Most Endangered Cats in the World

Updated on May 9th, 2017 to reflect new taxonomic decisions made by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group’s Cat Classification Task Force.

Being cat obsessed, I always want to find out more about these amazing animals. So recently I was searching for the most endangered cats in the world. I ended up finding conflicting results (I think this is partially due to the fact that listing certain species is ‘sexier’ than others and that some addressed subspecies while others did not). So I decided to do my own research. It took some time, looking up every subspecies of wild cat, but it was well worth it.  And now, in honor of Endangered Species Day, which was this last Friday I decided to put together a list of the ten most endangered felines in the world. Now a list depends on the parameters set and since the exact numbers of breeding individuals for many subspecies or even species is not known, I will deal only with the numbers that are known.

This is the overall list of the most endangered wild cats in the world, including subspecies and species.

1. Balkan Lynx (Lynx lynx balcanicus)

Balkan Lynx SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size1: 20-39
Population Trend: Decreasing


2. Asiatic Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)

Asiatic Cheetah Silhouette

Status: Critically Endangered
Population Size2: Less than 40
Population Trend: Decreasing


3. Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr)

Arabian Leopard SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size3: 45-200
Population Trend: Decreasing


4. Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)Amur Leopard Silhouette

Status: Critically Endangered
Population Size4: Less than 60
Population Trend: Increasing


5. Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

Iberian Lynx SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size5: ~ 156
Population Trend: Increasing


6. Javan Leopard (Panthera pardus melas)

Javan Leopard SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size6: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


7. Barbary Serval (Leptailurus serval constantina)Barbary Serval SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size7: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


8. Northwest African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki)

Northwest African CheetahStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size8: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


9. Sunda Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) – This subspecies includes the formerly accepted Javan Tiger and Sumatran Tiger subspecies, together lumped into the Sunda Tiger since the reclassification of 2017.9

 

South China Tiger SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size10: 342-509
Population Trend: Decreasing


Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)

Sri Lankan Leopard
Status: Endangered
Population Size11: 700-950
Population Trend: Decreasing

There are a few really interesting things to note when looking at this list. One thing for example is that all but two of these subspecies and species’ population numbers are decreasing (the exceptions being the Amur Leopard and Iberian Lynx). This downward trend is really not a great sign for the survival of these cats in the long run.

Another interesting thing is that seven out of the ten cats are larger cats (though not all of them are classified as Big Cats). Larger animals require larger areas to contain enough prey to sustain themselves. As their habitat is constantly disappearing so do their numbers decrease. The only plus side of this is that if we can protect these large cats, so do we protect lots of habitat not only for them but many other animals as well.

Another thing to note is that only one species (not subspecies) has made the list, the Iberian Lynx. It proves how threatened of extinction this animal really is. Some tiger and lion subspecies have gone extinct due to humans in recent times, but if the Iberian Lynx was to disappear for good, it would be the first cat species to go extinct since the Saber-toothed Cat, which died out 11,000 years ago.

On a personal note, in creating this list, it was amazing was to discover the Balkan Lynx, a subspecies of Eurasian Lynx I had never heard of, and it is the most threatened cat of extinction!

Sources:

  1. Balkan Lynx Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/68986842/0
  2. Asiatic Cheetah Population (2016): Cat News, Special Issue, Number 10, Autumn 2016: Cats in Iran
  3. Arabian Leopard Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  4. Amur Leopard Population (2014): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  5. Iberian Lynx Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12520/0
  6. Javan Leopard Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  7. Barbary Serval Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/11638/0
  8. Northwest African Cheetah Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/221/0
  9. Sunda Tiger Reclassification (2017): Cat news, Special Issue, Number 11, Winter 2017: A revised taxonomy of the Felidae
  10. Sunda Tiger Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15966/0
  11. Sri Lankan Leopard Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0

 

Bad News for West African Lions

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera's survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera’s survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012 Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

Survey

Felid biologist Phillip Henschel’s paper was just published after conducting six years of thorough presence and absence surveys of Lions in West Africa. The results are bleak. West African Lions are only found in five countries with a total population of less then 5oo individuals. More specifically of those 500, less than 250 mature individuals exist. This would categorize them as critically endangered if they were considered their own species.

Before the study took place, 21 protected areas within western Africa were said to have lions. Once Phil showed up, he realized most of these areas were paper parks. This means a park on the map, with no infrastructure or on the ground staff. The presence surveys of these fake parks showed they were devoid of lions. In fact, he only found signs of their presence in one area in Senegal, two areas in Nigeria, and in a larger protected spanning Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Having less than 20 mature lions in three out of the four areas does not bode well for those populations to survive in the long term. Moreover, these areas are not anywhere near each other which prevents possible movement from one population to another.

It was recently determined through DNA studies that West African Lions are very different from their East and South African cousins. They are far more related to the extinct Barbary Lion, that occupied northern Africa, and the Asiatic Lions holding on in India. This study at least provides the conclusive evidence of their dire situation. Fro here, conservationist can make informed decisions on the next steps.

Next Steps

The greatest need is providing protection for the remaining animals. The West African Lion only has a chance if governments receive financial aid to increase enforcements within the park. And by increasing the infrastructure in the parks. The cat conservation organization Panthera is leading that charge. You can donate to them here.

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques -- Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques — Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

If you would to to read the full scientific paper, click here here.

