Endangered species have always been a part of Earth’s history, as there have always been ecological, geological, and biological changes that contribute to an upset in the balance of our planet’s flora and fauna. However, many species that have been listed as endangered in recent years are increasingly added to that list because of human activities, including poaching, habitat destruction, and unintentional bycatch of the hunt for another species. Of these, wild cats are some of the hardest hit by the destructive force of humans. Here are just 5 species that made the world’s most endangered wild cats list.
The Iberian lynx is a native of the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe, and is considered to be the world’s most endangered wild cat, listed as critically endangered. This species of lynx has been impacted greatly by two diseases in the 20th century that ravaged its main prey: rabbits. It is now also suffering from habitat loss from human development, with the wild population numbering just 309 as of the last census taken in 2013. Captive breeding and reintroduction programs, begun for the Iberian lynx in 2002, have seen a measurable amount of success, and researchers were able to sequence the cat’s genome in August 2012. If the Iberian lynx succumbs to extinction, it will be the first time a wild cat has gone extinct in 10,000 years.
Most people think of lions as an African species, but the Asiatic lion hails from the western Indian state of Gujarat. This is a single, isolated subspecies that is listed as endangered by the IUCN due to its very small population size, which stood at 411 individuals in 2010. The Asiatic lion population resides only in the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, an area of roughly 650 square miles, part of which is entirely off-limits to humans. Their greatest threat stems from the fact that they are an isolated population, leaving them vulnerable to extinction in case of wildfire, flooding, disease outbreak, or other massive unpredictable event.
Andean Mountain Cat
The Andean mountain cat lives high above the tree line of the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, at elevations of 3,500-4,800 meters, and only within regions that have a water source. It is one of the least-known and rarest of all the world’s cats, but even the researchers who documented the Andean mountain cat were unsure if the reasons for that are human-related. There are no known cases of captive Andean mountain cats, and despite the collaboration of governments and conservation organizations to protect it and its habitat, no official population count can be confirmed.
Looking almost rodent or marsupial-like, rather than cat-like, the flat-headed cat is native to the lowland tropical rainforests of the Thai-Maylay Peninsula, Borneo, and Sumatra, and can be found primarily near freshwater habitats in coast areas. They are riverine hunters, preferring to catch their prey from the water rather than on land. Their survival is most threatened by habitat loss and degradation, mostly from the transformation of rainforests to plantations and draining for agriculture. Locals protecting domestic fowl are often culprits as well, setting out traps, snares, and poison to control their population, which is estimated to be somewhere between 2,500 and 250.
The snow leopard is probably the most well-known cat on this list, although it resides in the mountain ranges of Central Asia, typically at altitudes of 3,350-6,700 meters above sea level. Although a report published in 2003 that compiled national snow leopard population estimates put their numbers at 4,080-6,590, the reproductive population is suspected be be less than 2,500 individuals. They major threat they face is habitat loss.