years in the wild and can live up to twenty years in captivity (“Amur Leopard”). Other names for the Amur leopard include the Korean leopard, the Far East leopard, and the Manchurian leopard.

Threats facing the Amur leopard are illegal wildlife trade and prey scarcity. The leopard is poached for its beautiful, high-value fur. One illegal Amur leopard skin sells for more than one thousand dollars (“Amur Leopard”). Their habitat is rather accessible to humans, as it is surrounded by villages and agricultural fields. This close proximity with humans makes poaching a serious problem for the Amur leopard. The lack of prey also takes a serious toll on the Amur population. Its former range of China no longer has the prey to support large cats due to forest reduction for logging. If the Amur leopard hopes to survive, it needs to be able to repopulate its old range, but the availability of prey needs to increase first.

There are approximately sixty Amur leopards left in the wild. This is more than double their population in 2007, when there were less than thirty Amur leopards left (“Amur Leopard- World’s Rarest Cat- Doubles in Population”). Recently, an additional eight to twelve were counted in China but have not yet been confirmed. In order to find these numbers, cameras were hidden over more than nine hundred thousand acres of land that is known leopard habitat. Thousands of images were reviewed and approximately sixty different animals were identified by unique spot patterns in their fur. Barney Long, Director of Species Protection and Asian Species Conservation for the World Wildlife Fund, said that,

“Such a strong rebound in Amur leopard numbers is further proof that even the most critically endangered big cats can recover if we protect their habitat and work together on conservation efforts.” (“Amur Leopard- World’s Rarest Cat- Doubles in Population”).

Researchers are now focusing on counting leopard populations in China in order to get more accurate numbers.

Related Content: Learn more about illegal poaching and the ivory trade.

The Javan rhino

The second most critically endangered animal in the world is the Javan rhino. Like the Amur leopard, the Javan rhino’s population is dwindling at slightly more than sixty. The entire population lives in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia (“Javan Rhino”). Their grey coloring enhances the appearance of armor created by the loose folds of their skin, which resembles plating. Their horns grow to approximately ten inches and their habitat consists of tropical forests. 

There are a number of threats facing the Javan rhino. The most pressing is the illegal wildlife trade. During colonial times, they were killed by trophy hunters, for their prized horns which are used for traditional Asian medicines, and as agricultural pests. In 2010, poaching completely eliminated the entire population of a Javan rhino subspecies in Vietnam (“Javan Rhino”). Other threats include reduced genetic diversity, which can make it hard for the remaining population to reproduce, and disease caused by wild cattle in the park. The species is also threatened by natural disasters that are common in Ujung Kulon National Park and invasive species that wiped out the rhinos’ food source in almost half the park (“Javan Rhino”). 

The Saola

The saola is a large mammal that resembles a squat antelope, though they are more closely related to cattle. Both males and females have two parallel horns that can reach twenty inches in length. They are a warm brown color with white markings on their faces. Saola are found exclusively in the Annamite Mountains in Laos and Vietnam (“Saola”). They were not discovered until 1992 when a joint survey conducted by the World Wildlife Foundation and the Ministry of Forestry in Vietnam. The research team uncovered a skull that had unusually long horns. It was the first new large mammal science if over half a century and is considered one of the biggest zoological discoveries of the 20th centuries (“Saola”).

Despite only being recently discovered, there are only between a few dozen and a few hundred saola left in the wild. Threats to the population include habitat loss and hunting. Their native habitat is constantly being reduced for industry and agriculture, pushing the animals into a smaller and smaller space. Their habitat has become fragmented, making it easier for hunters to access them and affecting the population’s genetic diversity (“Saola”). Saola are often caught in traps set for other animals like boar and deer. There is also an increase in hunting to supply the illegal trade and meet the traditional medicine demand in eastern medicine.

The Cross River gorilla

Cross River gorillas are very similar in appearance to other gorillas, but differ in their tooth and skull dimensions. They can grow to be between four and five and a half feet tall and weigh more than four hundred pounds (“Cross River Gorilla”). Until very recently, scientists have been unable to get an accurate count of the Cross River gorilla population because the animals are wary of humans and prefer a more rugged territory that is harder to access. Researchers instead have to use indirect sings like estimated range sizes and nest counts to determine that there are approximately two to three hundred Cross River gorillas (“Cross River Gorilla”). They live an at least eleven family groups in an area of three thousand square miles across the lowlands forests of Nigeria and Cameroon.

