The next extinctions

Decimated: The number of sub-species of each animal that are “critically endangered”.

The death of the world’s last, male, northern, white rhino has highlighted Earth’s huge extinction crisis. Just how many species are at risk — and what can be done to save them?

  • What has happened?

    Last year, Sudan, the world’s last, male, northern, white rhino died aged 45. With two remaining females, it will be very hard to save the species.

  • Why is this type of rhino so rare?

    The northern white rhino population in Central Africa was largely wiped out during a poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. Poaching was fuelled by demand for rhino horn for use in Chinese medicine, and for dagger handles in Yemen.

    There are two types of white rhino. The other is the southern white rhino, of which there are around 20,000. They have fared better due to tougher laws on poaching in the countries they live in. They are classed as “near threatened”, while most other types of rhino are “critically endangered”.

  • Which other animals are critically endangered?

    Some species are down to just a few thousand individuals: there are 2,800 Sumatran elephants left, along with about 1,000 Yangtze finless porpoises. Then, you move into the hundreds: there are 700 mountain gorillas left in the wild, and just 340 Malayan tigers.

    There are also the creatures that are so rare that every single animal could fit into one large room. These include the world’s 57 Amur leopards, as well as just 30 vaquitas (another type of porpoise).

    In total, 2,464 animal species are critically endangered.

  • How do we know how many individuals there are?

    When counting land mammals, conservationists will use a mixture of GPS trackers, disguised cameras, traces of kills, paw marks and scratches on trees. Then they do a calculation, while also thinking about factors like the availability of prey, and how many individuals could live in a given area.

  • But the numbers seem very exact…

    They are often up for debate. For example, scientists are divided on whether snow leopards are still in danger. Some big cat experts say their population has increased in a number of places. Others argue that there is no scientific evidence to prove this.

    Many new species are discovered every week, so the numbers change quickly.

  • How do we decide when a species is endangered?

    It is not just about numbers. Several factors are important. For example, are they all living in one area? If they are, they are more likely to be wiped out by one single cause than if they were more spread out.

    What are the range of threats they face? How long do they take to reproduce — and, therefore, how quickly could their population recover?

  • So, what can we actually do?

    Writing for CNN news channel, John D. Sutter sets out a five-point plan to prevent the sixth mass extinction event:

    1. Stop burning fossil fuels.

    2. Protect half the surface of the Earth.

    3. Fight illegal wildlife trafficking.

    4. Slow down human population growth.

    5. Reconnect with the natural world.

You Decide

  1. Honestly, how much do you really care about the plight of the northern white rhino?


  1. Create a poster asking for help to save an endangered animal. Explain how and why it should be saved.

Word Watch

Illegal hunting.
A type of small toothed whale that are very closely related to dolphins.
A person whose job it is to keep a species or an ecosystem alive.
Fossil fuels
Natural fuels, such as coal or gas, formed in the distant past from the remains of living creatures..
Buying or selling something illegal.

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