It is impossible to determine the extent of kingdom Animalia, with several species waiting to be discovered in various biomes of the world. The rainforest biome alone boasts of more than a million species to its credit. As unbelievable as it may sound, the total number of animals that you get to see on the planet today just constitute 1 percent of the total number of animals to have ever existed on the planet.
In other words, approximately 99 percent of the animal species have become extinct since the planet came into existence. One of the most famous mass extinctions was the Cretaceous - Tertiary extinction event which occurred 65 million years ago and wiped off several plants and animal species - including the dinosaurs, from the planet.
Extinction happens to be a perfectly natural process, but only when it is in sync with evolution of new species. However, the rate at which extinction of species is occurring over the last 400 years - with a steep rise over the last hundred years or so, is something that has left the environmentalists bewildered. It doesn't end there, as the number of species which are threatened with extinction i.e. the species which are vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered, is also very high.
An animal or plant species is considered 'endangered' when it is at the risk of becoming extinct from the planet or from a particular region on the planet. Most of these species are considered to be endangered as they are at the risk of becoming extinct with only a few individuals surviving. This fall in their population can be attributed to numerous factors - including over-hunting, loss of habitat, excessive predation, etc.
The species is considered 'threatened' when it is likely to become endangered in near future. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - which is the premier organization when it comes to conservation of plant and animal species, further categorizes the threatened species into 'vulnerable species' (VU), 'endangered species' (EN) and 'critically endangered species' (CR). If the statistics compiled by IUCN are to be believed 40 percent of all the organisms on the planet are endangered.
Facts About Endangered Animals
While thousands of animals are considered endangered or critically endangered as of today, only 10 percent of these species - the tiger and the panda being the best examples of the same, are identified as threatened and given legal protection. Even though seriously threatened, several others don't even make it to the endangered animals list. More than 1,000 animal species are considered endangered at all levels all over the world.
Approximately, 20 percent of the mammalian species on the planet are fighting for their very existence on the planet. More of such staggering endangered animals facts, which stress on statistical data, are given below.
- The tiger (Panthera tigris) population in the wild is estimated to be somewhere between 3,000-4,000 individuals. Further breakup reveals that there are less than 2,000 Bengal tigers (Pantera tigris tigris), around 1,200 to 1,800 Indochinese tigers (Pantera tigris corbetti), 600-800 Malayan tigers (Pantera tigris jacksoni), 400-800 Sumatran tigers (Pantera tigris sumatrae) and somewhere between 450-500 Siberian tigers (Pantera tigris alataica) in the wild. Yet another species, the South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is believed to have become extinct in the wild with no recent sightings recorded.
- Even though leopard as an animal is enlisted as 'not threatened' in the IUCN Red List, some sub-species of leopards have become endangered as a result of loss of habitat and illegal hunting. Only 30-35 Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) are remaining in the wild in Siberia, and thus it has been enlisted as critically endangered. Similarly, somewhere between 3,500-6,000 Snow leopards (Panthera unica) are found in the high-altitude mountain ranges of Central Asia and South Asia as a result of which this sub-species is declared endangered.
- While the African lion is enlisted as vulnerable by IUCN, its cousin in Asia - the Asian lion (Panthera leo persica) is battling for its survival with somewhere around 400 individuals left in the last of its natural habitat in the state of Gujarat in India. While efforts are being made to implement conservation measures at the ground level, legal tangles have made it difficult for the environmentalists to implement these measures.
- The Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) population has come down drastically due to loss of habitat as a result of human encroachment in their natural habitat. With the total number of individuals in the wild estimated to be somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 individuals, the Giant panda happens to be one of the ten most endangered animals of the world.
- Of the five extant sub-species of the rhinoceros, three sub-species - the Black rhino (Diceros bicornis), Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and the Javan rhino (Rhiniceros sondaica) have become critically endangered, while the Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) is enlisted as vulnerable. Unabated poaching is the most prominent cause of extinction of this animal in the wilderness.
- Only 600 Bactrian camels aka the two-humped camel (Camelus ferus) are left in China, while their number in Mongolia happens to be approximately 350. In fact, the population of this species in Mongolia has come down by 50 percent over the last three decades as a result of large-scale hunting of this species for food. The species was declared critically endangered in 2002 as the estimated number of Bactrian camels in the wild had come down to 800 back then.
- Coming to North America, the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is fighting for its existence on the Earth with less than 200 individuals of this species remaining in the wild. After the IUCN enlisted the California Condor as a critically endangered species, captive breeding programs were initiated to ensure that this bird doesn't end up becoming extinct.
- The population of South Asian River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) has come down by a significant extent as a result of loss of habitat attributed to incessant water pollution and damming of rivers. There exist two sub-species of the South Asian River Dolphin - the Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) and Indus River Dolphin (Platanista minor minor), and both have been declared endangered by the IUCN with less than 1,000 individuals remaining in the wild.
- Even non-human primates are threatened by extinction with the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) being enlisted as critically endangered species with less than 7,000 animals in the wild, and the Borneo Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) being enlisted as endangered with somewhere around 40,000-50,000 individuals in the wild.
- Even though it is the largest animal in the world, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) has not been able to escape human wrath. Large-scale whaling - which continued through the 90s, resulted in a serious decline in the number of blue whales in the wild. In 2002, the population of this species was estimated to be somewhere between 5,000 to 12,000, as a result of which it was declared endangered by the IUCN. Though whaling has been curbed by a significant extent, the number of blue whales in the world is far from desired mark as yet.
There have also been a couple of instances of animals being declared extinct in the wild, bred in captivity and reintroduced in the wild. In the United States of America, the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) was declared extinct in the wild in 1980s when the last of the individuals were caught in the wild in Texas. After successful captive breeding resulted in rise in the Red wolf population in captivity, the animal was re-introduced in North Carolina. However, it is still considered endangered, with less than 100 individuals in the wild.
Do we really need to give importance to all these facts which suggest that several animals are threatened with extinction? Why do we even have to save these endangered species? All the members of kingdom Animalia come together to form a complicated ecological network, and extinction on any member of this network can result in serious imbalance in the overall ecosystem. When the apex predator becomes extinct, the number of primary and secondary consumers, most of which are herbivores, increases as there is no apex predator at the top of the food chain to keep a check on their numbers.
These herbivores in turn begin feeding on the available vegetation, and destroy the green cover on the planet. Similarly, if the number of herbivores dwindle, the carnivores are left with no option but to resort to human settlements for food. This in turn results in human-animal conflicts resulting in casualties on both sides.