The main threats facing Cross River gorillas are inbreeding and hunting. Because of the small population, there is a risk for a decrease in genetic diversity that can make it difficult for the species to healthily reproduce. They tend to keep to their own groups and hardly interact with the others at all. While hunting and killing gorillas is illegal in their native territory, it is not uncommon for these laws to go unenforced. Conservation efforts have caused the hunting to decline, though. Still, because there is such a small population, the killing of even one gorilla can be detrimental to the species (“Cross River Gorilla”). The World Wildlife Foundation, along with the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon, has focused their efforts on securing a safe habitat for the gorillas and created a protected area across the two countries for the gorillas to live safely.

The Mountain gorilla

Like their Cross River cousins, the Mountain gorilla can grow to between four and five and a half feet tall and more than four hundred pounds. They live in the forested area high in the mountains at elevations between eight thousand and twelve thousand feet. They have more hair that is fuller and thicker than the hair of other apes, helping them survive in temperatures below freezing, which are not uncommon for their habitat (“Mountain Gorilla”). Humans continue to breach the Mountain gorilla’s territory, pushing them further and further up the mountains where conditions are dangerous and often deadly.

There are several factors that contribute to the dwindling Mountain gorilla population. The war in Rwanada in the early 1990s along with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil unrest sent refugees into the mountains in huge numbers, which contributed to poaching and loss of habitat (“Mountain Gorilla”). Parts of the gorillas’ environment have been overtaken by rebel forces, making it dangerous and difficult to conduct surveys of the population or continue with conservation efforts. Further disrupting the gorillas’ habitat is the harvesting of charcoal for fuel, which is quickly destroying the land. In 2004, almost four thousand acres of gorilla habitat were cleared or devastated (“Mountain Gorilla”). Another threat facing the population is disease. The more they come into contact with humans, the more diseases gorillas contract in severe forms. Mountain gorillas can even die from the common cold (“Mountain Gorilla”). However, increased veterinary care has caused their survival rate to rise.

The Black rhino

There are about five thousand black rhinos left in the world today. European hunters are responsible for the massive population decline when it was not uncommon for five or six rhinos to be killed every day for amusement or food (“Black Rhino”). The majority of rhinoceros slaughter took place in the early twentieth century by settlers. Black rhinos can grow up to just above five feet tall and weigh between seventeen hundred pounds to over three thousand. They live in subtropical and tropical grasslands, deserts, savannas, and shrublands.

The main threats to their population are habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade. (Discover how habitat loss impacts species). The changes in habitat have mainly been due to an over-flooding of landless people. This decreases the amount of safe habitat for the rhinos and puts them at risk for poaching. Black rhinos have two horns, sometimes three, making them desirable candidates for poachers. Between 1970 and 1992, ninety six percent of the black rhinos in Africa were killed (“Black Rhino”). War and political instability have made conservation efforts difficult and recent rises in poaching incidents has nearly reversed efforts that have already been made. 

A precarious fate

The most critically endangered animals in the world are in desperate need of help before they are wiped off the earth forever. The main causes of their rapid population decline are habitat loss because of humans or illegal hunting and poaching by humans and if something is not done soon, their fate is certainly less than promising. With thousands of species going extinct every year, these animals could be next.

If you liked this read and need help with your writing, consider checking out our extensive essay help section.

Works Cited

“Amur Leopard.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, 2016. Web. 30 May 2016. https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/amur-leopard.

“Amur Leopard- World’s Rarest Cat- Doubles in Population.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 30 May 2016. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/amur-leopard-world-s-rarest-cat-doubles-in-population.

“Black Rhino.” Bagheera: An Education Website About Endangered Species and the Efforts to Save Them. Quattro Theme, 2016. Web. 31 May 2016. http://www.bagheera.com/inthewild/van_anim_rhino.htm.

“Cross River Gorilla.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, 2016. Web. 30 May 2016. https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/cross-river-gorilla.

“Javan Rhino.” Edge of Existence. The Zoological Society of London, n.d. 31 May 2016. http://www.edgeofexistence.org/mammals/species_info.php?id=11. 

“Mountain Gorilla.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, 2016. Web. 30 May 2016. https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/mountain-gorilla.  

“Saola.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, 2016. Web. 30 Jun. 2016. https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/saola.

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