Click on one of the souls below to explore their story
With this species being such an integral part of its ecosystem, it is unimaginable that we may lose the ability to encounter them in the wild. This is increasingly becoming reality however, with African and Asian lion populations radically decreasing over the last 50 years. With an increase in human population, they are not only losing their habitat but also face depleting prey numbers. This forces them into closer proximity to humans in their search for food and inevitably leads to an increase in human-wildlife conflict, resulting in a large number of these big cats being killed.
Their majesty renders lions a sought-after target for trophy hunters, illegal poaching, and wildlife trade, all adding threat to their survival. Lions are incredibly important predators at the top of the food chain. This means that we rely greatly on them to keep the ecosystem in balance. By focussing on their intrinsic worth, and the monetary value they have in tourism settings, local communities can be involved in the protection of these beautiful cats.
Cross River gorilla
(Gorilla gorilla diehli)
This beautiful great ape is one of the 25 most endangered primates on earth! Once believed to have gone extinct, the Cross River gorilla was later rediscovered – and still faces a variety of threats today. It is estimated that only 200-300 individuals remain in the wild. These gentle giants are found solely in an area just larger 7500 square kilometres, in forest that spans the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are among the main struggles for these gorillas.
Cross River Gorilla
When populations are isolated from each other, and migration between them therefore limited, inbreeding becomes more frequent and genetic diversity is lost as a result. When losing viable habitat, these primates are forced into closer proximity with humans, increasing not only human-wildlife conflict but also chances of disease transmission. Humans poach these magnificent animals for sport, and for their meat. They are eaten as bushmeat and are also believed to have medicinal and healing properties. Their small population size and low reproductive rate renders this rare species even more vulnerable to decline and exploitation. The Cross River gorilla fulfils a critical ecological niche in the ecosystem it is part of, for example by spreading the seeds of plants it consumes. This supports and encourages biodiversity and helps the forest to regenerate and sustain.
The red panda’s habitat is only found within an incredibly narrow temperature range, meaning that the effects of climate change and global warming are forcing these animals higher and higher, into a smaller area of viable habitat. As human populations grow, needing space to live and land for resources, this area gets smaller and smaller. Not only is their habitat being destroyed, but this close proximity to humans means diseases are more readily transmitted from domestic animals. They are often accidentally caught in traps meant for other animals, and sometimes poached for their fur.
The red panda is the state animal of Sikkim, northeast India, where it is celebrated with a red panda festival each year. Programmes are being set up to help protect Sikkim’s forests, as 70% of potential red panda habitat lies outside protected areas. There is a push to provide secure habitat for their treasured state animal which is already classed as endangered by the IUCN. Such amazing work is being done all over the Eastern Himalayan range, with initiatives by the WWF in Nepal, where 38% of potential red panda habitat lies, providing alternative sources of income to yak herders to discourage deforestation.
Life in the trees is a breeze for red pandas, who’s big bushy tail helps them balance, and sharp claws can keep them clinging to branches with ease. Their hind ankles rotate so they can even climb down trees head first! This really helps when escaping from predators who aren’t quite so agile!
Giant devil ray
Often mistaken for their more popular cousin the manta ray, giant devil rays have to be one of the most beautiful and intriguing fish in the sea. Sadly much of what we do know is through observations of individuals caught as bycatch, which is one of the biggest threats to the devil ray’s survival. Their populations aren’t able to recover due to a slow reproduction rate. They also take a long time to reach sexual maturity, have long gestation periods, and usually give birth to a single pup. It is captivating to watch these rays seeming to glide effortlessly through the water but they also like to jump out of it and belly flop! Scientists are unsure why, but believe it could be a way to attract a mate, to remove parasites or to communicate!
Giant Devil Ray
These beautiful rays are also known as devil fish or spine tailed devil rays. This mobula ray is found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters, and is the only ray in its family to be found in the Mediterranean. Actually not that giant at all despite their name, most data on the size of these rays are believed to be from the much larger manta rays that have accidentally strayed into the mediterranean! Not very much is actually known about this species as they have been the subject of few studies and remain elusive. Classified on the IUCN redlist as endangered, the worry for this species and other similar rays is that their populations aren’t able to recover.
This adorable hummingbird, endemic to Peru, is unfortunately considered endangered. The main threat to this species lies in the destruction of its habitat. Illegal hunting puts further pressure on their population, as the heart of the male spatuletale is sought after in the belief that it enhances sexual performance. I chose this species as the logo for “Art for the Endangered” as to me, it represents the cruelty that can sometimes be seen when engaging with topics surrounding wildlife conservation – specifically, when profiting from the most intrinsic and symbolic parts of any being.
Having been assumed extinct, this adorable little owl was rediscovered in 1997. Despite their welcome rediscovery, fewer than 1000 Indian forest owlets can be found in the wild, with their populations fragmented across the forests and jungles of central India, to which they are endemic. They hunt for small prey animals, such as lizards, rodents, and large invertebrates and unusually for owls, they do so during the day! They have remarkably large talons which enables them to catch prey double their size!
Habitat degradation and human development are continuously increasing, causing the IUCN to report their population trend as decreasing, and conservation status as endangered. More and more fragmentation and less viable habitat makes it hard for these populations to succeed. Another threat to these owls is poaching, for the illegal wildlife trade. Though owls are widely considered wise and majestic, often finding themselves represented as, or alongside gods, they are also shrouded in superstition and can even represent bad luck and evil. Because of this, they are sought after for rituals, dark magic, and medicine.
