The rainforests are home to an array of unique animals. More than half of all the animal species in the world make their homes in the rainforest. Others use it as a winter hideout when conditions get too cold in the world’s northern and southern ends.
There are large numbers of rainforest animals that are endangered and face the possibility of extinction. These include apes, lemurs, monkeys, big cats, snakes, frogs, eagles, birds, sloths, pandas, kangaroos, tapirs, okapi, saolas, rhinoceros, forest elephants, and otters.
Man is destroying and eroding the rainforests through logging, cattle and crop farming, and pollution of water systems from mining and other industries. Not only are the animals under threat from the destruction of their habitat, but the illegal pet trade sees many animals trapped and sold as pets. Primates and parrot numbers are declining in leaps from this trade. Even jaguars and alligators are trapped and killed for their skins and pelts, which are used in fashion items.
It is estimated that one hundred and thirty-seven species become extinct every day in the rainforests. That number is mind-boggling. The implications of just one species becoming extinct are extensive. The disruption to the ecosystem means other animals and plants with any relationship to that species will also be affected. This article aims to look at some of those endangered animals in the rainforests. Let’s take a look…
Orangutans are known as ‘the old men of the forests’ in the local Bornean language. They are distinctive apes, with their wizened faces and orange fur. They are considered critically endangered by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Sixty percent of the world’s population of orangutans has been lost since 1950. In Sumatra, an estimated seven thousand three hundred remain in the wild. Approximately forty-five thousand to sixty-nine thousand live in Borneo.
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Gorillas are the largest apes and live in western and central African rainforests. Four of the world’s five gorilla species are considered endangered. Their numbers have been decimated by trophy hunters, poachers who use them as bushmeat, destruction of their habitat, and diseases introduced to the gorilla families by humans.
Gorillas do not reproduce every year like other animals, and they take many years before they reach sexual maturity. Gorillas eat plant matter and are essential in keeping the ecological system balanced. They have been known to dismantle traps on the forest floor. This behavior protects their young and the rest of the animals in the rainforest.
Chimpanzees are the charmers of the ape family with their mischievous, curious natures. Unfortunately, this has led to large-scale trapping to sell chimpanzees on the illegal pet market or as laboratory animals. In 2010 PETA found 900 chimpanzees in laboratories around America.
Approximately 4 000 chimpanzees are killed each year for their meat. Add to this the destruction of their habitat, and it is easy to see why they are endangered. Chimpanzees used to be found in twenty-five different African countries, and now they are found in only six. They are important role players in the ecology as they eat fruit and are essential in seed dispersal, thereby protecting plants’ survival.
It’s bright red face easily distinguishes the Uakari monkey. It was named after the now extinct Uakari tribe that lived deep in the Amazon. The uakari monkey lives in trees and eats fruit, and as the Amazon rainforest is diminishing, so is its habitat. It is also a target of poaching and is now considered a vulnerable species. It is a protected species in Peru, but there is no conservation program to monitor numbers and ensure survival.
The white-cheeked spider monkey, common spider monkey, and black spider monkey are all endangered. They have very long limbs, which is how they came to be called spider monkeys. They have been hunted for meat, and there has been large-scale destruction of their habitat, chiefly by mining companies.
Golden Lion Tamarin
This small primate has golden fur with a thick mane or ruff like a lion. Their number has diminished to only two hundred in the wild. Due to massive conservation efforts, they are now up to approximately one thousand tamarins in the wild. Scientists have documented that these primates are involved with the seed dispersal and germination of ninety-six different plant species. They live in the rainforests of Brazil and are essential in the maintenance of this ecosystem.
The aye-ayes are small lemurs with large bat-shaped ears that live in the rainforests of Madagascar. Naturalists estimate there are only one hundred wild aye-ayes. They are the only surviving member of their family: Daubentoniidae.
Their cousins, the Giant Aye-ayes, have been extinct for over one hundred years. The existence of the aye-aye is threatened by human superstition and habitat destruction. The Malagasy people view the aye-aye as a bad luck omen and kill everyone they see. The aye-ayes are insectivorous and are essential in controlling insect populations in the environment.
