According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at least 45 animal species in South Africa are critically endangered, meaning that the population has fallen by 80-90% or more in the last 10 years. These species face a high risk of extinction in the wild.
In this article, we’ll look at just 10 of the 45 species to discover why they are threatened and what we can do to save them.
10 critically endangered animals in SA
Back in the media spotlight is the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), threatened by poachers for its horn. This hardened clump of hair is used in both traditional and non-traditional Chinese medicine, as well as for decorative purposes. The increase in black market prices for rhino horn has encouraged the corruption of officials, both in government and conservation, who have allowed the slaughter to escalate.
The Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is endemic to the central Karoo region, and lives in dense vegetation alongside seasonal rivers. Researchers estimate that there are fewer than 250 breeding pairs left, and their numbers are declining due to habitat fragmentation and rapid loss of habitat to agriculture. See photo
De Winton’s Golden Mole
De Winton’s Golden Mole (Cryptochloris wintoni) is endemic to the coastal dunes of Port Nolloth, in the Northern Cape’s Namaqualand. The change in habitat due to diamond mining is thought to be the main threat to population. However, no sighting of the mole has been recorded for over 50 years, so it could already be extinct. See photo
Table Mountain Ghost Frog
The Table Mountain Ghost Frog (Heleophryne rosei) is endemic to the southern and eastern slopes of Table Mountain, and breeds in valley streams. The frog’s habitat is degrading due to soil erosion, water abstraction, frequent fires, and the encroachment of alien vegetation. See photo
The Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is known to nest on beaches along the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, and have been spotted swimming off the country’s west coast. The main threats to the turtle are the unrestrained harvesting of turtle eggs, their capture in longlines and driftnets during fishing, and plastic pollution in the ocean. See photo
Southern Bluefin Tuna
Since the 1950s, Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) has been fished intensively, leading to dramatic reduction in fish stocks. If current fishing rates continue, researchers estimate fewer than 500 mature fish will exist in 100 years. See photo
The Micro Frog (Microbatrachella capensis) only occurs in the coastal lowlands in the south-western part of Western Cape. It is already extinct on the Cape Flats near Cape Town, except in the protected centre of Kenilworth Race Course. The species is threatened by loss of habitat and habitat quality due to urbanisation, conversion of land to agricultural use, and the spread of alien vegetation. See photo
Trumpet-Mouthed Hunter Snail
The Trumpet-Mouthed Hunter Snail (Gulella salpinx) seems to be endemic to a single limestone outcrop on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, as it has not been found elsewhere in the region. Threats to the population are two extensive quarrying operations in the area, and the invasion of alien plant species. See photo
Ornate Sleeper Ray
The Ornate Sleeper Ray (Electrolux addisoni) is a little-known species of electric ray, restricted to a limited reef area off highly-developed Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coasts. Its habitat is severely fragmented, and could be at risk from disturbance by divers as well as habitat degradation from intensive fishing and pollution. See photo
Pink Velvet Worm
The Pink Velvet Worm was mistakenly assessed as extinct in 1996, but remains critically endangered. The worm is only found in the Ngele Forest in southern KwaZulu-Natal. It is under threat from the loss and fragmentation of habitat due to the construction of a road through the forest, logging, and invasive alien plants. See photo
What you can do to save them
Apart from the poaching of the Black Rhino and the overfished Southern Bluefin Tuna, the common threat to these animals is the loss and degradation of habitat. The “good news” is that all of these threats are caused by humans – so we have the ability to turn things around by changing our behaviour.
- Black Rhino: Donate or volunteer with charities such as Save the Rhino International (http://www.savetherhino.org) which run conservation programmes, conduct monitoring and help to enforce conservation law.
- Southern Bluefin Tuna: Don’t eat it, and encourage others to avoid it. Only eat fish on the SASSI Green List, which are from well-managed fish populations. Keep the SASSI link on your phone for easy reference at a restaurant.
To help protect animal habitats:
- When buying property, avoid buying virgin land. Rather choose an existing house or a plot that has already been built on before. Even better, choose high-density living where development goes up (multiple storey buildings) rather than out onto virgin land (urban sprawl).
- Support sustainable agriculture by buying food produced organically, preferably from smaller urban famers. Check out your local farmers’ market.
- Remove alien invasive plants, and plant indigenous varieties. Start in your garden, and join community groups to help out in public areas and nature reserves. For more about alien invasive plants, visit Working for Water.
- When walking or hiking in protected areas, stick to the paths to prevent soil erosion. If you take your dog, make sure it doesn’t wander off and disturb the wildlife.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle as much of your waste as possible. Don’t litter.
For more information on endangered species, see IUCN’s Red List