Human interference like climate change, overhunting, and destruction of habitat have wreaked havoc on the survival of many animal species. Sadly, once we've driven certain animals to extinction, we can't bring them back. Below are 8 heartbreakingly adorable animals that are either vulnerable or endangered that conservationists are working hard to bring back. Keep reading to find out more about them, as well as how you can help with efforts to save them.
Giant Panda [Status: Endangered]
The Giant Panda is the rarest member of the bear family. Pandas live in the bamboo forests high in the mountains of western China. They subsist almost entirely on bamboo. Pandas play a crucial role in the bamboo forests by spreading seeds and fostering the growth of vegetation. But because the Panda’s habitat is at the heart of the geographic and economic center of China, it is critically endangered. Roads and railroads increasingly fragment it, isolating panda populations and preventing mating. As China continues with its rapid rate of development, it continues to damage the forests on which Pandas rely for their survival. The Chinese government has established more than 50 Panda reserves, but even these reserves only protect about 61% of the country’s total Panda population.
Polar Bear [Status: Vulnerable]
Polar bears spend most of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. Their diet consists mainly of ringed and bearded seals because they need large amounts of fat to survive. The total polar bear population is divided into 19 subpopulations. Of those, 8 subpopulations are on the decline and there is a high estimated risk of future decline due to climate change. Because polar bears are at the top of the food chain, they have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Polar bears depend on sea ice for their survival and are directly impacted by melting ice due to climate change. Every year, as the summer sea ice decreases in size, bears must move longer and longer distances to stay on rapidly receding ice, or in some areas come ashore when ice melts and rely on fat stores until the ice refreezes and they can go back out to hunt. Climate change is also pushing East Greenland’s population to switch prey and increasingly eat types of seals that are loaded with chemical contaminants.
Hector’s Dolphin [Status: Endangered]
Hector’s Dolphins are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world. There is a subspecies of Hector’s Dolphin known as Maui’s Dolphin that is critically endangered and estimated to have a population of only 55. Hector’s Dolphins are only found in the shallow coastal waters along the western shores of New Zealand’s North Island. Both Hector’s Dolphins and Maui’s Dolphins are both at risk of becoming extinct. Living close to the shore has become a problem for the dolphins because they often fall prey to being bycatch. They become tangled in recreational and commercial gill and trawl nets. Gill nets, which are made of a fine mesh that dolphins are unable to detect underwater, are especially dangerous. Other threats to these cute creatures include being struck by boats, pollution in their habitat, coastal development and seabed mining.
Borneo Pygmy Elephant [Status: Endangered]
The pygmy elephants of Borneo are especially adorable with their baby-faces, oversized ears, plump bellies and tails that are so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk. They are the smallest elephants in Asia and also happen to have a more gentle nature than their Asian counterparts. The primary threat pygmy elephants face is the loss of continuous forest. Mammals of their size require large areas of forest to forage for food. But large blocks of forest are being fragmented by encroachment and conversion of natural forest land into commercial plantations. Logging, expanding agriculture, and palm oil plantations are reducing contact between subpopulations, as well as shrinking the forest area that pygmy elephants rely on.
Black-footed Ferret [Status: Endangered]
Black-footed Ferrets are making a comeback after becoming nearly extinct. For the last 30 years, concerted efforts from many state and federal agencies, zoos, Native American tribes, conservation organizations and private landowners have given Black-footed Ferrets a second chance. Today, recovery efforts have brought the number of Black-footed Ferrets to nearly 1000 spread across North America. Despite these Herculean efforts to save the ferrets, habitat loss and disease remain key threats and the species remains highly endangered. Their full recovery would signify the recovery of the grassland ecosystem on which they depend to survive. The ferret depends entirely on the presence of prairie dogs and their colonies for the food, shelter and raising of their young. Without ample reintroduction site and distribution of prairie dogs, Black-footed Ferrets will remain endangered.
Giant Tortoise [Status: Vulnerable]
The Giant Tortoise is found exclusively in the Galapagos Islands. Many different subspecies that have different appearances are found on the islands. The Giant Tortoise is the largest living tortoise in the world. Sadly, this iconic species is threatened by introduced species to the island, such as dogs and cats which prey on young tortoises, and cattle which compete for grazing vegetation. They became almost extinct when people captured them for food and because they were attacked by other animals people brought to the islands. When the Europeans discovered the islands in the 16th century, their number started to decline. Because it moves slowly and has tasty flesh, the Giant Tortoise became a staple for travelers journeying on ship and for people who moved to the islands. New residents to the islands brought animals that tortured the tortoise. It lost its eggs and hatchlings to pigs and dogs and its food to goats and cows.
Stellar Sea Lion [Status: Endangered]
At the size of a Volkwagen Beetle, the Stellar Sea Lion is the biggest sea lion in the entire world. Weighing in at almost a ton, the Stellar Sea Lion needs an enormous amount of food to survive. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat anything that’s around. Mainly, they feed on Pacific cod, flatfish, rockfish, salmon, herring, octopus, squid, pollack and Atka mackerel. The problem is that all of these marine species are targeted or caught accidentally in federally-managed North Pacific fisheries. As fishing becomes more prevalent in their feeding area, Stellar Sea Lions are quickly disappearing. As recently as 1960, western Alaska was home to more than 17,500 adult Stellar sea lions. Since then, the Stellar Sea Lion population has declined by over 80%, With the rise of industrial trawl fishing in the North Pacific, Stellar Sea Lions are also being caught in fishing nets as they try to eat the same fish that humans are after in their fishing operations. In essence, the leading cause of Stellar Sea Lion decline is that they are not able to get enough to eat.
Chimpanzee [Status: Endangered]
Like humans, the endearing chimpanzee is a highly social animal that cares for its young for years and can live to be over 50. In fact, the chimp is our closest cousin as it shares about 98% of our genes. Despite our common heritage, humans are pushing chimpanzees towards extinction. Chimps have already disappeared completely from four countries and are under tremendous pressure everywhere else they live. Threats agains chimpanzees include disease, like the ebola outbreaks that killed tons of thousands of great apes and poaching. Bushmeat has always been a primary food source in Central and West Africa, but recently, poaching has become commercialized as wealthy urban residents have developed a taste for the meat. Plus, infant chimpanzees are frequently taken alive and sold in cities as pets.
Photos by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska, USA (Stellar sea lions perched in Resurrection Bay) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons and by User:jballeis (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons and by Alan D. Wilson (naturespicsonline.com: ) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons and by Scott Thompson (Flickr: Hectors Dolphin near Akaroa) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons and by Cede Prudente, World Wildlife Fund, Malaysia. [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons and by USFWS Mountain-Prairie (Black-footed ferretUploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons and by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps. (NOAA Photo Library: anim0069) [CC-BY-2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by Lauber Lon E, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by Klaus Post (Chimpanzees) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons