National Wildlife Day: The endangered species the statistics say we're losing

The 4th September marked National Wildlife Day, and while it's a good occasion to celebrate the wonders of the natural world, it's also an occasion to take stock of what's been lost and what we're in danger of losing in the near future.

Say the word 'endangered' and most people immediately picture a tiger or an elephant, the former still widely hunted for their so-called 'medicinal' properties and the latter regularly falling prey to ivory dealers. While both feature on the list of the most endangered species, they're not as close to the top as you might think. In the latest figures from October 2015, here were the thirty most at risk animals according to estimates of the numbers still alive...

So with only 40 animals left it’s the Amur Leopard - found in eastern Russia and northern China – which has earned the dubious crown of world’s most endangered species.  Not having made it into the top thirty, there are an estimated 150,000 chimpanzees left alive and around 470,000 Asian elephants – starts to sound a lot compared to the poor Amur leopard, but still not exactly a healthy number.

So far, there have been 801 species which we know have gone extinct and a further 64 which are now extinct in the wild.  While public opinion is divided on zoos and the rights and wrongs of keeping animals in captivity, many of the most critically endangered species are only being saved from extinction by captive breeding programmes and being kept in an environment which keeps them safely away from poachers and the destruction of natural habitats.

And since we like our themed days and 22nd September is ‘World Rhino Day’, let’s dig a little deeper into the statistics around poaching and rhino numbers.  With rhino horn valued at $60,000 per kilogram, the black market trade is booming and rhino horn is said to be worth more than diamonds and cocaine.  Estimates suggest that at the current rate of poaching, Africa’s remaining rhino population will be completely wiped out in under twenty years.

Using statistics from South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, here’s a chart showing how rhino poaching deaths in that country have risen between 2010 and the most recent data from 2015:

Despite a very slight drop in 2015, the number of rhino deaths from poaching has been steadily climbing year on year and shows little sign of abating.  Between 2007 and 2013, there was a 7,770% increase in the number of rhinos killed for their horns and the number of people successfully prosecuted for poaching in South Africa remains incredibly low:

So things look a bit bleak for the world’s rhino population, despite international efforts to stamp out the illegal trade in poached animal commodities.

So yes, a day to celebrate the wonders of the natural world, but also a day to shine a spotlight on the species we’re in danger of losing.  Here’s hoping the statistics won’t be quite so sombre this time next year.