An endangered species is a type of animal or plant species that is likely to become extinct fairly soon, if action is not taken to prevent it. An organization known as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies species based on their “conservation status”. A “Least Concern” species is one that is not directly facing extinction, while a “Near Threatened” species may be headed in the direction of becoming endangered. “Vulnerable” species are at high risk of becoming endangered, “Endangered” means they are facing extinction in the near future, and “Critically Endangered” means they are in immediate danger of extinction.
Many species become endangered for a variety of reasons. Habitat destruction due to human encroachment, pollution, inability to adapt to changes brought on by climate change, overhunting – the list goes on and on. In 2012, the IUCN’s “Red List” of the most at-risk species contained more than 3,000 animals and over 2,600 plants.
With such a large number of animals on the list, it’s a given that they aren’t all going to be the most visually appealing critters. While you may not shed a tear for the plight of the Three-banded Centipede Snake, the Peacock Tarantula or the Horrid Ground Weaver (yes, that’s its real name), these creatures are still in grave danger of extinction, and deserve to be afforded the same respect as other, less creepy-crawly animals.
Still, there’s no denying it, some endangered species are just plain cute. And while we don’t want to see any animals disappear forever, it’s the cute critters that will tug on your heart strings the most. Let’s take a look at some of the cutest animals that are in danger of disappearing, and what can be done to help them.
Vote for the Cutest Endangered SpeWombatcies
But before we take a closer look at the top 10, why not vote on which one you think is the cutest so we can see if readers agree who's the clear winner!
The Koala is sort of an honorable mention here because it’s technically considered a “Vulnerable” species. However, the wildfires raging across Australia in 2019 and 2020 have destroyed much of its habitat, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see this marsupial – as well as many other Australian animals – moved up on the list.
While sometimes referred to as a Koala “Bear”, the Koala is actually a marsupial, which means it is a mammal that gives birth to its young before they are fully developed, and their babies then continue to grow in a pouch near their mother’s stomach until they’re fully grown. Other marsupials include Kangaroos, Wombats, and the Tasmanian Devil.
After living in their mother’s pouch for about six months, baby Koalas will migrate to the mother’s back, where it stays while it learns to grip and climb tree branches.
Koalas spend most of their lives in trees, and mostly eat one thing – eucalyptus leaves. This diet doesn’t provide the Koala a lot of energy, so they spend a great deal of time – up to 20 hours a day! – sleeping.
Cuteness Factor: With its soft fluffy fur, floofy ears, and distinctive bulbous nose, the lazy Koala is a cutie patootie for sure.
Cause of Endangerment: Koalas were hunted historically in Australia for their pelts and meat, but conservation efforts in the early 1900s helped boost their numbers. Today, they face threats including habitat destruction, as well as habitat fragmentation, which occurs when roads and other development breaks up their natural habitat, causing populations to become divided. Wildfires have also harmed Koala populations.
Now, hear us out. The Pangolin may not appear “cute”, in a traditional sense. It’s not furry and fluffy, instead covered in an armor-like set of scales made of keratin. But they’re still pretty danged cute! They have the ability to roll up into a ball when threatened, and they often walk around on two legs in a hunched over stance that has been described as “always look[ing] like they’re about to hesitantly present some bad news to their sovereign lord.”
Pangolins are also called “scaly anteaters”, because they look like anteaters wearing suits of armor. However, recent genetic evidence has shown that they aren’t closely related to anteaters, and their closest living relatives are the Carnivora, an order that includes cats, dogs, hyenas, bears and seals.
Cuteness Factor: They may not be cute in the most traditional sense, but Pangolins are definitely adorable in their own unique way. They just look so humble, like they don’t want to be a bother to anybody, how can you not love them?
Cause of Endangerment: Pangolins face many threats, including habitat loss due to deforestation, and illegal hunting for meat and scales. They are known to be the most trafficked animals in the world. Their scales are believed by some to have medicinal properties, and while this is not true, it hasn’t stopped the demand for Pangolin scales in China and Vietnam. Over one million Pangolins are thought to have been trafficked over the past 10 years. There are eight species of Pangolin, and four are listed as vulnerable, two are endangered, and two are critically endangered.
