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Mammals in Trouble

Even though a lot is known about mammals, this knowledge is neither uniform nor complete. On top of that, for more than half of the known mammal species, the threat status is insufficiently known or inadequately documented according to the Species Survival Commission (SSC).

In 2007 the World Conservation Union determined that there are 1,093 threatened mammal species out of a total of 4,863. Most threatened mammals belong to the order Rodentia (rodents) which is also the largest order of the mammals (over 40% of mammalian species fall into this order). Rodentia is followed by the orders Chiroptera (bats) and Primates (primates) and Carnivora (cats, bears, weasels, pinnipeds, wolves, etc.). Some examples of the currently most threatened mammal species include:

  • Ader’s duiker (Cephalophus adersi) is an antelope that lives in Kenya and Tanzania and is Critically Endangered due to population declines. The population on Zanzibar declined from 5,000 individuals in 1983, to 2,000 in 1996, and to 640 in 1999. Threats to the antelope are ongoing habitat loss and degradation, and illegal hunting.

  • Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is a forest-dwelling ox that occurs in Lao PDR and Viet Nam and is Endangered. Only ‘discovered’ by western science in 1992, it is generally considered to be the greatest mammal discovery in recent times. It is so different from any currently known species that a separate genus, Pseudoryx, had to be created.

  • Sao Tomé free-tailed bat (Chaerephon tomensis) is Critically Endangered and known to occur in only two sites on Sao Tomé (Africa). Its coastal forest and savanna habitats are being destroyed through tourism and agricultural development, and there is the added potential threat of a port being built.

  • Brazilian arboreal mouse (Rhagomys rufescens) is Critically Endangered and has been reported only from Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil. Its survival is in jeopardy because it is only known from a small area in one of the most rapidly developing parts of South America.

  • Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) found in Portugal and Spain may be the first wild cat species to become extinct in recent times if habitat loss, persecution, and loss of its main food source continues.

  • Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) will be extinct within 100 years according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and some scientists believe that polar bears could disappear within 25 years. The IUCN predicts a more conservative decline of 30% in the next 45 years.

  • Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), the rarest of the gorilla subspecies, is Critically Endangered and lives among trees deep within in the tropical forests of Africa, from southern Nigeria to the Congo River. Probably less than 150-200 individuals of this subspecies remain in the Cameroon/Nigeria border region and are living in several fragmented sub- populations. Threats to the gorilla come from hunting, forest clearance for agriculture and timber, and petroleum exploitation.

  • With perhaps no more than 6,000 left, the African wild dog is one of the most Endangered members of the dog family, Canidae. Although the taxonomic name, (Lycaon pictus), literally means “painted wolf,” this canid is neither a wolf nor a domestic dog gone wild, having diverged from that evolutionary line about three million years ago. Threatened by habitat loss and human persecution, the African wild dog may now be found in only 15 of the 39 sub-Saharan countries of its historical range. This socially complex, pack-living canid is particularly vulnerable to extinction because it exists at low densities and needs large areas to survive.


Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) could disappear within 25 years © Pierre Fidenci

The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is one of the most Endangered members of the dog family, Canidae
© African Wild Dog Conservancy

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