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Apex Predators, Crucial to the Ecosystem, Are Critically Endangered Due to Human Conflict

Cross River Gorillas Are Near Extinction

The Cross River gorilla, an apex predator, is considered one of the most endangered primates in the world, with an estimated population of around 300-350 individuals remaining in the wild.

The Cross River gorilla, an apex predator, is considered one of the most endangered primates in the world, with an estimated population of around 300-350 individuals remaining in the wild.

Top of Food Chain Yet Endangered

Apex predators are animals that sit at the top of the food chain and have no natural predators. They typically have a great deal of power and strength and are able to hunt and kill other animals for food. Some examples of apex predators include lions, crocodiles, wolves, sharks and eagles. Many apex predators, as powerful as they are, remain endangered or threatened, mainly due to the actions of humans.

This article will introduce you to only four of the many apex predators that are critically endangered.

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Cross River Gorillas

The Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is a subspecies of the western gorilla and is native to the mountainous region of Nigeria and Cameroon. It is considered one of the most endangered primates in the world, with an estimated population of around 300-350 individuals remaining in the wild.

Cross River gorillas are medium to large in size, with adult males weighing around 310-485 pounds, and adult females weighing around 155-198 pounds. They are black, with a short and thick fur, which helps them to stay warm in the cool mountain climates where they live. Mature males have a unique characteristic "saddle" of silver hair on their back.

Diurnal, Arboreal and Terrestrial

Cross River gorillas are diurnal animals, meaning they are active during the day. They are arboreal and terrestrial, which means they spend a lot of time in trees and on the ground. They are social animals and live in groups of 2-30 individuals, led by a dominant male known as a silverback.

Cross River gorillas are herbivorous, which means they eat mostly plants. They eat a variety of vegetation including leaves, fruits, stems and pith. They also eat bark, roots and seeds.

Cross River gorillas are threatened by habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict. Conservation efforts are being made to protect this subspecies, including habitat protection, anti-poaching measures, and captive breeding programs.

Amur Leopards Poached for Their Fur

This is a photo of two Amur Leopard cubs.  These critically endangered leopards are only found in the Amur valley region in the temperate forests of Far east Russia and China.

This is a photo of two Amur Leopard cubs. These critically endangered leopards are only found in the Amur valley region in the temperate forests of Far east Russia and China.

A leopard skin seized on the outskirts of Srinigar, India.

A leopard skin seized on the outskirts of Srinigar, India.

Amur Leopards

The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is considered critically endangered due to several factors, including habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

Habitat Loss

Amur leopards are native to the Amur-Heilong region of Russia and northeastern China. This region has undergone significant development in recent years, including logging, mining and the expansion of agriculture and urban areas. This has led to the destruction and fragmentation of the leopard's natural habitat, reducing the size of their territory and making it more difficult for them to find food and mates.

Poaching

Amur leopards are poached for their fur, which is highly valued on the black market. Their spots are also used in traditional medicine; their bones are used to make knives and other tools.

Human Conflict

As human populations have expanded into the leopard's native range, the leopards have been forced to compete for food and space with domestic animals. This has led to increased conflicts between leopards and humans and many leopards have been killed as a result.

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Climate Change

Climate change also impacts the Amur leopard by altering the timing of the seasons, which can affect food availability and mating patterns.

Amur Leopards are crucial to the ecosystem as they help to keep the populations of their prey species in check, maintain the genetic diversity of those species and are an indicator of the overall health of the ecosystem.

The Amur leopard is considered one of the most endangered big cats in the world, with an estimated population of around 84 individuals remaining in the wild. Conservation efforts are being made to protect this species, including habitat protection, anti-poaching measures and captive breeding programs.

Black Rhinos Are Killed for Their Horns

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that from 1970-1992, the Black Rhino population in the wild was reduced as much as 96%.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that from 1970-1992, the Black Rhino population in the wild was reduced as much as 96%.

Critically Endangered Black Rhinos

The population of Black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) has been dramatically reduced in the wild due to poaching for their horns. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the black rhino population was estimated to be around 4,840 in the wild in 2018. The number of black rhinos has been increasing slowly in recent years due to conservation efforts, but they are still considered critically endangered.

The black rhino population has been hit hard by poaching, with numbers dropping by 96% between 1960 and1995. The high demand for rhino horn in traditional medicine, primarily in Asia, and as a status symbol in the Middle East, has been a major factor in the decline of the species.

Important to Their Ecosystem

Black rhinos are important to their ecosystem for several reasons:

  1. They are known as "ecosystem engineers" because of their feeding habits. They eat a wide variety of plants and are known to browse on trees, shrubs and herbs. Black rhinos also dig holes and wallows, which provide water sources for other animals.
  2. Black rhinos are important seed dispersers, as they help to spread the seeds of the plants they eat. This helps to maintain the biodiversity of the ecosystem and ensures that a wide variety of plant species are present.
  3. As an apex predator, black rhinos help to control the populations of their prey species and maintain the balance of the ecosystem.
  4. The survival of black rhinos is an indication of the overall health of their ecosystem. The decline of black rhino populations can be an indication of negative impacts of human activities on the environment.
  5. Black rhinos are a flagship species for conservation and ecotourism. Their mere presence in an area can attract tourists and generate income for local communities.

Bornean Orangutans

Locals on the island of Borneo,  opportunistically and illegally hunt and kill the orangutans for food.

Locals on the island of Borneo, opportunistically and illegally hunt and kill the orangutans for food.

Killed for Meat or Captured for Pets

The Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is a subspecies of orangutan that is native to the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. They are considered critically endangered due to a significant population decline.

The main threats to the survival of Bornean Orangutans are habitat loss and hunting. The rapid expansion of industrial activities such as logging, mining, and oil palm cultivation has led to the destruction and fragmentation of the orangutan's natural habitat. Additionally, hunting has reduced their population, as they are killed for their meat or captured as pets. Climate change is also affecting the Bornean Orangutans, by altering the timing of the seasons, which can affect food availability and mating patterns.

Bornean orangutans are arboreal apes and share 97% of their DNA with humans, they are highly intelligent and have complex social behaviors. They have a long life-span, up to 60 years in the wild, and have a slow reproduction rate, females give birth to one offspring every eight years.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts are being made to protect Bornean Orangutans and their habitat, including habitat protection, anti-poaching measures and captive breeding programs. Organizations such as the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Orangutan Foundation International and Orangutan Conservation are working to protect and conserve the Bornean Orangutans.

References

  1. Markle, Sandra (2016). The Great Leopard Rescue: Saving the Amur Leopards (Sandra Markle's Science Discoveries)
  2. Whyte, Sean; Knight, Alan (2015). Orangutan Rescue: Saving Borneo's Orangutans
  3. Booth, Martin (1992). Rhino Road: The Black and White Rhinos of Africa
  4. World Wildlife Federation (https://www.worldwildlife.org)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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