There are two species of Chinchilla, and they’re both fantastically adorable. Unfortunately, they’re also both endangered. Chinchillas are rodents with some of the thickest, densest, and softest hair in the animal kingdom.
The two species are the Long-tailed and Short-tailed Chinchillas, and as you may have guessed, they can be told apart by the length of their tails. Of the two, Long-tailed Chinchillas also have larger ears, while Short-tailed Chinchillas have thicker necks and shoulders.
Long-tailed Chinchillas have been domesticated, and can sometimes be found as pets. However, they are not an easy animal to take care of and require lots of exercise and specialized care.
Cuteness Factor: Chinchillas are incredibly cute, thanks to their fluffy soft fur and inquisitive little faces. They’ve also got adorably tiny feet.
Cause of Endangerment: Chinchillas have been historically hunted by humans for their unique fur. Their fur softness and uniform color make them very desirable for fur coats. This has sadly led to the extinction of a third species of Chinchilla, and caused the other two to be very endangered in the wild. Though they are now protected, their numbers are so small that habitat destruction now threatens them with extinction.
How You Can Help: Save the Wild Chinchillas is an organization that focuses on…well, saving wild Chinchillas. They are seeking to restore habitat in Northern Chile, South America, so that Chinchillas can spread and grow their numbers.
7. African Penguin
The African Penguin is also known as the Cape Penguin, and the South African Penguin. It’s found around the southern and southwestern coasts of Africa, as its name implies. These little guys grow a bit over two feet tall, and weigh about seven pounds.
Like most penguins, their predominant coloration is black and white, though they do have a small pinkish area near the eye. This pink area helps control the penguin’s temperature.
Cuteness Factor: They look like tiny butlers with their little feather tuxedos! And the little splash of pink is just the cherry on top!
Reason for Endangerment: While these penguins once numbered around four million, their numbers are now believed to be in the tens of thousands. At their current rate of decline, they’ll be extinct by 2026.
There are many reasons for their decline. Their eggs were once considered a delicacy, and the gathering of penguin eggs caused real damage to the population. They are also very vulnerable to oil spills, and their food source are often the same fish that people tend to eat: sardines and anchovies. These fisheries have reduced the number of fish available for the penguin to eat.
There’s another reason for their present endangered status, but it’s not a very cute one. These penguins use poop to make their nests, and this poop was historically a very popular source of fertilizer. Humans gathered up the poop, leaving the penguins without material to build their nests, which meant they couldn’t care for their eggs and hatch more penguins.
How You Can Help: The SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) organization works with accredited zoos and aquariums to develop programs to help a number of endangered species, including the African Penguin. Learn more at their website.
6. Matschie’s Tree-Kangaroo
While less well-known than its ground-dwelling kangaroo cousins, the Matschie’s Tree-Kangaroo has them beat when it comes to cuteness. These marsupials, like Koalas, spend much of their time in trees. They are only found in rainforests on a small peninsula on the island of New Guinea.
Cuteness Factor: With their short little snouts and fluffy paws, these Tree-Kangaroos have cuteness pretty much covered.
Reason for Endangerment: Habitat destruction is the main threat to these cute critters, as much of their rainforest habitat on the small Huon Peninsula they call home has been cleared. They are also illegally hunted, for meat and fur.
How You Can Help: The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program was started by the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle to help Tree Kangaroos by ensuring their habitat is managed and maintained, so these cuddly creatures can have a place to live. You can learn more about how to get involved on their website.
5. Rondo Dwarf Galago (Bush Baby)
Bush Babies (also called Galagos) are a group of primates from the family Galagidae, known for their large eyes, large ears, piercing cries, and remarkable jumping abilities.
The genus Galagoides, known as the Dwarf Galagos, includes eight species. One of them, the Rondo Dwarf Galago, is among the top 25 most endangered primates in the world. This species only lives in small populations in Tanzania, on the eastern coast of Africa. Its habitat is thought to be composed of an area no bigger than 60 square miles.
Cuteness Factor: With their large eyes and ears, Bush Babies are already super cute, and the Dwarf Galagos, being even smaller, up the ante for cuteness.
