These Are The World’s Rarest Animals
Current estimates place the number of animal species currently living on the planet at around 8.7 million. That number seems high, and it is. However, the dizzying array of forms of life still at large belies a crisis we’re all, by now, painfully familiar with. Many animals that were previously thriving are now at a crisis point of potential extinction.
The creatures on this list are among the very rarest in the entire world. Most of them enjoy that dubious distinction because of habitat loss, but some are simply rare and have always been rare.
The northern muriqui is a kind of woolly spider monkey that lives in Brazil. It is known for its highly unusual egalitarian social behavior. They are also the largest of the New World monkeys, which makes them easy targets for hunting. They can grow to a staggering 4.3 feet tall, as large as many humans. Of all the populations of northern muriqui, only one is considered potentially viable for the coming 100 years. In addition to hunting and habitat fragmentation, they are also rendered vulnerable by their very narrow genetic diversity and a dearth of scientific insights about their habits.
Hairy Nosed Wombat
This stoic fellow is a northern hairy-nosed wombat, one of only three known species of wombat. About a hundred years ago, they were distributed across broad swaths of Australia, from New South Wales to Victoria to Queensland. Now, it mostly only lives in one small section of the Epping Forest National Park in Queensland. The last scientific estimate, made in 2015, places their numbers at a scant 230 individuals, making it one of the rarest land mammals on Earth. Thankfully, their population is slowly growing.
Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth
Pygmy three-toed sloths live on the Isla Escudo de Veraguas, an island off the Panamanian coast. They were only discovered in 2001. As you could guess from its name, the pygmy sloth is much smaller than other sloths, looking like a micro version of the brown-throated three-toed sloth. They top out at about 7.7 lbs body weight. All known pygmy sloths live in one 1.7 square mile section of red mangrove forest, with an estimated population of 79, as of a 2012 census. They are currently listed as critically endangered. They are far too adorable to face extinction.
Red-Crested Tree Rat
This rare nocturnal tree rat, which likely has a diet of mostly plant matter, is currently listed as critically endanngered. They are, like all rodents (except, perhaps, capybaras) susceptible to predation by cats. They’re also threatened by deforestation and climate change where they live in the coastal regions of Colombia. Remarkably, only three specimens have ever been collected.
Sharks, skates and rays are all very closely related. So it’s no surprise that some true sharks look very much like their cousins. The angel sharks are a great example. After decades of being considered of no culinary importance, a market for angel shark meat was created in the eighties that threatened to make them extinct. They are now categorized as critically endangered.
These little guys, also called “jumping shrews,” live in southern Africa and eat bugs. They are not actually a shrew. In fact, in a happy coincidence, they are actually more closely related to the elephants for which they were named, after their long snouts. They can also run up to 18 mph. Unfortunately, their habitat is, as you could have predicted, compromised by fragmentation. They are now your favorite animal.
You have doubtless heard about the White Rhino’s ultimately losing battle with extinction. Javan rhinos are much less publicized and also on the verge of being wiped out. Related to Indian rhinos, the once prolific creature is now one of the rarest, possibly the rarest, large land mammal, due to poaching for ivory and trophy hunting. As of 2016, there were only 63 Javan rhinos left in the world, all of them wild.
The ploughshare tortoise, also called the angonoka tortoise, lives in Madagascar. It’s one of the rarest land tortoises on the planet. They got that way through collection for sale as pets and by land being cleared to make cattle pasture. The land was cleared by fire, many of which got out of control and destroyed huge swaths of habitat. Despite attempts to disrupt the illegal trade of ploughshare tortoises, it remains in extremely high demand.
There are not many tarantulas that could reasonably be described as “beautiful.” Poecilotheria metallica is foremost among them. It is known for its bright blue and purple coloration, with elaborate fractal patterning on their abdomens. They mostly live in one area of Andhra Pradesh, India, where they are threatened by deforestation and collection for sale as pets. Exact population numbers are unknown, but almost certainly small and getting smaller.
Durrell’s vontsira is a carnivorous mammal that lives in Madagascar. It is related to the brown-tailed mongoose. Durrell’s vontsiras are only found in Madagascar’s Lac Alaotra region. Lac Alaotra is threatened in general, from habitat destruction as well as the introduction of invasive spacies like the black rat and the Indian civet. The vontsira is being slowly edged out of existence.
