Just two days ago, conservation scientists released a list of the world’s 100 most endangered animals during a presentation at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea. Compiled by more than 8,000 scientists affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this list includes species that are very likely to go extinct if nothing is done to protect them.
Included in the list is the pygmy three-toed sloth, which is endemic to Escudo Island off the coast of Panama. At half the size of their mainland cousins, these so-called dwarf or monk sloths are among the smallest and slowest sloths in the world. Because the sloths are restricted to the mangrove forests by the sea, they often make for easy targets for passing fishermen.
Hence, even though the island where they live is uninhabited by humans, the sloths remain a critically endangered species; as of now, an estimated 300 individuals remain in the wild.
Another species on the list is the saola, a forest-dwelling bovine found only in the Annamite Range of Vietnam and Laos. Dubbed the “Asian unicorn” due to its rarity, this species has eluded the eyes of scientists for over 20 years, since its discovery in 1992.
Although villagers in Laos managed to capture a saola in late August 2010, the antelope died in captivity before government conservationists could arrange for its release back to the wild. Conservationists estimate that no more than a few tens of individuals of this species remain today.
Conservationists are concerned that many species on this list will die out because they do not provide humans with obvious benefi ts. According to Jonathan Baillie, a conservation scientist from the Zoological Society of London, the conservation movement and donor community are leaning towards a “what nature can do for us” approach. As a result, they tend to prioritize species and habitats according to how useful they are to people. Sadly, this approach is curbing the efforts of conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the planet.
However, if actions are taken, the scientists say, species can be saved. Examples include Przewalski’s horse and humpback whales, which has survived thanks to human action.
Simon Stuart, a scientist from the IUCN, says that all species have value to nature; in turn, they are valuable to humans. Even if the value of the species is not obvious to us, each and every species contributes to the functioning of the planet in some way.