Sir David Attenborough’s Dynasties sums up the major threats facing wildlife the world over – zooming in on 5 animals we all recognise:
Emperor penguins; chimpanzees on the edge of the Sahara; east African lions; painted wolves on the floodplains of the Zambezi river; and Indian tigers.
These species have been superbly adapted to their environment for millennia.
But now they’re being pushed to the edge of existence through a loss of habitat, lack of food, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade and a changing climate.
How much do you know about the trouble they are in and what they need to survive?
Western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) live in the forests and savannah of west Africa’s coastal nations from Senegal to Ghana.
But some of these countries only support a few hundred of the primates and their population in the Ivory Coast has declined by 90%.
They used to exist as far east as Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo.
Chimpanzees are declining so much that they are now listed as critically endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species.
Humans are eating into the chimps’ habitat – flattening forests to harvest timber, plant oil palm, build roads, extract metals and minerals, and expand towns and cities.
Climate change is also altering and shifting their habitat.
Saving the chimpanzee
Chimps are supposed to be protected from hunting for bushmeat and trapping for the illegal pet trade, but law enforcement is weak.
We can help chimps by avoiding products that contain tropical hardwoods, bushmeat and palm oil – and by supporting forest restoration projects.
2. Emperor penguins
Antarctica’s emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) have become much-loved stars of the big screen – from Happy Feet to the March of the Penguins.
Their lengthy treks for food to feed their young are now firmly etched into our minds.
Emperor penguins are on the Red List of Near Threatened species. As scientific evidence of their decline grows this may need to be upgraded to endangered.
Their numbers are set to collapse by the end of this century due to melting sea ice and food scarcity driven by climate change.
Saving emperor penguins
Penguins need stable sea ice. They use it to breed on and shelter from predators – and it supports the krill and fish stocks they feed on.
Climate change is a threat to the sea ice.
Help keep the penguins’ empire frozen by avoiding health supplements containing krill-oil. And please support our work to keep global temperatures low and avert climate chaos.
The King of the Jungle is on the ropes. In the past two decades lion numbers have halved to around 20,000.
Lions (Panthera leo) used to roam across most of Africa. Now they are restricted to south of the Sahara desert and parts of southern and eastern Africa. They have disappeared from 26 African nations.
Lions are listed as vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Species. Their decline is driven by the destruction of their habitats, captive breeding for trophy hunting and the illegal trade in bushmeat.
Lions also come into conflict with human populations who experience or perceive threats to their livestock as use of land encroaches on lions’ territory.
Saving the lion
Helping lions regain their pride means:
- restoring their habitats;
- tackling the illegal wildlife trade and trophy hunting;
- and preventing land grabs by supporting local farming.
The largest of the big cats.
As many as 100,000 tigers (Panthera tigris) once roamed across Asia. Today, fewer than 4,000 are left in the wild.
In just two decades 80% of the world’s tigers have disappeared from the wild.
Tigers are now listed as endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species.
The Malayan and Sumatran subspecies are in bigger trouble and are critically endangered.
Reasons for their decline include hunting; poaching to supply the illegal wildlife trade; and the loss and break up of their habitat.
Saving the tiger
For tigers to recover we need to reverse the destruction of their habitat – allowing them to roam – and end the illegal trade in wildlife and body parts.
Can Asia’s tiger economies succeed without causing the demise of the tigers they are named after?
5. Painted wolves
Also known as African wild or hunting dogs, painted wolves (Lycaon pictus) were once found across much of sub-Saharan Africa from deserts to mountain areas.
Today they have vanished from much of their former range – hanging on in southern and east Africa especially parts of Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Wolf populations can fluctuate but with as few as 7,000 adults left they are listed as endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species.
Humans are encroaching on their land, hemming the wolves into small fragmented habitats.
Many wolves die on roads and in snare traps, and catch infectious diseases that can spread in ways larger populations would be better able to withstand. These problems stem from coming into conflict with humans, their livestock and domestic animals.
Saving painted wolves
Some conservation measures are in hand.
Examples include education to improve wolf-human coexistence – and better land management to allow wolves to extend their range.
More action is needed though, such as supporting habitat restoration and action to avert climate change.
Making them great again
Dynasties shows how once great species are now so endangered by human activity, which includes climate change.
It is up to our generation to save lions, tigers and the other species featured so that they are not last in their line and have generations to come.
Climate change and extinction
Climate change is killing off animal populations especially in the world’s most important natural habitats: tropical forests to savannas, Arctic tundra and coral reefs.
Up to 30% of wild species face extinction by the end of this century if we don't get a grip on global warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).