Tigers? Elephants? Gorillas? It's Endangered Species Day and your news feeds are likely already flooded with photos of the world's most iconic threatened species. So we thought we would do something different. To celebrate, we're focusing on five lesser-known endangered animals that deserve a bit of time in the spotlight. 

Devil’s hole pupfish

Image: NPS
What is it?

The Devil’s Hole pupfish is likely the world’s rarest fish species. These unassuming, inch-long, sapphire survivors have been clinging to life in an impossibly tiny ecosystem since the last Ice Age. They have adapted to live in water with high temperatures and dangerously low oxygen levels.

Where does it live?

In the wild, these pupfish are only found in a single aquifer-fed pool in the northern Mojave Desert. Retreating ice stranded the fish here some 10,000 years ago.

How many are left?

At least 187 are left in the wild according to a count done by a team working in the area in 2019. There are a further 50 or so being held in a refuge as part of a captive breeding programme to help save the ultra-rare fish.

Silver-backed chevrotain

© Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP
What is it?

Shy, elusive, and only about the size of a rabbit, silver-backed chevrotains had, until recently, been dodging scientists for almost 30 years. Thankfully, a lack of reported sightings wasn’t a sign of their extinction, but rather an indication of their secretive nature. Scientists rediscovered the animals in 2017 courtesy of camera-trap surveys. Silver-backed chevrotains, or Vietnamese mouse-deer as they are sometimes called, are distinguished from the more common lesser chevrotain (Tragulus kanchil) by a silver sheen on their rumps. They are one of the smallest members of a diverse group of mammals called ungulates, which are characterised by the presence of hooves. Chevrotains lack antlers or horns, but make up for it with tusk-like incisors which scientists speculate may be used by males when battling for territory.

Where does it live?

The most recent research uncovered a pocket of silver-backed chevrotains hiding out in dense forests in southern Vietnam.

How many are left?

Further research is needed to determine exactly how many of these rarely seen mouse-deer currently live in wild.

Pygmy three-toed sloth

Pygmy three-toed sloths move faster in the water than on the ground, which makes swimming the preferred mode of travel. Image © Suzi Eszterhas
What is it?

Not much is known about pygmy three-toed sloths. Discovered at the start of the 21st century, researchers are still learning how many remain, what they eat, how they reproduce, and exactly why they are so much smaller than their slow-moving contemporaries (and if they are, indeed, a separate species). Pygmy sloths are the only of these tree-dwellers known to swim in salt water – a mode of travel that they prefer as they swim faster than they crawl.

Where does it live?

Pygmy sloths are found exclusively on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, the outermost island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. As sea levels rose some 9,000 years ago, this chain of islands separated from mainland Panama.

How many are left?

The pygmy sloth population is likely quite small, but no accurate information exists regarding exactly how many of these animals live on Isla Escudo de Veraguas.

Regent honeyeater

The striking colours of the regent honeyeater. Image © Jss367
What is it?

The poster child for threatened woodland birds in Australia, the regent honeyeater is a striking, black-and-yellow bird with a distinctive curved bill. A patch of bare, corrugated facial skin gave rise to the bird’s earlier name: warty-faced honeyeater. They feed mainly on nectar from flowers and foliage, but food is becoming harder to find for the birds as habitats are destroyed by drought and development.

Where does it live?

Once widely distributed across south-eastern mainland Australia, the regent honeyeater is now confined to woodlands and open forests in Victoria and New South Wales.

How many are left?

A 2010 estimate puts the number of mature individuals at 350-400. According to the IUCN, the species has declined by as much as 80% in the last 24 years.

Dryas monkey

What is it?

Small and secretive, the Dryas monkey is a vividly coloured primate about the size of a house cat. Their black faces are outlined in white and cushioned in a head of russet fur. But it’s the monkey’s rear end that really dazzles. Encircled in a ring of bright white fur, the animal’s outrageously blue butt stands out like a fireworks display. Encouragingly, the IUCN downgraded the dryas monkey’s conservation status in 2019 and, although the global population still remains very small, researchers believe that their secretive nature and adaptability could be enough to secure their future.

Where does it live?

Initially, the species was only known from a small patch of forest in the Wamba-Kokolopori region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, more recently Dryas monkeys have been found in Lomami National Park as well, suggesting that there may be more of these primates around than previously believed.

How many are left?

The latest estimates put the number of monkeys at somewhere between 100 and 250 individuals.

Header image: Becky Cliffe