Animals, in many different ways, play a significant role in world travel. Many countries centre tourism campaigns on their native wildlife, and every year thousands of backpackers travel specifically to see exotic animals or to take part in volunteering projects that work toward the conservation of endangered species.

To mark Endangered Species Day, we’ve put together a list of some of the world’s most endangered species critically in need of protection.

Orangutans

Orangutans are widely loved thanks to their cute, intelligent faces and their playful treetop antics. These apes share 96% of their genes with humans, inspiring thousands of travellers a year to visit Borneo to see them.

Although the Bornean orangutan numbers some 104,000 individuals in the wild, that’s less than half their number a century ago. The Sumatran orangutan numbers only 7,500, putting them on the critically endangered animals list.

Orangutan, endangered species

Amur leopard

Native to the Russian Far East, these incredible big cats can run up to 37 miles per hour, and they carry their kills great distances to hide the spoils from other opportunistic predators.

Its natural abilities and inherent reclusiveness have not kept the Amur leopard from being poached for its pelt, and today there are only around 60 left in the wild. This further endangers the species due to increased in-breeding.

Amur leopard ready to pounce

Gorillas

Gorillas are a common sight in popular culture, from award-winning movies to chocolate adverts, yet many species of gorillas sit high on the endangered species list.

In fact, Cross River gorillas, found in small bands in the forests of Nigeria and Cameroon, are the world’s rarest ape, with only 200-300 in the wild. Elsewhere, numbers of eastern lowland gorillas have more than halved since the 1990s, and there are now fewer than 1000 wild mountain gorillas.

Mountain gorilla baby

Hawksbill turtle

Hawksbill turtles represent a group of ocean-borne reptiles that has lived on Earth for 100 million years. Today you’ll find them in tropical oceans, usually around coral reefs.

Hawksbills are often killed for their meat and colourful shells, and are suffering due to ocean pollution. Exact numbers aren’t known, but threats to its existence are enough to put the Hawksbill turtle high on the critically endangered species list.

Hawksbill turtle, endangered species

Sumatran elephant

Elephants, for better and often for worse, have long been part of the tourist trade. For many, a glimpse in the wild is enough, while in some parts of the world harmful elephant shows and riding centres still do a brisk trade.

The Sumatran elephant, native to the forests of Sumatra and Borneo, is down to around 2,400 individuals in the wild due to mass deforestation of its natural habitat.

Sumatran elephant, endangered species

Rhinos

Rhinos are a coveted sight on many wildlife trips, an increasingly rare privilege as several rhino species have become severely endangered, largely due to poaching.

Rarest is the Javan rhino, reclusive animals fond of dense jungle and mud holes. Only around 60 individuals survive in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park. Elsewhere, Sumatran rhinos are down to around 220 in the wild, while black rhinos, despite being pulled back from the brink of extinction, are still considered critically endangered.

Black rhino, endangered species

Tigers

Many animal-loving travellers go their whole lives hoping for a glimpse of a wild tiger and never see one. Despite being so popular, many species of tiger are threatened by habitat destruction and poaching – tiger parts are in demand for folk medicines throughout Asia.

Malayan tigers, found only on the Malay Peninsula and the southern tip of Thailand, number no more than 340 individuals, with Sumatran tigers no higher than 500. The South China tiger is thought to be extinct in the wild – none have been spotted for 25 years.

Malayan tiger close up

Vaquita

Not many people have heard of the vaquita, a type of porpoise that is the world’s rarest marine mammal. There are only around 30 individuals surviving in the wild.

The vaquita lives in and around protected areas of the Gulf of California. Their numbers have been drastically reduced by illegal fishing, as vaquita are frequently caught and drowned in gillnets.

Vaquita, endangered species

For more information about endangered animals visit the World Wildlife Fund.


If you're interested in volunteering with animals in need you can find a project for you in our volunteering section.

Unsure is a project is ethically sound? Read our zookeeper's guide to choosing an ethical animal experience.