Owls are incredibly important predators within their ecosystems. Preying on many pests, they not only help to maintain the balance and workings of their habitat but are also invaluable for farmers who’s harvests benefit from the owl’s presence. Many aspects of an ecosystem can be affected by a decrease in species who play such an important role within it, and these effects can trickle down to consequences hard to predict. Thanks to their unconventional story, the Indian forest owlet receives a substantial amount of interest from researchers and conservation initiatives, and hopefully this can put pressure on illegal activities that are harming this charming bird.
Grand Cayman Blue Iguana
Did you know, the scales on top of an iguana’s head can be used for identification? They are as unique as a human’s fingerprint! Endemic to Grand Cayman, an island in the Caribbean, this iguana is one of the longest living of its kind, and the largest native land animal on the island. Their azure blue colour brightens during the mating season and they are camouflaged against their rocky habitat turning a dark grey when they’re cold.
Grand Cayman Blue Iguana
Numbers of these lizards have plummeted due to the introduction of alien species brought along by the expansion of human development. This is not the only threat to these iguanas however, as with the reduction of habitat from increasing agricultural and residential areas, they are forced into close proximity to humans and in conjunction with this, have taken a particular liking to agricultural landscapes. Here they find fallen fruit and other tasty treats, as well as nesting opportunities.
This leads to conflict with humans and has contributed to the decrease in population numbers of the blue iguana. Having been reduced to around 10 wild individuals in the early 2000s, this demise promoted a concentrated effort to repopulate. Individuals are bred in captivity and released once they are big enough not to be vulnerable to predators. Though they are only really found now in protected areas, their numbers are on the rise and have been downgraded from critically endangered to endangered by the IUCN. Over 700 are now said to be roaming viable habitats on Grand Cayman showing the remarkable turnaround possible with effective conservation strategies.
African savanna elephant
The African savanna elephant is the largest land mammal on our planet. In search of food and water, these giant animals flatten trees and barge through vegetation creating pathways and opening up forest that other animals benefit from. In this way, they are important environment engineers, even creating micro-environments with their footprints in the mud. The effect conservation and protection of elephants has therefore, expands way beyond just helping one species recover.
African savanna elephant
When you look at an elephant they instill peace and friendliness. They’re one of those animals that make you smile. It is a well known fact that populations of elephants in Africa and Asia are declining – illegal killing of elephants for their tusks for trade on the ivory markets, and the never ending receding of habitat as human population and development increases, have brought elephant numbers to a heartbreakingly low level. Human-elephant conflict comes into play when they are forced to share habitat, and the effective management of this, along with anti-poaching programs and stricter enforcement of ivory trading restrictions must happen in order for these magnificent beings to thrive again.
Fun fact! Handedness has been observed in elephants! Just like humans are right or left handed, elephants have a preference for which tusk they use for tasks such as digging.
With their horned noses and armour-like skin, rhinos are an iconic and well-loved species. Despite having roamed this planet for around about 50 million years, the onslaught of poaching they face as demand for their horns continues. This has caused many of their populations to dwindle drastically, and driven some to extinction. Rhinos across both Africa and Asia are poached illegally and traded internationally.
Pushing this further is the emergence of uses of rhino horn in medicine and for recreational use. With human population increasing, available habitat for these herbivores is being encroached upon by human development. This causes populations to be fragmented and isolated which makes it very difficult for these groups to interbreed and remain viable. This increasing proximity to humans also makes way for human-wildlife conflict as rhinos wander across, feed on, and trample crops. Many organisations have made headway in creating ways in which people and rhinos can co-exist, by providing support in the form of compensation, and rangers who are on call to deal with cases of human-rhino conflict.
Through many protection and sanctuary programs, populations of both the black, and the southern white rhino have been able to turn around, with both of these population trends on the up. Though the future has looked bleak for many rhino species for many years, it is incredible that with effective protection, there may be a chance to revive some of these populations. As a flagship species, conservation of rhinos will in turn benefit so many species included in their ecosystems, and enable them to continue to maintain the environments they live in.
In case you don’t recognise the animal in this picture, let me introduce you to this charismatic, scaly anteater – the black-bellied pangolin! While still unknown to many, pangolins are sadly the most trafficked mammal in the world, with all eight African and Asian species threatened with extinction. They are captured for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and for their scales, which on the Asian market reach high prices due to their believed ability to cure many ailments.
When rolled into a ball like a hedgehog, these scales provide their only defence mechanism against natural predators (e.g. lions and leopards) but prove counterproductive when it comes to human capture. Rolled up neatly in a ball, they are easy to simply pick up and move on into the illegal wildlife trade.
Pangolins are an effective natural pest control when it comes to the insects they eat, which they do by poking their incredibly long and sticky tongue out to gather termites, ants, and larvae. Its tongue can extend longer than its body length! This curious, harmless creature lacks teeth, so in order to properly digest food they swallow stones to grind everything up in their stomach.
The view we hold of this particular species may depend on where we live, and if and how they interfere with our lives. While the grey wolf is no longer classified as endangered, it covers only a small fraction of its former geographical range throughout the world. Many people fear the wolf and its impact, but alongside this they are a critical part of the ecosystem, and their ecological role is often greatly underestimated. Learn more about the effects a keystone species can have on its environment and why we should try our best to coexist with this beautiful animal