Africa’s endangered animal species are under serious threat from poaching, hunting and habitat destruction.
Imagine a time when our children or great grandchildren are unable to encounter these majestic animals in the wild. Or that millions of years of evolution are wiped out by a few generations of greedy homo sapiens.
Thinking about Africa’s endangered animal species often makes me sad. In 2018 the northern white rhino became extinct after the final male passed away. However, there is still some hope.
Elephant populations have become stable, mountain gorilla numbers are rising, and conservation success has been seen across the continent. I also feel very fortunate to have witnessed many of these animals in the wild.
This article lists the top ten and is based upon IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Let’s hope that their populations stabilize and they have a bright future, on the lands they have always called home.
Scientific Name: Addax nasomaculatus.
Status: Critically Endangered.
Threats: Uncontrolled hunting and harassment. Also drought and the extension of pastoralism.
Population: Less than 300 animals surviving in the wild.
Countries: Chad, Mauritania, Niger.
Also known as the white antelope and the screwhorn antelope, the addax lives in the Sahara desert. This rare antelope has seen its lands devastated by drought and destruction. It’s one of the rarest sights anywhere in Africa.
2. Ethiopian Wolf
Scientific Name: Canis simensis.
Threats: Loss of habitat (agriculture), disease epizootics and hybridization with domestic dogs.
Population: 400-550 individuals.
Countries: Endemic to the Ethiopian highlands.
A canid native to the Ethiopian Highlands, the Ethiopian wolf is another of Africa’s endangered animal species losing its way due to the overpopulation of ourselves. It is similar to the coyote in size and build, and is distinguished by its long and narrow skull, and its red and white fur.
3. Mountain Gorilla
Scientific Name: Gorilla beringei.
Threats: Habitat loss, poaching, pet trade and illegal hunting (bushmeat).
Population: Closest estimate is 1000 wild mountain gorillas.
Countries: The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
The mountain gorilla is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla. There are only two populations left on Earth, in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
Sometimes they cross the border into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, where they are threatened by civil war and the interests of foreign oil companies; something that is brilliantly portrayed in the movie Virunga.
Amazingly there are no captive mountain gorillas anywhere on the planet. Zoo owners paid poachers to kidnap baby mountain gorillas, killing their parents in the process.
However, the youngsters didn’t survive the journey. So the only place to see mountain gorillas is on a gorilla trek, where you visit their wild habitat.
4. Pygmy Hippopotamus
Scientific Name: Choeropsis liberiensis.
Threats: Deforestation for farming and logging + bushmeat hunting.
Population: The latest estimate (1993 survey) is pretty much outdated (2000-3000 pygmy hippos). Since the population trend is on a decrease, fewer than 2000 individuals is probably more accurate (although this stat is clearly approximate).
Countries: Endemic to West Africa; Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia.
Reclusive and nocturnal, the pygmy hippo is semi-aquatic and relies on proximity to water to keep its skin moisturised and its body temperature cool.
5. African Wild Dog
Scientific Name: Lycaon pictus.
Threats: Conflict with human activities and infectious disease (e.g. rabies).
Countries: Native to Botswana; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Ethiopia; Kenya; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Senegal; South Africa; Sudan; Tanzania; Zambia; Zimbabwe.
The African wild dog is a highly social animal, living in packs with separate dominance hierarchies for males and females. Uniquely among social carnivores, it is the females rather than the males that scatter from the natal pack once sexually mature, and the young are allowed to feed first on carcasses.
Witnessing these endangered animals in the wild is one of the great highlights of an African safari, especially if you see a pack out hunting.
6. Black Rhinoceros
Scientific Name: Diceros bicornis.
Status: Critically Endangered.
Threats: Mainly poaching for its horn and “medicinal” value (China).
Population: Has declined by over 90% over the last 60 odd years. Current estimation is at roughly 5500 black rhinos.
Countries: Kenya; Namibia; South Africa; Tanzania; Zimbabwe.
Although the rhinoceros is referred to as ‘black’, its colours vary from brown to grey. Poachers kill black rhinos for their horns, which are considered an aphrodisiac in some countries. However, consuming rhino horn is the same as biting your own finger nails.
Colonialists started the population decline. Black rhinos ate crops planted by colonialists, so they were murdered in enormous numbers, a somewhat forgotten story in the plight of many other endangered animal species as well.
Scientific Name: Acinonyx jubatus.
Threats: Habitat loss, fragmentation and human conflict (mainly farmers).
Population: 10 000-15 000. Cheetahs are believed to have lost over 76% of their historic range on the continent.
Countries: Algeria; Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Central African Republic; Chad; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ethiopia; Islamic Republic of Iran; Kenya; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Somalia; South Africa; Sudan; United Republic of Tanzania; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe.
Do you know the differences between cheetahs and leopards? Perhaps the greatest difference is that leopards have adapted to changing habitats. Unfortunately cheetahs have not. It would be a very sad day if the world’s fastest land mammal was lost from the wild.
8. African Lion
Scientific Name: Panthera leo.
Population: Best estimate is 20 000-23 000. Such a pity, especially when you consider their number 50 years ago (450 000 lions). 🙁
Countries: Most of sub-Saharan Africa.
The king of the jungle, the apex of the food chain, and perhaps the most majestic animal ever to live. Yet a population loss of 95% could turn lions into zoo animals.
9. African Penguin (Jackass Penguin)
Scientific Name: Spheniscus demersus.
Threats: Commercial fisheries and oil spills.
Population: 72 000 birds.
Countries: Angola; Mozambique; Namibia; South Africa.
10. African Elephant
Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana.
Threats: Poaching for ivory and meat + loss of habitat.
Population: 470 000-690 000.
Countries: Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Congo; Côte d’Ivoire; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; Sudan; Tanzania; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe.
Elephants are a symbol of Africa’s endangered animal species. Although their numbers seem high, you must remember that elephants were once widespread across the entire continent.
Other than some successes in Botswana and South Africa these magnificent animals are being lost due to human greed.
See Africa’s Endangered Animals on Safari
It’s no good simply shaking your head and feeling sorry for these animals. One of the best ways you can support conservation is to go on an African safari. Safaris support communities and provide a financial contribution to keeping Africa wild.
Safaris are also an affirmative vote that help local communities become activists in the fight against habitat loss, poaching and hunting. And by going on safari you’ll have a chance to encounter these stunning endangered animals before it is too late.