Where to see the world's most endangered species
By Martha Hales
We are at a crucial crossroads in the story of our planet and its wildlife. There is mounting evidence that we are facing a major extinction event, and there are more and more species landing on the endangered list. The WWF have reported in their 2018 Living Planet Report that the world’s wildlife has been in severe decline over the last 50 years. We humans clearly need to be proactive in our choices in order to reverse the trend and save our biodiversity. As well as taking steps to make all aspects of our lives more sustainable, we can use our leisure time to make an impact, too.
Carefully managed tourism can have a profoundly positive effect on endangered wildlife, firstly by making an impact on visitors who forge personal connections with places and species they love and often take action to make a difference; but also by spending their tourist cash to see endangered species in the wild, which helps persuade local communities of the value of their wildlife and engage in its conservation.
Here we have collated a little information about some of the world’s most endangered animals and the threats they face. Together we can reverse the decline and save these endangered species from extinction.
African wild dog
With fewer than 1,500 individuals left in the wild and a scattered population, the African wild dog is at risk. The major threats it faces are from disease, habitat reduction and human retaliation for the dogs killing livestock. They are also often in competition for prey with other, larger mammals such as lions. The BBC's Dynasties programme focused on an African wild dog pack for an episode which is a fascinating watch if you are a fan of these beautiful canines. Not only does it highlight their plight, it also reveals their complex social hierarchy and hunting prowess.
You can still see packs of wild dog in many game reserves across southern Africa, though as they are nomadic by nature you mustn't be too disappointed if you miss them. Although the alphas are often fitted with tracking collars by scientists and conservationists, the game rangers are rarely privy to the location data.
Did you know? The scientific name for the African wild dog means "painted wolf"
An extensive habitat range across much of the eastern Himalaya has not protected the Red Panda from decline throughout. These little creatures are not much bigger than domestic cats and their pelts are sought after in some areas, putting them under threat from poachers. They also end up in traps intended for edible animals such as deer and boar. A few communities are putting great efforts into the conservation of this endangered little 'ponya' - which means bamboo or plant eating animal - the result being that sightings of this elusive and shy creature are starting to very slightly increase.
Did you know? Red pandas have a false thumb (which is in fact an extended wrist bone) which helps them climb trees and eat bamboo.
The world’s largest creature is under threat and it is estimated that today fewer than 25,000 individuals remain. With a heart that weighs as much as a small car and a tongue that weighs the same as an elephant, this magnificent creature is truly a sight to behold. Unfortunately, pollution and climate change are proving to be two big threats to the whales, particularly because their main source of food - krill - is susceptible to small changes in the oceans, so despite being protected from whaling since the mid-1960s they've only managed a minor comeback.
Blue whales are migratory creatures, spending their summers in the icy, fertile polar waters and then travelling towards the warmer equatorial waters as winter arrives. These migratory routes are well known but there are just a few hotspots where sightings of the whales are more likely.
Did you know? When blue whales exhale, the spray from their blow holes can shoot nearly 30 feet into the air.
The chimpanzee - the closest cousins to humans - lives throughout the forests of Africa where they are thought to number between 200,000 and 300,000 animals, though this number is sadly steadily declining. The major risk factor for chimps is humans, who deplete their habitat, steal their young for the pet trade and poach the adults for bushmeat. Carefully controlled tourism, allowing travellers to see the chimps in their natural habitat, is a key contributor to the conservation of the creatures, the money taken going towards paying for park rangers to patrol and maintain the national parks for example. Seeing them in the wild is truly an experience you will never forget.
Did you know? Chimps can walk on their legs, like humans, for as far as a mile.
Less than 2,000 of these penguins survive in the wild in the Galapagos. It is the only species of penguin to be found north of the equator, but it is battling numerous threats such as pollution, climate change and disease. The Galapagos are sensitive to sporadic El Niño forces, which deplete the penguins’ prey.
Not only is the Galapagos penguin the most northerly of its species, it also is one of the smallest. They are closely related to the African, Humboldt and Magellanic penguins, but while their cousins live in burrows, the Galapagos penguins live in cave and crevices in the archipelago's coastal lava.
Did you know? Galapagos penguins mate for life and live for an average of 20 years.
You can see the charming Galapagos penguins in the Galapagos Islands mainly on the Isabela and Gernandina islands
These freshwater dolphins - distinguishable from salt-water cousins by their rounded, stubby heads - are spread across three rivers in Southeast Asia. The most recent estimates put their total population at under 1,000 so they are now at great risk of extinction, but increasing interest from tourists is helping to safeguard their habitat. The Khmer and Lao people regard the dolphin as a sacred animal and it is also an important source of jobs, supporting the livelihoods of many of the riverside communities involved in dolphin-watching eco-tourism.
Did you know? Although the Irrawaddy dolphin looks more like a Beluga whale, it is in fact more closely related to the killer whale.
