It’s staggering to think that an entire species we take for granted today can disappear in our lifetime. Yet early in 2018, the last male northern white rhinoceros died in Kenya, leaving behind only his daughter and granddaughter.
Unless conservationists can successfully use artificial insemination to reproduce the species, this subspecies of rhino will join a list of extinct animals that already numbers 76 — and includes such incredible, departed creatures like the dodo bird, passenger pigeon and Tasmanian tiger.
African Wild Dog
Highly social and opportunistic predators, African Wild Dogs can reach speeds of more than 44 miles an hour in a sprint, and travel in packs of as many as 40.
Today, they are among the most endangered mammals in the world, the result of humans encroaching on their habitat and spreading viral diseases. The ones that remain are found mostly in Southern and East Africa, especially Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
Want to see them up close? Visit the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, which boasts the largest wild dog population in Africa and runs regular safari tours during the June to October high season. The reserve also includes several tented camps and lodges to stay in.
Efforts have been underway for a long time to protect the extraordinary Bengal tiger from extinction. India, which has more of the tigers than any other country, started creating tiger reserves in the 1970s, and introduced an international ban on the tiger trade in 1993.
Nonetheless, the species’ survival is at risk.
Tiger-skin rugs are increasingly popular in interior design, and in China, bengal tiger bones are used in a wine believed to provide strength and vigour. As a result, illegal poaching is common — and the tigers are seeing their habitats shrink, too.
Many of India’s well-managed parks combine conservation initiatives with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see the animal up close. For the ultimate experience, book the “Royal Bengal Tiger Tour”; over the course of 11 nights and 12 days, travel through Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park to see the tigers in action. Overnight stays are also included.
The Bengal tiger can additionally be found in smaller numbers in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.
The red panda is slightly bigger than a pet cat, with a bear-like body and thick russet-coloured fur except on its belly and legs. It mainly stays in trees, using its long, bushy tail for balance and to warm itself in the winter.
Populations of the panda are found in Nepal, China, Myanmar, India and Bhutan — but due to habitat destruction, disease and poaching, the red panda is now endangered in the wild.
Luckily, steps are being taken to raise awareness about this unique mammal. The Red Panda Network runs conservation programs and tours to Nepal that include trekking through the Himalayas, meeting with the locals, and seeing red pandas in their natural setting.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Hawksbill turtles are generally found in tropical waters in coral reefs, where they use their pointed beaks to eat sponges living in crevices, a process that contributes to the health of the reef.
Unfortunately, these animals are at risk due to the covetedness of their distinctly patterned shell, which can be used to make earrings, hair combs and necklaces. Even though the commercial trade of tortoiseshell was banned in 1973, products made from Hawksbill turtle shells are still being sold openly throughout Central America, the Caribbean and Asia.
Visitors can help save this endangered species by making conscious decisions about what souvenirs they purchase, and informed choices when it comes to taking a tour to see hatchlings on the beach. It’s possible to see Hawksbill turtles in Costa Rica’s Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, on treks led by accredited local guides.
Under threat from wars, disease, hunting and habitat destruction, and unable to breed in captivity, mountain gorillas are dwindling in population — at present, there are fewer than 1,000 in the world. Well known through the work of primatologist Dian Fossey, who studied them for 20 years, these amazing animals live in high altitude forests and have thick fur that allows them to survive sub-zero temperatures.
Approximately half of the world’s mountain gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda; the rest are in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, where conservationists are hard at work to bring their numbers back up. Funds from tourist treks go towards employing trackers and vets, and to educating local tribes on conservation.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, also in Uganda, additionally offers the chance to learn about, track and see mountain gorillas in their natural environment.
Of the five known species of rhinoceros, the dusky gray-colored Javan rhino is by far the most threatened. At last count, less than 70 were known to still be alive in the wild, the result of hunters killing them for their horns. Now critically endangered, conservation efforts are focused on reintroducing the Javan rhino to areas they used to inhabit.
Remaining rhinos can be found in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia. The park consists of a group of islands, each offering a range of activities such as surfing, snorkeling and trekking. Sightings of the Javan rhino are incredibly r￼￼are, even for scientists, but tourists can try their luck on a canoe tour along the Cigentur River on Handeleum Island.
The Bornean orangutan is dark in color and has a broad face and short beard. Three different subspecies are known to live in different parts of the Asian island of Borneo, all of them in lowland forests.
Over the past 60 years, Bornean populations have declined by more than 50%, and nearly 150,000 of the animals have been lost in just the last 16 years, largely due to logging and hunting.
To see some of the remaining creatures, visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre in the small state of Sabah on the northern side of Borneo Island; it provides a highly accessible and easy way to view orangutans while supporting their conservation. The more adventurous can take a boat tour along the Kinabatangan River and catch a glimpse of the orangutans and other animals in the wild…without harming them or their environment.
Like other leopards, the Amur is fast, reaching speeds of up to 37 miles an hour. It can also jump incredibly high, leaping more than 19 feet horizontally and up to 10 feet vertically.
These solitary animals live in the largely inaccessible Russian Far East, but their beautiful spotted fur makes them a target for poachers. Combine this with the fact that they only live for 10 to 15 years, and the risk that they will soon become extinct is high.
Fortunately, in 2012, the Russian government opened Land of the Leopard National Park, an area of nearly 650,000 protected acres encompassing about 60% of the species’ remaining habitat. It’s hoped the move will save the 100 or so critically endangered Amur leopards still known to be alive. The park can arrange for safaris, and includes a hotel and educational museum.
With their opposable thumbs, big toes, ability to walk on two legs, and capacity to communicate via facial expressions, chimpanzees are the closest animal relative to humans, sharing an astonishing 99% percent of the same genes. Unfortunately, chimpanzees also share a susceptibility to infectious diseases such as respiratory ailments and anthrax, which has led to entire populations being wiped out.
To see these human relatives in the wild, your best bet is a visit to Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda. Covering an area of nearly 800 square meters, Kibale features lush tropical rainforest and is home to 13 species of primates, including a population of approximately 1,450 chimpanzees.
Two primate walks led by a qualified guide are held each day, giving visitors the chance to see chimpanzees and other animals. The two dry seasons, from November to February and June to September, are the best times to go.
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