Silky Sifaka Lemur
The silky sifaka lemur lives in the Kirindy forest in Madagascar. They are white with black faces that turn pink as they age. They live in the treetops and can leap ten feet from one tree to another. The locals hunt them for meat. The numbers are further reduced by logging, land cleared for agriculture, and degradation of the forest by pollution. They are considered critically endangered, with only about 250 adults in the wild. Silky sifakas are one of the rarest mammals on earth.
There are less than one hundred pygmy three-toed sloths in the Central American rainforests, making them critically endangered. There is very little known about the three-toed sloth. Their habitat is threatened by tourism and deforestation of the mangroves and by local people who cut the mangrove trees to make charcoal. The fishermen use the mangroves as stop-over points and usually take their dogs with them that hunt the slow-moving sloths.
The two-toed sloths are also considered vulnerable as they cannot adapt to deforestation and change in the environment. Sloths move at a maximum speed of two hundred and sixty-three yards per hour (0,24km/hour). They move a maximum of one hundred and twenty-five feet (38 m) in a day and sleep between nine to sixteen hours a day.
Sloths move slowly to conserve energy as they cannot control their body temperature like other mammals. Their temperature ranges from 24⁰C – 33⁰C. This lower body temperature results in a slow metabolism, and it takes sloths an entire month to digest their food.
Sloths Have Their Own Ecosystem
Sloths have symbiotic algae and fungi which grow on their coats and assist the sloth with camouflage. The sloth’s fur is home to many different insects such as moths, beetles, cockroaches, and worms. Scientists have documented up to 950 various invertebrates on one sloth. Losing sloths means losing an entire mini-ecosystem as well as affecting the greater ecosystem as they assist with seed dispersal.
Giant pandas live in the Chinese rainforests and eat a diet that exists of only bamboo. Climate change and deforestation are reducing the bamboo growth in these rainforests, with the result that there are only one thousand five hundred giant pandas in the wild.
Bamboo is a slow reproducer and only flowers every three years. If the bamboo disappears, so too will the giant pandas. There has been a massive conservation project to protect pandas. In September 2020, pandas were upgraded from endangered to vulnerable status by the WWF who counted 1 864 wild pandas.
Fourteen different tree kangaroo species live exclusively in the treetops. The Wondiwoi species has only fifty surviving animals in the wild. Very little is known about tree kangaroos, except that leaves and fruit form a large part of their diet. The WWF concluded that tree kangaroos have lost ninety-nine percent of their natural habitat. Overhunting, together with the loss of habitat, has resulted in tree kangaroos becoming almost extinct.
Okapis are striped animals that look like a cross between a zebra and a giraffe. These timid, gentle creatures live in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Civil war, hunting, and mining have destroyed much of the okapi’s habitat. Conservation efforts in the DRC are hampered by the civil war and rampant corruption, making it challenging to assist endangered animals in this region.
The tapir is a large pig-like animal with a short trunk that lives in the South American rainforests. They bear a close genetic resemblence to horses and rhinoceroses. The largest tapir is black and white and lives in the rainforests of Malaysia and Sumatra.
Tapir’s feed on leaves, fruit, and clay licks in the rainforest. As they travel around the forest, they deposit seeds in their droppings, providing essential seed dispersal and assisting in plants’ germination. All tapirs are considered endangered due to loss of habitat and illegal hunting.
Saolas were only discovered in 1992. They live in the rainforests of Vietnam and Laos. They look like antelope but anatomically are closely related to bovines. They have horns and red-brown or black fur. They are such mythical creatures that they are known as Asian unicorns.
Sadly although they have only recently been discovered, saolas are considered endangered as they get caught in snares set by the locals. They are not target animals for the snares and are regarded as collateral damage to the practice of setting snares. The estimates are that there are seventy to seven hundred animals left in the wild. Due to their elusive nature, an accurate count is difficult to obtain.
Giant otters live in the Amazon rainforest, where they are known as the river wolf’. They grow to five to six feet in length and are considered to have some of the world’s finest fur. Unfortunately, this has led to giant otters being hunted for their pelts. From 1950 to 1990, Peru exported more than twenty thousand giant otter pelts.