Endangered Neighbor: California Condor

California Condor Juvenile Male in Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile California Condor male, Pinnacles National Monument, California

Our most Endangered Neighbor is the California Condor with less than 200 individuals in the wild (There are about 181 in captivity). Like the Sea Otter, the low California Condor numbers are due mainly to historical reasons. Many were shot since they were seen as threats to livestock (sadly not true as they are strict carrion eaters) and for museum specimens. Then, as for so many other bird species, came the problem of pesticides, specifically DDT. It caused their egg shells to be too thin, causing them to break.

Soaring Adult California Condor in Big Sur

Soaring juvenile California Condor, Big Sur, California

Though Condor numbers are on the rise the still face modern day threats:

    • Poaching is still an issue (how is this possible?!?!)
    • Habitat destruction

Dying of lead poisoning due to eating hunter killed carrion that contains lead bullets

Junile California Condor male flying in Pinnacles

California Condor juvenile male flying, Pinnacles National Monument, California

Though these guys are not as cuddly and cute looking as our beloved otters, there are still people who are devoting their life to saving this amazing species. Mainly, the people from the Ventana Wildlife Society‘s Condor Project are responsible for their increase in numbers by managing and conducting a few different projects.

    • They collect thin-shelled, wild-laid eggs and replace them with viable captive-bred eggs
    • They treat lead-poisoned birds

They monitor the safety and health of each condor through radio telemetry

Replacing batteries on radio transmitter on California Condor

Replacing batteries on radio transmitter on California Condor

Monitoring California Condor at Release Site

Monitoring California Condor at Release Site, Big Sur, California

California Condor release in Big Sur

California Condor release, Big Sur, California

Cleaing out Rats in California Condor holding site

They (here Lyla Hunt) also get to clean out the dead rats used as food for the California Condors in their holding pen, Big Sur, California – yummy!

Radio Tracking California Condor in Big Sur

Radio tracking California Condor, Big Sur, California

In fact, the wild flock in central California, aka along the Big Sur coast is a direct result of their dynamic efforts.

Now as always, there are plenty of little steps we can all take to help condors out. Trust me, if for no other reason than this one, you want these guys to survive to see one of them soar near you. Their impressive nine foot wing span is awe inspiring!

So here are the steps you and me should be taking!

  • Adopt a Condor
  • Immediately report poaching activities to the Department of Fish and Game at 1 888 DFG-CALTIP (888 334-2258)
  • Hunt with non-lead bullets
  • Finally, there are limited and irregular volunteer opportunities with the Ventana Wilderness Society (call them at 831-455-9514)
California Condor and Turkey Vulture

California Condor and Turkey Vulture flying, Big Sur, California — oh yeah, there is a size difference 🙂

 

Once in a lifetime California Condor experience

If you spend enough time outdoors eventually you get lucky to have ‘once in a lifetime’ wildlife experiences. We all remember these distinct events clearly and I know I won’t forget any of them for the rest of my life. This last weekend I was lucky enough to once again have one of these completely breath taking encounters.

Jeff Swanson, a good friend of mine and amazing landscape photographer, and I made the trek to Pinnacles National Monument to try and find some California Red-legged Frogs that JK let us know we could find there (thanks again Jake). Since we wanted to be at Bear Gulch Reservoir by sunrise that meant getting up at 3:00am. It was amazing to be the only people at the reservoir, it was completely tranquil and quiet (except beautiful bird calls of course!).

Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Monument

Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Monument

Since we didn’t have much luck finding adult frogs (we did find tadpoles which were awesome) and the light was getting harsher we decided to go for a little hike. First we encountered this amazing valley scene:

Bear Gulch, Pinnacles National Monument

Bear Gulch, Pinnacles National Monument

and then as we were higher up the trail we saw what I was hoping for the whole time while hiking, California Condors!

There were a couple of them perched in a tree so I left my gear with Jeff and went into stalking mode. I was still quite a bit away but got some images with the 100-400 telephoto lens when one of the birds flew right at me and landed on the rocks fifteen feet away from Jeff. I got back there as quickly and quietly as I could, hoping to be fast enough to get some shots but also not too fast to scare the bird away. The juvenile condor then decided it wanted a closer look at Jeff and I so he started hopping even closer (if you have ever seen a condor hop, you know how funny yet powerful it looks). My heart was pounding and my body was shaking from the excitement. I decided to grab some portrait shots while I had the chance, knowing that this was a rare event.

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

After having taken about 50 images, he decided to come even closer and was within 5 feet of us. I used my landscape camera and lens to get wide-angle views of him. Here is a shot as he seems to check us out.

California Condor in Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor in Pinnacles National Monument

Just to give you an idea how close he is:

California Condor and me photographing it - Copyright Jeff Swanson

California Condor and me photographing it – Copyright Jeff Swanson

Finally, after about 20-30 minutes he decided to take off again. It was absolutely impressive as he spread his 9 foot wings to glide off.

California Condor flying in Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor flying in Pinnacles National Monument

Jeff and I were sitting there for another 10 minutes saying how crazy that really was. What an experience!

Note: I keep using the term he, this is based on his tag that is attached to his wing. It looks like he is a three year old male (his pinkish throat pouch would seem to confirm this as well) born on April 23, 2008. All California Condors are tagged, even the wild born chicks are caught and fitted with a radio transmitter so if you see a bird without a number it is very very unlikely that it is a California Condor. You can find out about each condor’s life on the Condor Spotter site.

What was one of your most memorable wildlife experiences?