Timothy McGrath has a PhD from Harvard University. He is now a Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard and specializes in the history of animal advocacy.
Here are eight species considered "Critically Endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
They are awesome. Please don't let them die.
1. Darwin's Fox
(Fernando Bórquez Bórquez/Wikimedia Commons)
This handsome devil lives in Chile, where Charles Darwin first discovered him in 1834. Only 250 mature adults are alive today, and 90 percent of them live on Chiloé Island. The other 10 percent live on the mainland in Nahuelbuta National Park, which is considered the best environment for protecting and growing the population.
They are at environmental risk from logging, poaching and deforestation. They also have a problem with local dogs, which sometimes attack them and give them diseases.
None are kept in zoos, although there have been cases of people illegally keeping them as pets. Sure it's illegal, but if it's the best way to keep this foxxy friend alive, then sign me up.
You can buy a plush stuffed animal version of Darwin's Fox from the World Wildlife Fund. Did I say "buy?" I meant, "adopt." Your money goes toward protecting your chosen species. Don't adopt the Polar Bear. The Polar Bear is flush. Adopt the Darwin's Fox.
2. Western Lowland Gorilla
Koola, a western lowland gorilla, holds her newborn infant at Brookfield Zoo on Nov. 6, 2013 in Brookfield, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The Western Lowland Gorilla is in a weird position because it lives in lots of zoos all around the world, and yet it is critically endangered in the wild. Its population is spread through the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Angola, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Nigeria, and there are still plenty around, but its population is estimated to fall by more than 80 percent over three generations, from 1980 to 2046.
Poaching has been a main threat for a long time. But more recently, beginning in the 1990s, the Ebola virus has decimated the gorillas.
These threats make the conservation outlook somewhat grim. Poaching laws are already in place in each one of the gorilla's habitat countries, but the laws are rarely enforced. And Ebola poses a seriously problem, since conservationists can't do much to control it.
If that wasn't bad enough, gorillas have a very low birth rate, making it very hard to reverse the population trends.
3. White-Headed Langur
Tierpark Hellabrunn, Munich, Germany (Diego Delso/Wikimedia Commons)
Also called the Golden-Headed Langur or the Cat Ba Langur, this funny-looking primate lives on Cat Ba Island off the northeastern cost of Vietnam. As of 2006, there were only 64 White-headed langurs left, broken up into a few subpopulations that average 3.7 individuals. Some of these groups are all-female. Not very likely to reproduce, these groups.
A couple of things are killing these langurs. Once again, the major problem is poaching. People hunt them for both meat and for use in traditional medicine.
A growing threat is tourism. Cat Ba Langur has been designated as a new tourist center, but that tourism hasn’t been managed in a way that’s been very helpful for the langurs.
If that wasn't bad enough for the langurs, honey collectors are constantly burning down their forests.
There is some hope for these hairy friends. The Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project has established a langur sanctuary within the national park and 35 percent of the population now lives there.
4. Mekong Giant Catfish
So, this guy's not as cute as a fox or a primate, but that doesn't mean it deserves to disappear from Planet Earth.
The Mekong Giant Catfish is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. It can be as long as 3 meters and weigh more than 300 kilograms. It makes its home in the lower Mekong River and heads upstream into Cambodia to reproduce. It’s hard to know how many are left. Before they became critically endangered, fisherman caught around 40 to 50 a year. By 2003, that number had dropped to between 5 and 8.
The main threat is now overfishing, despite some legal protections in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos.
More recently, dam projects in the lower Mekong River threaten to trap the catfish, preventing them from migrating upstream to reproduce.
5. Yagntze Giant Softshell Turtle
The giant soft-shell turtle is considered sacred in Vietnam. It is one of only four such turtles known to exist. (AFP/Getty Images)
The Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world. Its average weight is 70-100 kilograms, although one specimen in Vietnam weighed 200 kilograms. Its most distinctive feature is its pig-like snout.
This species is in bad shape. There are only four left in the world. One lives in the Hoan Kiem lake and another at the Dong Mo Lake Son Tay in Hanoi, Vietnam. Two others live at the Suzhou Zoo. Not too long ago, there were six, with the other two living at the Beijing Zoo and the Shanghai Zoo. They died in 2005 and 2006. Both had been caught in the 1970s.
But there’s still hope. The two turtles at the Suzhou Zoo are a male and a female. So everybody's just sitting around waiting for them to mate. The male is 100 years old. The female is 80 years old. As of July 2013, their sixth breeding season together, they’d produced lots and lots of eggs, but all of them were infertile and failed to hatch.
6. Great Indian Bustard
(Vitin Vyas/Flickr Commons)
Don't mispronounce this majestic bird's name. He hates that.
The Great Indian Bustard lives in India and Pakistan and was once a top contender for the national bird of India. (It lost that honor to the Indian Peafowl.)
It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the Indian Bustard is huge. It’s about a meter tall and looks a bit like an ostrich. Unlike the ostrich, this bird can fly, which makes it one of the heaviest flying birds in the world.
Hunting, habitat destruction, and human incursion have destroyed the Bustard population. There are now fewer than 100 left. Recently, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests called for a “Project Bustard,” along the lines of other conservation actions in the region, like Project Tiger and Project Elephant.
The state of Rajasthan answered the call. Will it save the Bustard? Let's hope so.
7. Cuban Greater Funnel-Eared Bat
Not much is known about this bat, either in terms of behavior of biology. But look at those ears!
I, for one, don't want to live in a world where those ears are extinct.
The main problem for the funny-eared bats is that they all live in one cave on the island of Cuba. There are now fewer than 100 left and the roof of the cave is collapsing, which has affected the hot temperature inside and threatens the bats with extinction. Climate change isn't helping.
Operation: Save the Cave.
8. Baishan Fir
Cute, endangered animals get all the attention. But plants are endangered too.
This tree lives in eastern China on the 1,857 meter summit of Baishanzu Shan in the Fengyangshan-Baishanzu National Nature Reserve. Botanists discovered seven of them on the summit in 1963. They promptly dug up three of them for display in the Beijing Botanical Garden. They died. Only three trees remain at the summit. There have been some experiments in grafting that could save the species, which is the most endangered conifer in the world.