Mining, logging, and damming have affected the waterways where the otter live. Overfishing has resulted in problems for the otters as their food has now become scarce. In 2006 a count revealed only five thousand giant otters in the wild, and this number has probably reduced since then. Otters are top predators and are essential for maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.
The Sumatran rhinoceros once roamed the forests of Malaysia and Indonesia. They have been declared extinct in Malaysia since 2015. They survive only in small, fragmented populations in remote areas of Indonesia. The WWF has stated there are only about one hundred Sumatran rhinoceros left in Indonesia. The reduction in numbers has been caused mostly by poaching to obtain the rhinoceros’ horn.
Asian cultures believe that the rhinoceros horn holds great medicinal value. Many cultures are starting to abandon this belief, but it is still firmly adhered to in Vietnam. Deforestation and illegal hunting have added to the loss of the rhinoceros.
Golden Poison Frogs
Golden poison frogs are a species of poison dart frogs and live in the Columbian rainforests. They are the most poisonous of all poison dart frogs and have a very small natural range. They have been threatened by loss of habitat, river pollution, and exploitation by people. Golden poison frogs are important as both prey and predator and play a vital role in the rainforest ecosystem.
Harpy eagles are huge powerful raptors that live in the rainforest of South America. They are almost entirely extinct in central South America and are now found only in Panama. They are top predators that ensure the ecosystem’s health by keeping other populations in check, preventing exhaustion of resources such as grazing. They have been victims of deforestation, which has reduced their living space and caused a reduction in their prey animals.
The Philippine eagle is also known as the monkey-eating eagle. There are currently only two hundred eagles found in the wild, making them the most endangered eagle globally. They eat small monkeys such as macaques in the Philippine rainforests. They do not breed every year, and their numbers have been decimated by pesticides, pollution, and deforestation from logging.
Pink Amazon Dolphin
The Amazon dolphin is known as boto by the local people. They live in the Amazon river basin and may be pink, pale blue, or most commonly albino. They are one of only five different types of freshwater dolphins. Alteration of waterways by damming and canal construction has affected these dolphins’ habitat and contributed to their decline. The overfishing of rivers further endangers them.
Jaguars are big cat predators that live in the rainforests of South America. They are extremely powerful with a strong crushing bite. Jaguars are opportunistic hunters that prey on anything they can find, including tapirs and caimans. The WWF classifies them as near threatened due to loss of habitation and prey. Extensive hunting for their pelts have further endangered jaguars.
Tigers are the top cat predator in the Southeast Asian and Indian rainforests. They have become threatened by deforestation and humans moving into their territories. People have indiscriminately hunted them as retaliation for attacks on livestock or people.
Tigers need to have sufficient prey to live. The prey animal numbers are decreased, which further stresses the tiger population. The Sumatran tiger is classified as endangered, and there are very few of these species remaining.
The Antiguan racer is a harmless snake that has been mistakenly declared extinct twice before. Their numbers are seriously depleted, and they are no longer found in Antigua. The racer is now only located on the Great Bird Island. In 1995 there were only fifty of these snakes in the wild but conservation efforts have brought the number up to one thousand.
Antiguan racer populations declined when cargo ships brought rats to the islands. The rats swarmed the sugar plantations, and to combat them, the locals imported mongooses. Mongooses also prey on snakes, and the harmless Antiguan racer became a mongoose victim and nearly disappeared from existence.
Forest elephants are found in the west and central African rainforests. They are smaller than elephants that live on the savannas. Their straight tusks point down, and they have oval-shaped ears. They are classed as vulnerable but accurate numbers are difficult to come by due to the political unrest in these regions.
Golden Cheeked Warbler
The golden-cheeked warbler migrates to spend winter in the South American rainforests and summer in Texas. Unfortunately, this bird is losing both its winter and summer habitats due to deforestation and encroachment by humans into wild territories. It eats insects and assists the ecosystem by maintaining balance in insect populations.
The tropical rainforests are of immense importance in maintaining world health. They are being decimated by expanding human populations, which increase the demand for resources resulting in deforestation and destruction of the rainforests. There are many undiscovered species in the rainforests. The WWF estimates that every three days, a new species is discovered in the rainforests. Not only are known animal species losing their homes and lives but so too are new and unknown species. It is vital to make every effort to conserve our rainforests and the animals in them.