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The 15 rarest animals on the planet

Species around the planet are going extinct every day. Habitat loss, poaching, climate change and other factors are to blame, leading to many animals becoming extremely rare in the wild. From big cats to ancient turtles, these species are now few and far between in nature.

These threatened animals are included on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, a comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species. Here are some of the rarest animals in the world, according to the IUCN Red List and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Amur leopard

Amur leopards, also known as Far East leopards, live in the temperate forests of Russia and China. With fewer than 100 left in the wild, it’s extremely rare to catch a glimpse of these elusive cats. Poaching, habitat loss due to logging and the illegal wildlife trade are to blame for the decline of Amur leopards, which are hunted for their fur.

The Amur leopard is a very rare species of leopard living on the borders of Russia and China
JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images

Black rhino

With around 5,600 black rhinos left in the wild, these creatures are critically endangered. However, this is around double the number than existed 20 years ago, thanks to conservation efforts across Africa. Wildlife crime, namely poaching and the trafficking of rhino horns, continues to plague the species and threaten its recovery.

Black rhino
Black rhinos are hunted for their horns, which are sold on the black market
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Bornean orangutan

Bornean orangutan populations have declined by more than 50 percent over the past 60 years and the species’ habitat has also been reduced by half in the last two decades. Found only on the island of Borneo, there are only around 104,700 of these orangutans left in the wild.

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The Bornean orangutan is known for its distinctive large, fatty cheek pads called flanges
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Cross River gorilla

Found in the Congo Basin, this subspecies of the Western gorilla lives in an area populated by people, which has led to habitat loss. Forests have been cleared for timber and to create fields for agriculture, leading to a sharp decline in Cross River gorillas. There are now around 200 to 300 left.

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Cross River gorillas are found in the rainforests in Cameroon and Nigeria
Arend de Haas/African Conservation Foundation

Eastern Lowland gorilla

The Eastern Lowland gorilla, also known as Grauer’s gorilla, is the largest of the four gorilla subspecies. There were nearly 17,000 Eastern Lowland gorillas in the wild in the 1990s, but according to the WWF, the population has declined by more than half since then. Violence in the region has made it difficult to track the population and led to further habitat destruction.

Eastern lowland gorilla
Eastern Lowland gorillas are endemic to the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
John Moore/Getty Images

Hawksbill turtle

Hawksbills are found throughout the world’s tropical oceans, predominantly in coral reefs. However, these animals are critically endangered and you’re unlikely to spot one in the wild. Many become endangered in fishing equipment and despite laws protecting Hawksbill turtles, they continue to be hunted for their shells and meat.

Hawksbill turtle
Hawksbill turtles are found in the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans
LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

Javan rhino

There are only around 60 Javan rhinos left in the world and they are only found in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia. Although they once lived throughout northeast India and Southeast Asia, poaching, disease and habitat destruction has decimated the population. According to the WWF, low genetic diversity and inbreeding could make it difficult for the long-term survival of the species.

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Natural catastrophes, diseases and poaching have wiped out the Javan rhino population
Reuters/Indonesia Park

Saola

Sometimes referred to as the Asian unicorn, not much is known about the saola. These mammals are critically endangered and scientists have only documented them in the wild four times. These tiny, forest-dwelling bovines were first spotted in the early 1990s.

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The saola was discovered in 1992 and has only been spotted in the wild four times
Silviculture

Sumatran elephant

Found in Borneo and Sumatra, there are around 2,400 to 2,800 Sumatran elephants left in the wild. In 2012, the Sumatran elephant was classified as critically endangered because half of its population has been lost in one generation, mostly as a result of habitat loss and conflict with humans.

Sumatran elephant
Sumatran elephants are native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra
Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images

Sumatran orangutan

The Sumatran orangutan used to be found over the island of Sumatra and further south into Java. Now, however, the species only live in the north of the island, with a majority in the provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh. Habitat loss, as a result of forest fires or deforestation in order to make room for palm oil plantations, are mostly to blame.

Sumatran orangutan
Sumatran orangutans are reported to have closer social ties than their Bornean cousins
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images

Sumatran rhino

Like Javan rhinos, Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered with only around 80 left in the wild. Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade have led to the decline in Javan rhinos, which are hunted for their horns. The horns are often sold for use in traditional medicine.

Sumatran rhino
Sumatran rhinos are one of the rarest large mammals on earth
GOH CHAI HIN/AFP via Getty Images

Sunda tiger

Sunda tigers are recognisable by the thick black stripes on their orange coats. There are now fewer than 400 left in the wild and they are only found in patches of forest on the island of Sumatra. Deforestation and poaching has led to a serious decline in numbers of Sunda tigers, despite increased conservation efforts.

Sumatran tiger
Sumatran tigers have the narrowest black stripes of any tiger subspecies
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images

Vaquita

The vaquita is the world’s rarest known marine mammal, with only around ten left in the wild. First discovered in 1958, vaquita are often caught in nets used by illegal fishing operations in marine protected areas within Mexico’s Gulf of California.

 endangered vaquita porpoise
A vaquita porpoise swimming off the coast of Mexico.
Getty

Western Lowland gorilla

Western Lowland gorillas can be found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea as well as in large areas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. Poaching and disease had led to a significant decline in numbers. Some scientists estimate that Ebola has killed about one third of the wild gorilla population, mostly Western Lowland gorillas.

Western Lowland Gorilla
Western Lowland gorillas are slightly smaller than other gorilla species
James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Yangtze Finless porpoise

Only found in the Yangtze River in Asia, there are only around 1000 to 1,800 Yangtze Finless porpoises left. Overfishing is the main factor that contributes to the decrease in finless porpoises’ food supply, but pollution and ship movement are factors too. These relatives of whales and dolphins are known for their cute smiles

Yangtze Finless Porpoise
Yangtze Finless Porpoises are one of the world’s few freshwater porpoise sub-species
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

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