Endangered Species Day is on May 17. All 36 wild cat species need our protection because most have declining populations. To honor our domestic cats’ cousins, we’re profiling the five most endangered wild cats.
Based upon species-wide population numbers obtained from IUCN researchers, these are the five most endangered wild cat species. Scroll to the bottom to see the statuses defined.
1. Iberian lynx, Lynx pardinus
CRITICALLY ENDANGERED In 2008, only 84 to 143 mature individuals lived in two main breeding populations of Spain.
CAUSE Loss of their main prey species, the European rabbit, which has succumbed to disease, overhunting by humans, and hunting by other predators.
CONSERVATION EFFORTS Vaccination and relocation of rabbit populations to areas where Iberian lynx live, as well as captive breeding programs and connecting the two main breeding populations to ensure a diverse gene pool. These efforts have resulted in Iberian lynx reintroduction into the wild in 2010 and their numbers climbing slightly to 220 today. For more information on Iberian lynx conservation, visit SOS Lynx. Learn more about wild cat species here.
2. Tiger, Panthera tigris These big cat subspecies fall into several categories.
ENDANGERED Fewer than 2,500 mature, or breeding, tigers live in 13 Asian nations. Four tiger subspecies are endangered: the Amur (also know as the Siberian), Bengal, Indochinese and Malayan.
CRITICALLY ENDANGERED The South China and Sumatran. The South China tiger is possibly extinct in the wild, but around 100 of them exist in captivity. Conservationists are working with the Chinese government to establish their prey base and return them to the wild.
EXTINCT The Bali, Javan and Caspian.
CAUSE All tigers face habitat destruction and poaching as their two biggest threats to survival.
CONSERVATION EFFORTS Connecting tiger habitats through corridors and armed anti-poaching patrols. For more information on tiger conservation, visit Save the Tiger Fund.
3. Andean cat, Leopardus jacobita:
ENDANGERED Fewer than 2,500 mature Andean cats live in the high elevations of the South American Andes mountain range of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
CAUSE Hunting by humans is their main threat, followed by a decline in their prey, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation. Andean cats have been killed and decorated, believed by indigenous people to be good luck. Their main prey, chinchillas, were also hunted excessively for their fur.
CONSERVATION EFFORTS Educating locals on the Andean cat’s importance has paid off. In at least two large areas within the Andean cat’s range, the local people are supportive of the felid’s conservation. To learn more about the Andean cat and its conservation, visit the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation.
4. Borneo Bay cat, Pardofelis badia
ENDANGERED Fewer than 2,500 mature Borneo Bay cats live on the Indonesian island of Borneo.
CAUSE Deforestation to support the logging and palm oil industries pose the biggest threat to this forest-dependant cat. In addition, the species’ low numbers have made them lucrative to illegal wildlife traffickers and poachers.
CONSERVATION EFFORTS While laws protect them across their range, sadly no organized conservation efforts exist to save these cats. The Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation is studying Borneo Bay cats to further their conservaiton and some Indonesian industries are working toward sustainable timber harvesting to better preserve their habitat.
5. Flat-headed cat, Prionailurus planiceps
ENDANGERED The flat-headed cat has fewer than 2,500 mature individuals living on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, and the Malaysian peninsula.
CAUSE The felid’s primary habitat includes wetlands and lowland forests, and destruction of these environments for human development are the species’ greatest threats. Water polution and overfishing contribute to depletion of some of the flat-headed cat’s prey. The cats have been known to also prey on poultry, causing conflict with farmers and further threatening their survival.
CONSERVATION EFFORTS Even though laws protect them across their range, unfortunately no organized conservation efforts exist to protect these cats. Very little is known about flat-headed cats, but the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation is studying them to further their conservation.
See how endangered animals are classified. Some face more imminent danger of extinction than others. We must protect all of them, but have to step up our efforts for those most urgently threatened.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources measures the extinction risk of animals using these seven categories on its Red List of Threatened Species.
• Extinct: Beyond a reasonable doubt, the world has lost the last known individual from a particular species or subspecies.
• Extinct in the Wild: The cat species or subspecies is extinct in its natural habitat, but some cats still live in captivity.
• Critically Endangered: Fewer than 250 mature individuals remain.
• Endangered: Fewer than 2,500 mature individuals remain.
• Vulnerable: Fewer than 10,000 mature individuals remain.
• Near Threatened: Likely to be threatened in the near future, but not currently vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.
• Least Concern: This does not mean that these species or subspecies are of no conservation concern, but they are not imminently threatened or near threatened.
Don’t confuse these terms with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species List, which includes species of all threat levels so that laws can protect them from hunting and trafficking.