Sitting as the world’s largest continent, Asia takes up to 30% of the world’s land area. From far north Russia, Asia stretches all the way down south across the equator to Indonesia, and extends to the west till it reaches Saudi Arabia. Encompassing 48 countries and multiple climate zones, it is not without a reason why the continent is teeming with diversified animal species. However, as humans rapidly expand their territories into the primitive wilderness, along with increasing demand for food, climate change, Asia may possibly be the continent where the most species embracing extinction due to human-triggered reasons. Until today, many Asian countries remain to be developing countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, which means in order to boost the growth they will continue relying on their unsustainable economic models and exploit land resources. In other words, it is a substantial stride further driving animals to extinction. Below are the 10 critically endangered species in Asia that deserve higher awareness for conservation.
10 Most Endangered Species in Asia
1. Snow Leopard
First on the list of the 10 most endangered species in Asia is the Snow Leopard, with just about 4,000-6,500 individuals left in the continent. As one of the top predators on mountains, the population of snow leopards spreads across several Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Unmanaged illegal wildlife trading gives rise to the rampant and consistent hunting of snow leopards for furs, bones and other body parts, which are essential elements of some lavish leather products. As over 60% of their habitats are located in China, snow leopards are also highly threatened by active hunting and poaching for body parts including organs that are used for Chinese medicine. Another reason inducing sharp decline of the population is human-wildlife conflicts. Blue sheep, cattle, and goats are either livestock raised by local farmers across those regions or being the common prey for both the local communities and snow leopards. When natural food sources become scarce, snow leopards are forced to hunt livestock which leads to serious human-wildlife conflicts – leopards are killed when farmers are trying to defend their livestock.
2. Asian Pangolin
An indifferent creature that rolls itself into a ‘ball’ shape as a defensive mechanism, 4 out of 8 pangolin species are living in Asia. Apart from Indian pangolin, Philippine pangolin, Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin are all labeled as critically endangered. Pangolins are native to grassland and woods in southern China, parts of Southeast Asia, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal and they are the most critically endangered animal on the list due to relentless poaching and trafficking especially in Asia, where people regard them as delicacy and traditional medicine treating diseases such as asthma and arthritis. According to WWF, they are also the targets of leather production industries for handbags and boots for western countries, of which there is 1 being captured every three minutes.
Considering the urgency for protection, in June 2020, the Chinese government raised the protection level for native pangolins to the highest level, prohibiting the use of the animal for traditional medicines, in the hope of restoring the population again.
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3. Russian Sturgeon
A total of 27 species of sturgeons are on the red list of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and 63% are classified as critically endangered. Sturgeons have long been deemed threatened, especially in China, where the fruit of labor in recent decades is finally witnessed under strict protection and conservation programs. The situation is equally desperate for Russian Sturgeon. They are found in countries such as Iran, Kazakhstan, Romania, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Ukraine, which are up to 2.35 metres (7.7 feet) long and weigh about 115 kilograms (254 pounds). Being able to live up to 100 years, they are invaluable prey and delicacy in the eyes of poachers and hunters for commercial purposes, as they can fetch up to US $10,000/kg on dining tables. Between 1964 and 2009, the population declined by about 90% due to consistent over harvesting. Other contributing factors were the building of dams and loss of habitats linked to human activities and climate change.
4. South China Tigers
Even as apex predators, South China Tigers are no exception approaching the edge of extinction. South China Tigers are the only subspecies native to China. The distribution spread across central, south and southwest China, even far reaching to Hong Kong. However, they only weigh up to 100kg -195 kg and grow up to approximately 230 cm – 265cm, which is comparatively smaller in size. Despite the number once thriving in the 1950s – once reaching roughly 4,000, with human expansion into the forests and aggressive poaching, the population has been plummeting ever since. According to the IUCN, they have been on the red list of being critically endangered since the 1990s. By 1987, it was estimated merely around 30-40 individuals were left in the wild, which was extremely close to extinction. There is a lack of scientific evidence proving their presence currently in the wild and it is unlikely that they can stage a comeback by breeding on their own, the only chances of seeing them would unfortunately be either in zoos or conservation centres in captivity.
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5. Sumatran Elephants
Among the four types of Asian elephants, Sumatran elephants seem to attract the least attention while they are embracing immense and direct threats from humans. Located in tropical southeast Asia where deforestation is rampant, Sumatran elephants lost 50% of its population along with 70% of the original habitat in merely 25 years. In 2012, the IUCN upgraded the status of Sumatran elephants from ‘endangered’ to ‘critically endangered’. It is estimated that only 2,400-2,800 individuals are left in the wild, which is half of the original population back in 1985. Unlike other animal species, loss of habitat is the major factor driving the animal to be critically endangered. Under rapid deforestation rate and oil palm tree industry, especially in the Riau province in Indonesia, along with over 85% of habitat being outside of the protection zones, the number of Sumatran elephants dropped to about 1,724 in 2017. Fortunately, international conservation teams are investing resources and effort to assist the elephants. Mitigation strategies and programs are also established to ease human-wildlife conflicts.
