These Animals Could Be Poached Into Extinction Within Your Lifetime

The illegal hunting of animals has taken the lives of so many creatures that it may be too late to reverse the damage. Whether it's turtle shells transformed into high-end jewelry or tiger's whiskers used in traditional Eastern medicine (which experts urge should be practiced with caution), the animals behind these coveted status symbols have been poached faster than their populations can recover. Though animals occasionally fight back, it's a losing battle - but they don't need to disappear entirely.

Animals listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature are given certain protections that promise heavy jail time and massive fines for poachers, but it's not always effective. The population of black rhinos has shrunk by 97.6% since 1960, and their horns still sell for tens of thousands despite their endangered status. For animals at risk of endangerment (like the 35,000 African elephants poached each year), protections are scarce. 

In your lifetime, it's likely that some of these animals will go extinct in the wild unless conservationists can step in.

  • The pangolin, a burrowing mammal, is widely regarded as the most poached mammal in the world. These solitary, nocturnal creatures are highly sought after because of their scales and skin, which are used in traditional Eastern medicine, and their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some countries. In the last decade, an estimated one million pangolins have been unlawfully hunted and trafficked around the world.

    But the world is trying to fight back against the massive pangolin market. Dwindling pangolin numbers in Asia have caused poachers to target the African counterparts, but conservationists are doing everything they can to save these animals.

  • Rhinoceros
    Photo: Lucas Alexander / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In 2015, fewer than 30,000 rhinos remained in the wild, and that number continues to dwindle. Though rhino horns are used in Eastern medicine, most of the demand is driven by Vietnam, where consuming rhino horn powder can be seen as a sign of wealth.

    The sad truth is that millions of black and white rhinos roamed in the wild just 150 years ago. Unfortunately, the most recent census shows a population that's massively shrinking. The Javan rhino is the most threatened of all five rhino species with around 60 left in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park and none in captivity.

  • Sea otter fur trade was a massive industry in the United States before these animals became protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1977. In the 18th and 19th centuries, over-hunting nearly resulted in extinction. Today, sea otters remain endangered due to oil spills and other forms of habitat degradation. Fur is also reportedly making "one hell of a comeback" in fashion.

    Fishermen are another big threat to the species. Sea otters eat the same shellfish fishermen depend on, so they're often hanging out in the same waters. While a handful of otters accidentally get tangled in fishing nets, some fishermen hunt otters to preserve their shellfish bounty.

    California is fighting back against those who poach rare Southern sea otters - the species is protected under California law as well as the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. If someone hurts a Southern sea otter in America, they can expect fines up to $100,000 and possible jail time.

  • By 2050, it's likely that lions will be extinct. The big cats have unfortunately suffered a terrible fate since tigers became exceedingly rare. They've been deemed a suitable alternative for poachers no longer able to traffic tiger products - and their population is dwindling as a result. Over the past century, the lion population has dropped by more than 85%, and it's estimated that fewer than 23,000 of the big cats exist in the wild. Combine poaching with the loss of their natural habitat, and most lions don't stand a chance.

    Conservationists are dutifully working to make sure extinction doesn't become a reality. But as poachers become more desperate, the threat continues to grow. 

  • Elephants

    Photo: Flickr / Wikimedia

    President Donald Trump vowed to lift the ban on importing elephant trophies (and later changed his mind after the intense backlash). Why all the backlash? As a species, both Asian and African elephants suffer from poaching - and that's with massive bans already in place. International ivory trade has been banned since 1989, but the tusks still pull in a large profit on the black market.

    China was one of the world's largest markets for ivory, but the government began cracking down in 2018. Still, experts believe 30,000 African elephants are poached every year, resulting in an escalation of tactics for those fighting back.

  • Mountain Gorilla

    Mountain gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains, a mountain range that borders Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, only around 1,000 of these creatures roam free because poaching has all but snuffed out the population.

    Like most gorillas, mountain gorillas are hunted for the commercial bushmeat trade (i.e., people who eat ape meat to show off wealth). While the bushmeat trade is a significant threat to apes, it's not the only threat to mountain gorillas, which are also poached for parts of their bodies that are sold as charms and used in Eastern medicine. Some are captured as pets, and they also face habitat loss.

    Thankfully, conservation efforts are working: Mountain gorilla populations are increasing, moving the animals from critically endangered to endangered. However, other gorilla populations continue to struggle.