The Hainan black-crested gibbon, also called the Hainan gibbon, only lives on China’s Hainan Island. A dramatic abbreviation of their prior range, which extended over much of China. Historical records suggest they may have even been found in half of the country. As of the most recent census, there are only 22 known individuals left alive.
Cuban Greater Funnel-Eared Bat
This is not Joe Pesci, it is a Cuban greater funnel-eared bat. The entire known population of the bat live in a single cave on Isla de la Juventud. Current estimates place their population at 100 adult bats. They are likely to go extinct due to having such a limited range. To make matters worse, the cave’s roof is collapsing.
Northern Bald Ibis
Also called the hermit ibis or waldrapp, the northern bald ibis is an odd-looking bird that lives in rocky, barren climes, close to water. They are a genetically very old bird, and used to be distributed across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Now, there are just over 500 of them left. Breeding and reintroduction programs have shown promising results.
Nelson’s Small Eared Shrew
This rare shrew lives in eastern Mexico. Until 2004, it was rumored to be extinct. No specimens had been observed or gathered since its initial discovery in 1894. They have some strange real estate, living on the side of an inactive volcano at very high altitude. They are very small and are extremely threatened.
The roloway monkey is an Old World monkey that lives in tropical regions of West Africa. It’s threatened by the expected culprits – poachers and deforestation. We don’t know exactly how many of them are still around, but their population has dropped by between fifty and eighty percent in recent decades.
This beautiful bird was only discovered in 1996. In Portugese, it’s called soldadinho-do-araripe, which translates as “little soldier of Araripe.” After most of its native habitat was destroyed in the construction of a theme park in 2000, its numbers have dropped to roughly a thousand individual birds.
Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad
This rare toad lives in southwestern Ecuador. We thought it was extinct until one was found in 2011. Now, nobody knows. Amphibians in the region have been devastated by an outbreak of amphibian Chytridiomycosis fungus. It doesn’t help that none of the Stubfoot’s known range falls within protected areas.
The geometric tortoise is endemic to a tiny part of South Africa’s South-Western Cape. They are currently spread over seven nature reserves. Collection and trade of geometric tortoises is strictly illegal, but they are still threatened by fires, natural predators and an influx of invasive plant species.
The Jamaican iguana is the largest native land animal in the country for which it was named. It is so rare that it was presumed extinct from 1948 to 1990. Now, it is known to live in forested areas of the Hellshire Hills. It is referred to as the “rarest lizard in the world,” with about 50 known iguanas still alive.
This small, wading bird migrates between northern Russia and Southeast Asia. Its numbers are, at most optimistic estimate, 2,500 birds. More than likely, there are actually less than a thousand of them left. They are threatened by breeding habitat loss and by bird trappers in Burma.
The Kaiser’s spotted newt, also called the Luristan Newt or emperor spotted newt, is a very rare species of salamander that’s native to Iran’s Zagros Mountains. It is only known to live in four streams. Captive breeding programs in zoos are helping stabilize its numbers. Habitat loss and trade on the black market are its biggest threats.
The vaquita is a kind of porpose that is endemic to the Gulf of California. It is currently considered the most endangered cetacean on Earth. Its population has dropped from 600 in 1997 to 12, as of March 2018. The primary threat is becoming entangled in gillnets deployed to illegally catch totoaba, a species of fish that is also critically endangered. The outlook is grim.
This is an extremely rare butterfly that belongs to the Actinote genus of butterflies, family Nymphalidae and subfamily Heliconiinae. They live in one tiny part of Sao Paolo and are currently considered critically endangered.
Greater Bamboo Lemur
The greater bamboo lemur is the largest known bamboo lemur, that lives in Madagascar. They feed on bamboo, especially bamboo shoots. A scientific mystery, considering the fact they eat enough cyanide-containing bamboo shoots in a day to kill most people. We thought it was extinct until one was found in 1986. There are about 500 alive today.
