Many species under threat as man encroaches on habitat

From elephants to gorillas, and turtles to tigers: endangered species and where to see them.

Elephants

The greatest threats facing elephants today are poaching, conflict with humans, and habitat loss and degradation. Poaching in Africa and Asia is becoming more common.

Pygmy elephants are found only in the northeastern tip of Borneo. They grow to between 2.4 to 3m, so relatively small for elephants and as a consequence have oversized ears. Dumbo, eat your heart out. There are approximately 1500 of them left in the wild. Fourteen of them recently died in Borneo through suspected poisoning.

Locally Addo Elephant Park offers day trips and overnight accommodation.

Mountain gorillas

Mountain gorillas live between 2430 and 4000m up in the highlands of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their fur is thicker than other gorilla species to help them withstand temperatures below freezing. The mountain gorilla’s habitat has decreased in size and they have suffered from disease as contact with humans has increased. While populations have recovered in recent years there are currently only 880 left in the wild.

Turtles

Nearly all species of marine turtle are endangered. This includes green, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and olive ridley.

How to see them: travel to northeast Brazil to witness green and hawksbill turtles hatching on the mainland at beaches around Natal, such as Praia do Pipa, and on the island of Fernando de Noronha.

There are also turtle sanctuaries in Zanzibar.

Bengal tigers

Despite being the most numerous of the five tiger sub-species, today there are less than 2500 Bengal tigers remaining in the wild. The establishment of tiger reserves in India – the natural habitat of the Bengal tiger – during the 1970s helped stem the tide of rapidly falling numbers, but since then poaching has again increased to meet demand in Asian markets.

How to see them: visit Ranthambore National Park in India to go on tiger safaris and later in the trip discover the architectural and cultural delights of New and Old Delhi.

Lemurs and tortoises in Madagascar

The radiated tortoise is considered to be one of the most beautiful of all tortoises in the world. It takes it name from the striking yellow lines which radiate outwards from the centre of its shell. They have been classified as “critically endangered” due to massive habitat loss and in some cases have been hunted for food.

Also in Madagascar, the Sahamalaza sportive lemur has distinctive, large “pop” eyes and is only found in a very small section of forest in the northwest. These specific habitat conditions coupled with the severe threat it faces from humans, means the existence of the Sahamalaza sportive lemur is in peril.

Tarsiers

Tarsiers are one of the world’s smallest primates, with rotating eyes and keen hearing that make it a very successful nocturnal hunter. They are delicate and palm-sized and at risk because they are hunted and their habitat is disappearing.

Giant pandas

With its black and white fur, the giant panda has become one of the most recognisable creatures in the world. It eats up to 36kg of bamboo each day and is an excellent tree climber. There are thought to be 1600 left in the wild, from a low of 1100 in the 1980s.

The species is threatened by hunting and habitat loss. Mating patterns are severely disrupted by the encroachment of roads and railways through the bamboo forests of the Yangtze Basin.

Polar bears

Because of the ongoing loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change, polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008.

Rhinos

Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered. They are the smallest rhinoceros and are the only Asian rhino with two horns. They are a bit furry when born and are the most closely related to extinct woolly rhinos of any species alive today.

There is also a petition running currently to save their rainforest habitat. See here for more information. www.change.org/saveaceh

Game reserves throughout the Eastern Cape have both black and white rhino and all are involved in the fight against poaching.

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