Our beautiful planet has an estimated 8.7 million species of flora and fauna, so of course, there will be some that are the rarest animals in the world. The vast biodiversity on earth has shifted over generations, causing some species to adapt and evolve, while others become a fragment of the global ecosystem. There will be a large proportion of these species that are generally unheard of, listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, and at severe risk of becoming extinct within our lifetimes.
Ecosystems and habitats across the globe are under threat from climate change, global warming, and human activities. Habitat destruction is one of the main reasons why some species become rarer and are pushed to the brink of extinction.
While the IUCN Red List does not recognize ‘rare animals’, it does list some of the most endangered species living on the planet, that we know about. Rare animals refer to hard to encounter and low population numbers of wildlife.
So, do you want to know what are the rarest animals in the world? Here are the 11 most stunning but rarest species on the planet.
Estimated wild population: 40
Latin Name: Canis rufus
The red wolf territory used to cover most of the USA. However, due to habitat destruction, predator control programs, and the coyote population increase, the number of red wolves have been in decline and is now considered critically endangered. Now, these magnificent animals can only be found in a small corner of eastern North Carolina. So don’t hold your breath in the hope of seeing one in the wild; these wolves are incredibly elusive and rare.
North Carolina was the chosen destination for the ambitious reintroduction program and conservation project in 1987. The forests, swamps, and prairie land in the 1.7 million acre free land is the perfect habitat for these wolves. A similar project was attempted in 1991 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. Unfortunately, exposure to environmental disease and coyote competition meant this was not a suitable terrain.
Red wolves are in between the size of a coyote and the sister grey wolf (typically found in North America and eastern Europe), normally weighing between 23–39 kg (50-85 lbs). These lean canines are mostly brown/buff in color, with some black along the back and a reddish tint in some individuals. At first glance, a red wolf could easily be mistaken for a German Shepherd.
Estimated wild population: 800
Latin Name: Pongo tapanuliensis
Orangutans once thrived across South East Asia and South China. The natural habitat of these rare animals is a low-lying peat-swamped forest where fruit trees are in abundance. There are three species of these magnificent apes:
- Sumatran Orangutan
- Borneon Orangutan
- Tapanuli Orangutan
Tapanuli orangutan can be found in central Sumatra (Indonesia) and is believed to be the rarest and most endangered great ape species. It is believed that 80% of the estimated population lives outside of protected areas and is therefore at severe risk of habitat loss. There are many conservation efforts and projects underway with the mission to protect and expand the magnificent orangutan species.
Greater Bamboo Lemur
Estimated wild population: 500
Latin Name: Prolemur simus
As the name suggests, the Greater Bamboo Lemur is the largest of the lemur species found in Madagascar. For a long time, they were thought to be extinct. In the 1980s a small colony was discovered in a small pocket of the Madagascan forest to the south near the Ranomafana National Park – whether they were singing and dancing to We Like To Move It is an unrecorded fact!
The habitat of these lemurs is within the bamboo forests. Unfortunately, bamboo is a popular building material sourced by local communities, therefore, the habitat is constantly under threat and being destroyed.
The Ranomafana National Park is incredibly diverse and filled with a great number of rare flora and fauna species. Sadly, most are under threat and endangered. Visiting the national park helps support the conservation work in the local area.
Estimated wild population: 30
Latin Name: Dicerorhinus sumatrensis
Sometimes referred to as the Asian unicorn, the Sumatran Rhino is one of the rarest species of rhinoceros in the world, along with the Javan rhino that is found on the neighboring Indonesian island. The wild population is at a worryingly low figure. Over the last 15 years, there have been attempts to reproduce the Sumatran rhino in captivity with only two successful cases. These rhinos are becoming increasingly more critically endangered due to habitat loss and fragmentation of the population in the wild.
These are the smallest of the rhino species but still, weigh a whopping 1,320 -2,090 pounds. They are easily distinguishable through unique features, including two horns and long wooly hair, getting wispier with age.
The WWF monitors the Sumatran rhino population number and distribution. They also engage with key governmental bodies and have set up a number of protection projects across Sumatra.
Cross River Gorilla
Estimated wild population: 200-300
Latin Name: Gorilla gorilla diehli
Seeing gorillas in the wild is a glorious bucket list moment every wildlife lover dreams of. Gorillas in general are vulnerable animals, however, the cross river gorilla is one of the rarest animals in the world. This endangered great ape can be found in the Cross River region of Africa, which forms a border between Cameroon and Nigeria.
Cross river gorillas are incredibly wary of humans and inhabit rugged terrain, so our population numbers are only a rough estimate. Though, scientists can make educated estimates through the amount of nests counted. It is believed there are 11 groups that roam the 3,000 square miles of the lowland montane forests and rainforests in the region.
There are great efforts from conservational bodies to protect the cross river gorillas and the forests they live in. The main threats of these magnificent creatures are hunting and inbreeding.
Estimated wild population: 30-90
Latin Name: Addax nasomaculatus
Addax are more commonly known as white antelope and are unfortunately a target for many poachers in the wild. This stunning animal was endemic across Sahara Desert African nations. Now, the extremely low numbers can only be found in Niger and Chad.