This colorful lizard was discovered in 2009, during a night survey in Madagascar. It was named “Tarzan” both after the Tarzan Forest in which it was found, and in the hope that the familiar name would help its conservation PR.
The saola is among the very rarest large mammals in the world. It’s a bovine animal that lives exclusively in the Annamite Range forests of Vietnam and Laos. They are closely related to cows, antelope and goats. They are so rare that they weren’t photographed until 1999. They are threatened by habitat loss and hunting.
Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle
Also called the Red River giant softshell turtle, the Yangtze giant softshell turtle is found in China and Vietnam. There are three known specimens currently living. Two of them live in China’s Suzhou Zoo. Hopefully, the male and female will reproduce. Researchers are currently trying to find more living turtles in the wild.
Mississippi Gopher Frog
This one hits close to home, literally. The Mississippi gopher frog, also known as the dusky gopher frog, is endemic to the southern United States. There is only one known population of them left in the wild. About 100 frogs live in one body of water – Glen’s Pond – in Harrison County, Mississippi. It’s the rarest amphibian on the continent.
This diving duck is so rare that scientists considered it extinct until one turned up at Lake Matsaborimena, Madagascar in 2006. This is after years of intensive searching. Right now, there are an estimated 80 individual ducks still alive.
This beautiful species of antelope lives on the border of Kenya and Somalia. The entire population lives in the wild, and their stocks are dwindling. There are between three and five hundred currently alive, precipitously close to extinction.
The Sumatran rhino is tied with the Javan rhino for the unfortunate title of “world’s most endangered rhino.” They are the smallest of the rhinos. Previously, they were quite widespread throughout Southeast Asia, though now there are less than a hundred of them still alive. Like other rhinos, their major extinction threat comes from ivory poachers.
This extremely rare swallowtail butterfly is native to Brazil, where it lives in just a few riparian areas in the central part of the country. Its habitat is very fragile and unless there are major interventions made, it will likely go extinct.
This bumblebee only lives in a 70-by-190 square mile area spanning southern Oregon and northern California. Eerily, a Franklin’s bumblebee has not been spotted since 2006. Many believe it is already extinct. Bumblebees, like true bees, are critically important for the ecosystem as facilitators of pollination.
Sawfish, like the bullshark, are a saltwater fish that can enter rivers and live in fresh water. They are found around the world in tropical and subtropical areas. Unfortunately, common sawfish are anything but common these days. They are valuable both for their meat and for their “saws,” which are used for decoration. They are also very susceptible to becoming tangled in nets.
Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, also called the Dollman’s snub-nosed monkey, lives in Vietnam, in areas of patchy forest and exposed limestone. It was discovered in 1912 and then not heard from again until 1990. By last count, in 2005, there were only seventeen individual monkeys still alive in the wild.
Muennink’s Spiny Rat
Also called the Okinawa Spiny Rat, this rodent is native to Okinawa Island, Japan. It now can be found only in the northern part of the island. They are covered in fur and have intermittent spines covering most of their body, like a porcupine. They are threatened by cats, non-native mongooses, black rats and deforestation.
This rare frog only lives in a few places in the Cordillera de Nahuelbuta, a section of the Chilean Coast Range mountains. Rigorous search efforts conducted between 1992 and 2002 only resulted in one adult frog being found. Clear cutting of forests threatens its survival, as the streams in which it lives become choked with silt from runoff.
Sir David’s Long-Beaked Echidna
This extremely rare echidna was named for David Attenborough. It lives in the Cyclops Mountains of New Guinea. Only one specimen has ever been collected (pictured), in 1961. It is currently unknown if the animal is extinct or merely extraordinarily rare. Researchers have collected some anecdotal evidence and promising burrows and tracks that suggest they may still be kicking around.
Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pig
The Santa Catarina’s guinea pig is a very rare species of guinea pig that lives in southeastern South America. It is endemic to an island in south Brazil, called Ilha Moleques do Sul. The guinea pig is distributed across only 9.9 acres of island, one of the world’s smallest ranges for any known mammal.
Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat
This rare sac-winged bat is endemic to the granitic islands of the Seychelles. Now, it only occupies three islands, with its population still declining. Invasive plants have disrupted the populations of insects that it feeds on. Less than 100 bats are believed to still live.