Yes, the plight of the giant panda, polar bear, and Amur leopard make for compelling media coverage (and rightly so!) but here’s a list of creatures so close to extinction that conservationists are fighting around the clock to save them.


1. Rafetus swinhoei (Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle).

With a name like that, this largest freshwater turtle certainly lives up to the hype—weighing as much as 220 pounds, this beautiful, slow-moving creature is nearly gone. With just two mating individuals left who, sadly, have yet to produce offspring, as highlighted in Hippo Reads founder Kaitlin Solimine’s National Geographic article, the turtle’s future is dangerously precarious. In Vietnam, where there are only two turtles, both males, remaining in the wild (where they are closely monitored), the Rafetus is considered mythical, known as the Golden Turtle God from a 15th century Le Dynasty myth.

Number remaining: 2 in captivity (China) and 2 in the wild (Vietnam)


2. Zaglossus attenboroughi (Attenborough’s Echidna).

Another creature with an impressive name but in truth looks like a spiny anteater, this ‘Attenborough’s echidna’ native to the Cyclops Mountains of Papua in Indonesia was first recorded in the 1960s and hasn’t been seen since. This short paper written for the publication Flora and Fauna reports on new fieldwork supporting the continued existence of the echidna in these mountains, despite massive threats from subsistence hunting, farming, logging, and mining that have pushed these animals to the brink.

Number remaining: unknown


3. Sterna bernsteini (Chinese Crested Tern).

This bird, previously considered extinct, is now believed to exist in extremely small numbers after some were discovered on the Matsu Islands off Taiwan. As this paper on the conservation of the tern highlights, “It is rare when a species thought probably extinct reappears and gives people a chance to do something good for it. The rediscovery of Chinese Crested Tern breeding on Matsu must rank as one of the highlights of modern ornithological and conservation history.” The resulting conservation work has led to a number of important partnerships between China and Taiwan, relations normally quite strained, but in this instance sharing a common purpose.

Number remaining: less than 50


4. Salanoia durrelli (Durrell’s Vontsira).

First discovered in 2010, the Durrell is the first carnivorous mammal discovered in 24 years, a particular feat given the fact that most undiscovered creatures on earth are herbivores. An inhabitant of richly biodiverse Madagascar, the so-called “scruffy ferret,” as cited in this Science Daily article, “is probably the carnivore with one of the smallest ranges in the world, and likely to be one of the most threatened.”

Number remaining: unknown


5. Pithecophaga jefferyi (Philippine Eagle).

A large, majestic bird, this National Bird of the Philippines has been said to resemble a mythical griffin, with its lion-like nape that forms a shaggy crest. Considered one of the strongest birds in existence, the eagle is increasingly threatened by a massive loss of habitat, mostly through deforestation of the islands on which it once reigned. Will the eagle survive? This 2008 National Geographic article investigates what would mean to lose one of the world’s most majestic creatures.

Number remaining: less than 500

Image credit: woodleywonderworks via flickr