The world’s leading conservation organization, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been working for over forty-five years to help protect nature. Recently, they released their annual list, Ten to Watch in 2010, of some of the most threatened species around the world, saying that the long-term survival of many animals is increasingly in doubt due to a host of threats and calling for a step-up in efforts to save some of the world’s most threatened animals.
WWF scientists say these, and many other species, are at greater risk than ever before because of habitat loss, poaching, and climate change-related threats. This year’s watch list includes five species directly impacted by climate change, as well as the monarch butterfly, the species at the center of an endangered biological phenomenon.
1. Giant Panda
The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) has been an international symbol of conservation since WWF’s founding in 1961. With less than 2,500 in the wild, the panda faces an uncertain future. Its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of southwest China has become fragmented, creating small and isolated populations. WWF has been active in giant panda conservation for nearly three decades, conducting field studies, working to protect habitats and, most recently, by providing assistance to the Chinese government in establishing a program to protect the panda and its habitat through the creation of reserves.
New studies indicate that there may be as few as 3,200 tigers (Panthera tigris) left in the wild. Tigers occupy less than 7 percent of their original range, which has decreased by 40 percent over the past ten years. Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching could push some tiger populations to the same fate as its now-extinct Javan and Balinese relatives in other parts of Asia. Tigers are poached for their body parts, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, while skins are also highly prized. Additionally, sea level rise, due to climate change, threatens the mangrove habitat of a key tiger population in Bangladesh’s and India’s Sundarbans. The year 2010, the Year of the Tiger, will mark an important time for conservation efforts to save wild tigers, with WWF continuing to play a vital role in implementing bold new strategies to save this magnificent Asian big cat.
3. Polar Bear
The Arctic’s polar bears (Ursus maritimus) have become the iconic symbol of early victims of climate-induced habitat loss. Designated a threatened species for protection by the Endangered Species Act in the U.S., polar bears will be vulnerable to extinction within the next century if warming trends in the Arctic continue at the current pace. WWF is supporting field research to understand how climate change will affect polar bears and to develop adaptation strategies. WWF also works to protect critical polar bear habitats by working with governments and industry to reduce threats from shipping, oil, and gas development in the region, and with local communities to reduce human-bear conflict in areas where bears are already stranded on land for longer periods of time due to lack of ice.
4. Pacific Walrus
The Arctic’s Bering and Chukchi Seas are home to the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), one of the latest victims of climate change. In September of this year, up to 200 dead walruses were spotted on the shore of the Chukchi Sea on Alaska’s northwest coast. These animals use floating ice for resting, birthing, and nursing calves, and protection from predators. With Arctic ice melting, the Pacific walrus is experiencing habitat loss to the extent that in September 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that adding the walrus to the Endangered Species Act may be warranted.
5. Magellanic Penguin
Once threatened primarily by oil spills, Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus), now face a larger threat as fish are displaced by warming ocean currents, forcing the birds to swim farther to find food. Last year hundreds of Magellanic penguins washed up on beaches around Rio de Janeiro, many emaciated or dead. Scientists have speculated that changes in ocean currents or temperatures, which may be related to climate change, could have been responsible for their movement more than a thousand miles north of their traditional nesting area in the southern tip of Argentina. Twelve out of the seventeen penguin species are currently experiencing rapid population decline.
6. Leatherback Turtle
The largest marine turtle and one of the largest living reptiles, the leatherback turtle, (Dermochelys coriaceathe) has survived for more than a hundred million years, but is now facing extinction. Recent estimates of numbers show that this species is declining, particularly in the Pacific where as few as 2,300 adult females now remain, making the Pacific leatherback the world’s most endangered marine-turtle population. Atlantic turtle populations are more stable, but scientists predict a decline due to the large numbers of adults being caught as bycatch and killed accidentally by fishing fleets. Additionally, rising sea levels and higher temperatures on Atlantic beaches pose a new threat to turtles and their offspring. Nest temperature strongly determines the sex of offspring, and a nest-warming trend is reducing the number of male turtles. WWF aims to conserve leatherback turtle migratory pathways by working with fisheries to decrease bycatch, by protecting critical nesting beaches, and by raising awareness so that local communities will protect turtles and their nests.
7. Mountain Gorilla
Scientists consider mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) to be a critically endangered gorilla subspecies, with about 720 surviving in the wild. More than 200 live in the Virunga National Park, located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, bordering Rwanda and Uganda. War has been waged in areas around the park, with gorillas subject to related threats such as poaching and loss of habitat. Conservation efforts have led to an increase in the Virunga population by 14 percent in the last twelve years, while the mountain gorillas’ other home, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, has experienced population increases of 12 percent over the past decade. Despite this success, the mountain gorilla’s status remains fragile, and WWF is working to save the great ape’s forest habitat in the mountains of the heart of Africa.
8. Monarch Butterfly
Every year, millions of delicate monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate from North America to their winter habitat in Mexico. A well-conserved and protected high-altitude pine and fir forest in Mexico is essential for the survival of the overwintering of monarchs, which has been recognized as an endangered biological phenomenon. The protection of its reproductive habitats in the United States and Canada is also crucial to saving this species migration, one of the most remarkable natural phenomena on the planet. World Wildlife Fund, in collaboration with the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature, has designed an innovative conservation strategy to protect and restore the Monarch butterflies wintering habitat in Mexico, so butterflies are protected from extremes weather and other threats. WWF is also supporting local communities to establish tree nurseries that are reintroduced to the monarch butterfly reserve, creating at the same time new sources of income for the owners of the monarch forests.
9. Javan Rhinoceros
Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (2009), the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is considered the most endangered large mammal in the world with only two populations known to exist in the wild, for a total of less than sixty animals. Highly prized as a commodity in traditional Chinese medicine, Javan rhinos have also been brought to the verge of extinction by the conversion of forest habitat to farmland. WWF has been involved in protection and conservation of the Javan rhino since 1998, supporting forest rangers to undertake increased patrolling and protection activities, conducting surveys of the rhino population, raising awareness of the importance of the rhinos to local communities, and supporting park management.
Recently, using highly trained sniffer dogs, WWF found traces of the extremely rare and endangered Vietnamese Javan Rhinoceros, of which experts believe that no more than a dozen exist.
10. Bluefin Tuna
The Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is a large migratory fish found in the western and eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. Bluefin tuna is the source of highest-grade sushi. Bluefin tuna fisheries are near collapse and the species at serious risk of extinction if unsustainable fishing practices in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean are not stopped. A temporary ban on the global trade of bluefin tuna would allow the overexploited species to recover. WWF is encouraging restaurants, chefs, retailers, and consumers to stop serving, buying, selling, and eating endangered bluefin tuna until this amazing species shows signs of recovery.
Originally published on Care2.com.