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6. Red-headed Vulture
Highly recognisable with its bare and red head, the bird can be found widespread across mainly India and southeast Asia such as Cambodia. While the length of the bird usually stays around 76-84 centimetres (2.5-2.8 feet), the wingspan can surprisingly reach up to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet). All three vulture species in Cambodia appear on the red list of IUCN and they are classified as critically endangered. The bird is declining at an alarming rate with the total population estimated to be fewer than 10,000 individuals currently and unlikely to exceed a few hundreds in southeast Asia.
Studies revealed a staggering population loss of 91% – 94% between 1992-2003. Unmanaged waste disposal, intensification of deforestation, unintentional positioning are all factors driving the mortality rate of vultures. However, it is widely believed the increasing usage of diclofenac, a type of veterinary drug designed to treat livestock, is the main threat to these animals. This became clear after scientists discovered that less red-head vultures were dying following a ban that India imposed on the use of diclofenac. In view of the situation, governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan adopted a series of measures such as banning diclofenac and establishing programs such as Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) to offer protected zones in the countries.
7. Sumatran Orangutan
The IUCN red list recognised Sumatran Orangutan as a critically endangered species, with roughly 14,000 individuals left in the wild. Arguably one of the most intelligent animals existing on Earth, Sumatran Orangutans are still largely threatened by rapid habitat loss. Orangutans are divided into different breeds, they can be found on small islands across southeast Asia such as Borneo and Sumatra, mostly in Indonesia, but they are also discovered living in some Malaysian states. The high biodiversity forests that Sumatran Orangutans rely on are severely compromised by mainly oil palm tree plantations and the slash-and-burn deforestation process, in which some apes die in fire set by humans. Despite the declining population can be explained by multiple human-triggered factors, none of them can compare to the impacts caused by oil palm plantation – removing over thousands hectares of land regularly in pursuit of higher profit. Over 80% of habitat was lost in the last 20 years while one-third of the wild population died during the Borneo Island fires of 1997-98. Considering females only give birth once every 8 to 9 years, the reproduction rate is low during their lifespan, therefore recovering the population naturally by the species itself is almost impossible.
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8. Eastern Black Crested Gibbon
Native to northern parts of Vietnam and southeast China, Eastern Black Crested Gibbons are among the most critically endangered species in Asia. They are sometimes called Cao Vit Gibbon, a term that originated from the sounds and songs that villagers of certain provinces in Vietnam use to call them. Once thought to be completely extinct, a small population of the vulnerable mammalia was fortunately discovered in northeastern Vietnam in 2002. Over the past 45 years, the animal has experienced an astonishing 80% drop in total population due to habitat loss for agriculture, illegal use of forest resources, and illegal logging for firewood. Tracing back to 2006, it was estimated that only 10 individuals were left in the wild in China. Though the population has grown in recent decades with forest restoration and the presence of protected areas, the total number still remains under 250 mature individuals.
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9. Wild Bactrian Camel
This highly drought-tolerant animal is able to move for months without water, and can drink up to 15 gallons at a time when water is available. Wild bactrian camels can be found along rocky desert mountains, dunes and stony plains of Central Asia, for example Gobi desert in Mongolia. Following assessments in 2002 and 2008, the species was classified as critically endangered. These camels are primarily threatened by human hunters, but intensifying climate change-related phenomena such as desertification and droughts also play a role, bringing challenges in foraging and seeking places to hide from predators such as wolves. There are currently less than 1,000 individuals in their native range in the Gobi Desert and Mongolia, rendering them the eighth most endangered large mammal in the globe.
10. Java Rhino
Last on our list of the 10 most critically endangered species in Asia is the Java Rhino, labelled as one of the most critically endangered animals in the IUCN red list, with around 76 individuals left in the wild. Once widespread across China, Bengal, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Sumatra, this species of rhino can now only be found in Indonesia. Java Rhinos can grow massively, weighing up to 2,300 kilograms (5,070 pounds) and reaching 3.2 metres (10.5 feet) in length. They are solitary animals but they congregate in groups in common areas such as mud wallows. Aside from human activities such as encroaching, poaching and deforestation, the impacts of diseases, and the fact that areas where these animals are typically found are prone to natural disasters such as tsunamis also compromise their survival. Plans of establishing a secondary population by identifying possible sites for the rhinos should be the primary focus based on its urgency.
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