Around 1,000 of these legendary gorillas are split between the highest regions of the Virunga mountains of Rwanda and DRC, and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Since the discovery of the mountain gorilla subspecies at the beginning of the 20th Century, the population has had to endure years of war, poaching, habitat loss and disease - threats considered so severe that it is remarkable there are any wild mountain gorillas left.
Thankfully, conservation efforts are improving the gorilla’s chances and in fact the population is now slowly increasing. Treks to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat can be arranged in Rwanda and Uganda, though it's recommended you book well in advance as permits are required and numbers are limited for the protection of the gorilla troops.
Did you know? Mountain gorillas are the only great ape with an increasing population.
A century ago, it is estimated that 10 million elephants populated the entire African continent, and if that is the case, only 5% of that number survive today. It is a similar story in Asia, where less than 50,000 remain. Loss of habitat and illegal poaching for ivory are the major threats to elephants everywhere.
Huge conservation efforts have been made to protect both African and Asian elephants, and your chances of seeing them in the wild are still high when visiting protected national parks and reserves. Head to the Kruger National Park and its surrounding reserves to see large herds of elephants in their element in Africa, or spot Asian elephants in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, and the Yala or Wilpattu National Parks, Sri Lanka.
Did you know? Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal, with mothers carrying their unborn calves for 22 months.
Asia’s most impressive big cats have a fragmented population and now survive in pockets across a huge area from India to China. The Bengal tiger is one of the best known subspecies and the most numerous with a population of around 2,500, spread across India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Illegal poaching for their beautiful pelts and the Chinese medicine trade is their biggest threat.
Again, conservation efforts have been integral in keeping the tiger population stable and are even helping it to start to make a comeback. The WWF have pledged that they aim to help double the number of wild tigers to over 6,000 by 2022 - the Chinese year of the tiger - and with foundations and charities such as these making such an effort, the hope is that tigers will become easier and easier to spot in the wild. Both the Bandhavgarh National Park in India and the Chitwan National Park in Nepal are good places to head to if spotting a tiger burning bright is on your bucketlist...
Did you know? A tiger's roar can be heard as far as three kilometres away, and when running at full speed they can reach up to 65 km/h.
The quarter of a century between 1970 and 1995 saw the black rhino population drop by over 95%, mostly due to poaching. Conservation efforts are showing some success, and numbers have since doubled to more than 5,000, but the black rhino is still critically endangered and faces threats from poaching and disease.
The black rhino and white rhino are distinguished from each other by the shape of their lip - the black rhino has a prehensile upper lip which it uses to feed on herbaceous plants and other woody plants, while the white rhino has a wider lip, ideal for grazing on grasses. While South Africa is home to the greatest population of white rhinos, if you wish to increase your odds of seeing black rhinos you should head to the Damaraland region of Namibia which has the largest population of free-roaming black rhino in East Africa.
Did you know? The black rhino is far more shy and aggressive than the white rhino, making it much harder to find when on safari.
The world’s rarest canid is also the most endangered predator in Africa, and it lives in isolated pockets in the mountains of Ethiopia. Only around 500 wolves remain, fragmented across a wide area which is an added threat to their survival. Human activity has put pressure on the habitat preferred by the wolves, and disease has wiped out large numbers. They are restricted to just seven isolated areas in the Ethiopian highlands and the largest population can be found in the Bale Mountains, but some can also be seen in the Simien Mountains.
Did you know? The Ethiopian wolf is the only wolf found in Africa. Despite living in packs of up to 15 animals, unusually for wolves, they hunt alone, focusing on small prey such as mole rats and hares.
You can still hope to see Ethiopian wolves in the wild, particularly in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia
The majority of marine turtle species are endangered and very nearly considered critically endangered. They are at risk from a number of factors including human activity and development of their breeding sites, fishing and pollution. Hawksbill turtles in particular are critically endangered as their shells are highly prized for their beautiful patterns.
Their declining numbers has a knock-on effect in the ecosystem, as they are essential for coral health and an important component of the marine food chain. Luckily, a few crucial communities who live around the turtle-hatching beaches have been working with conservationists to protect the nests from those who would raid them for food or otherwise disturb them. This is key in the protection of the turtle, because as few as 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood.
Did you know? Turtles have been around for an estimated 110 million years, meaning they once shared the Earth with dinosaurs.
These distinctive primates are experiencing significant declines in their populations, both in Borneo and Sumatra, Indonesia. They are very social animals with endearingly human characteristics, but are at considerable risk from deforestation, the illegal pet trade, and hunting. Populations are slow to recover due to the slow reproduction rate of these precious primates. There are still key features of the orangutan that we are yet to fully understand, such as the difference between a flanged male - with prominant cheek pads - and an unflanged male who looks like an adult female. Both are able to mate and reproduce, and an unflanged male can transform into a flanged male for reasons that are not yet understood.
Did you know? The orangutan is the only great ape in Asia.
Make it happen
Supporting conservation projects by paying a visit is a valid and vital contribution to the survival of endangered species. If you have a particular interest in a specific animal our local experts are perfectly placed to help you discover more about their existence in the wild. Get in touch today to see what your bespoke itinerary could look like. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.