5. Attenborough’s Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi)
Of three other long-beak echidna species that are critically endangered, the Attenborough’s echidna is only found in the Cyclops Mountains of Papua (Indonesia). Echidnas have been deemed evolutionary distinct than any other mammals alive today– they are warm-blooded, land dwelling creatures that lay eggs! Little else is known about this shy, solitary creature. Worms are its primary food source which it finds by digging into the earth and searching for them with its long snout. This particular species was actually presumed extinct until a 2007 expedition. While it wasn’t actually observed by the researchers, evidence of its continued existence included digging and burrowing sites as well as information from the local people who often hunt and kill them for food. Their habitat is also under threat through logging and agriculture operations. While its cousin species are being protected in other reserves, the Attenborough’s echidna is not currently part of any conservation program.
4. Angel Shark (Squatina squatina)
Looking more like a ray than a shark, the angelshark skirts its way around the bottoms of shallow waters. This cross between a pancake and a tadpole was once common off Northeast Atlantic shores. Its sand-colored camouflage has helped them adapt well to the natural environment, but no amount of evolutionary traits could help this fish from overzealous harvesting of commercial fishers. This guy has been on dinner plates since the days of Ancient Greece, often gracing markets under the name “monkfish”. Even when the angelshark is not the fishing target of the day they often find themselves a victim of bycatch, being unintentionally caught in nets meant for other species. It is now extirpated from many of its natural recesses and remains only in fragmented populations with unsure futures. Like many creatures of the sea, the angelshark has a slow cycle of reproduction and so finds it hard to rebound from past transgressions even as it gains protection from local governments.
3. Hainan Gibbon Nomascus hainanus
You’d think that the charismatic primates of the world would get some media attention. Sure, the orangutans have their own show on Animal Planet which leads to money being invested in their conservation efforts. Unfortunately for the Hainan gibbon, they have no such luck. Who wouldn’t love an adorable face like that? Sadly, the Hainan gibbon is the rarest primate species on the planet with only 20 individuals left in the world. Every day they face the threat of extinction due to illegal hunting and deforestation.
2. Red-Crested Tree Rat (Santamartamys rufodorsalis)
Granted, ever since the bubonic plague, humans haven’t found much fondness for anything associated with the word rat. Perhaps the fuzzy, charismatic nature of these Colombian natives can help change our minds. There have been only three of these critters even spotted, let alone studied extensively. The people who located it only did so by chance: It walked up to them and said hi. Since the area they are known to live has been largely deforested and cleared, the Red-Crested Tree Rat is marked as critically endangered. Massive areas of Colombia are still unexplored, so maybe this little guy (who disappeared once only to appear over a hundred years later) still has a chance at a miracle.
1. Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)
Also known as the Red River giant softshell turtle, this gentle giant is native to China and faces an immediate risk for extinction. It is also the largest freshwater turtle species in the world. Only four individuals are known to be living (with only 2 in the wild; one in China, one in Vietnam). A pair of turtles at the Suzhou Zoo, China is currently in a breeding program with the hopes to bring some aid to this species’ survival but unfortunately all efforts to date have been unsuccessful. As such a large animal, it has been exploited in the food trade business over generations and if captured alive, it is sold as pets. This species is particular to river/wetland habitats which are under constant threat of destruction and degradation worldwide. The only confirmed area where the Red River giant softshell turtle has been observed by researchers is seriously threatened by pollution.