There are several breeding programs across the globe in zoo’s and wildlife reserves. Even though there are thousands of Addax in captivity, they are still named as one of the rarest animals in the world due to there being less than 100 left in the wild.
Hunting is not the only threat for the Addax. Oil and gas mining has destroyed much of the natural habitat along with droughts as a result of global warming.
Estimated population: 60
Latin Name: Panthera pardus orientalis
Russia’s Far East Amur Leopard is one of the most beautiful big cats on the planet, and also one of the rarest. The temperate forests provide the perfect habitat for solitary living. These nimble-footed and strong cats are excellent hunters and can move about practically undetected.
The thick orangy-yellow coat is long and dense with the distinctive and iconic pattern, black splodges and flecks. Unfortunately, this is the downfall of the Amur leopard. This majestic species is targeted in illegal wildlife trade; in 1999, an undercover investigation team recovered Amur leopard skins that were being sold for up to $1,000 per piece.
Recent conservation efforts and the introduction of the Land of the Leopard National Park has proven successful in saving the Amur leopard from the brink of extinction. This beautiful and rare big cat is starting to make a comeback in the wild. The continued work in securing the habitat and minimizing poaching will only continue to help this rare species.
Estimated wild population: unknown
Latin Name: Architeuthis dux
Elusive and one of the oceans largest mysteries, the giant squid is an incredibly rare sighting. Not enough is known about these strange and puzzling marine creatures. The current population trend is unknown mainly due to their inhospitable deep-sea habitat that has made them uniquely difficult to study. Most of what we know has been researched from washed up carcasses, rather than on live specimen.
As recent as 2004, researchers in Japan took the first ever images of a live giant squid. In late 2006, scientists with Japan’s National Science Museum caught and brought to the surface a live 24-foot female giant squid. It is believed the giant squid averages the size of a standard American school bus.
Giant squid feed on fish, shrimp, and other squid, and some marine experts suggest they might even attack and eat small whales. The beak-like mouth, long tentacles, and enormous eyes add to the mystery and wonder of this rare animal. It is easy to see where myths and legends of the kraken have come from!
Estimated wild population: 10-25
Latin Name: Nomascus hainanus
The Hainan Gibbon is the world’s rarest ape with less than 30 individuals remaining in the wild. Only some 70 years ago, these critically endangered species were found across a huge area of eastern China. Now, due to major habitat loss and illegal hunting, they are restricted to a single forest patch in Bawangling National Nature Reserve on Hainan Island, China.
Unfortunately, there are only three social groups of these adorable gibbons. This means the future breeding prospects are extremely limited due to lack of genetic diversity.
There are several breeding programs in place for the Hainan gibbon with various environmental organizations. The mission is the continued protection of gibbon habitat and enhanced forest connectivity at Bawangling, dispersal of individuals, and expansion of good-quality habitat.
Estimated population: 12-18
Latin Name: Phocoena sinus
The vaquita is the smallest dolphin species and possibly the world’s rarest marine mammal and one of the rarest animals in the world. Scientists estimate a tiny population between 12 and 18 individuals living in the Gulf of California. These dolphins typically grow up to 1.4 meters in length.
Gillnet fishing is the biggest threat to vaquita’s. In 2017, a new fishing agreement was introduced to ban using gillnets in the hope to protect the few remaining vaquita dolphins. Organizations like the WWF are working alongside the Mexican government in this conservation effort.
Unfortunately, illegal fishing operations are still going on and threatening marine life across the globe. There is a group of fishermen that are totally convinced of what is needed to protect vulnerable marine species, but not all fisherman.The biggest challenge we face is to convince fishermen to use the alternatives that have been approved and provide other means of livelihood.
South China Tiger
Estimated wild population: 0-30 (with approx 100 in captivity)
Latin Name: Panthera tigris amoyensis
Some scientists estimate there were no more than 30 South China tigers left in the wild in the early 21st century. There are still 70-100 of this tiger species in zoos and special breeding bases around China, however, experts worry that they may eventually die out due to inbreeding under captivity. There is also another successful breeding program in the Laohu Valley private reserve in South Africa.
The South China tiger is much smaller than the closely related Bengal and Siberian species. They tend to weigh between 100-200 kgs. Their slightness helped them navigate the dense forests of China, going undetected by prey.
Population numbers have taken a dramatic fall over the last few decades due to several reasons. Illegal poaching and black market sales in the Far East is one of the tigers biggest threats. This is closely followed by habitat loss due to human activities, manufacturing processes, and developments of natural spaces.
Other Critically Endangered Species
There are many other critically endangered species in the world. They all share the common theme of natural habitat destruction and illegal hunting practice taking a dramatic effect on population numbers and distribution. Some other of the rarest animals in the world include:
- Madagascar pochard (the rarest bird in the world)
All of these species are under conservation watch and research programs. Scientists and experts hold hope to increase populations in the wild and keep the rarest animals in the world still with us.