Reason for Endangerment: With such a small habitat, any destruction of their homeland is sure to deal a heavy blow to these animals. Due to logging, the coastal forests they call home are shrinking every day.
How You Can Help: The EDGE of Existence program helps many genetically and evolutionarily unique endangered species, including the Rondo Dwarf Galago.
Manatees might not be “cute” at first glance, but there’s a lot to love about these rotund sea mammals, They spend most of their time just leisurely floating about, munching on sea plants. Manatees are large mammals in the order Sirenia, which also includes the Dugong. You might not believe it, but it is thought that sailors of old used to mistake Manatees for mermaids!
Cuteness Factor: While they may not seem as cute as, say, a fluffy Chinchilla, there’s just something about these big round loaves with their paddle-shaped fins, tiny little wrinkly eyes, and big floppy snouts that just warms our hearts.
Reason for Endangerment: The West Indian Manatee is considered threatened, but both its subspecies, the Caribbean and Floridian Manatees, are endangered. Habitat pollution and being struck by watercraft are two major threats.
The Manatee was removed from the United States Endangered Species List in 2017, but this decision was controversial, and according to the Save the Manatees Club, recent years have experienced record mortality rates among these gentle giants.
How You Can Help: The Save the Manatees Club is dedicated to protecting Manatees and their habitat. Check out their site for more info on what you can do to help.
3. Red Panda
Despite the name, Red Pandas are not actually closely related to the Giant Panda. Giant Pandas are actually bears, while Red Pandas are kind of their own thing. It is now known to be a closer relative of raccoons, badgers and weasels, though it is placed in its own family and is considered sort of a “Living Fossil”.
Cuteness Factor: We are almost at cute overload with the Red Panda. It looks like it’s wearing a fuzzy little bandit mask, and it has little floofy paws and a striped fluffy tail. It really is among the cutest of the cute.
Reason for Endangerment: Red Pandas are only found in the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China, and there are believed to be around 10,000 animals in the wild. Threats to these cuddly critters include habitat destruction and fragmentation. They are also illegally hunted, both for their fur and for private collectors to keep as exotic pets.
How You Can Help: You can virtually adopt a Red Panda at the World Wildlife Fund’s website.
2. Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat
Wombats are squat little marsupials native to Australia. There are three living species of Wombat. While the Common Wombat is a species of “Least Concern” and the Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat is considered “Near Threatened”, the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat is listed as “Critically Endangered”.
Cuteness Factor: Look at them! Wombats are little round balls of fluff, with cute little faces that make them appear to always be smiling.
Reason for Endangerment: Australia has many invasive species that are not native. Some, like wild dogs, can be devastating to local wildlife, like the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat. This animal’s population is already quite small, and droughts, floods, wildfires and habitat destruction can all cause serious damage to its numbers.
How You Can Help: The Wombat Foundation is dedicated to saving the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat. You can find out more about donating and volunteering on their website.
Finally, our list of cute endangered animals reaches its final cutie-pie. The Vaquita is a porpoise that is only found in the northern area of the Gulf of California in Mexico, known as the Sea of Cortez.
This porpoise is one of the smallest of the cetaceans, a group containing whales, dolphins and porpoises. It reaches barely four and a half feet in length when fully grown. The name “Vaquita” means “little cow” in Spanish, and another name for this porpoise is “Cochito” which means “little pig”.
Cuteness Factor: These tiny little porpoises always seem to be wearing a smile, and the black rings around their eyes make them look like the Panda Bears of the sea.
Reason for Endangerment: The Vaquita is one of the saddest examples on our list. It is so endangered that there are only a handful left. It’s believed there may be no more than 12 Vaquita left in the wild.
The main threat to the Vaquita is gillnet fishing for a sea trout called the Totoaba. This fish is believed falsely by some to have medicinal purposes, and demand for it is high in countries like China. This has led to massive overfishing of the Totoaba, and unfortunately the Vaquita is literally caught in the middle.
Though gillnet fishing for Totoaba is illegal, the demand is so high that such fishing still occurs, and many Vaquitas end up caught in the nets. Because their native range is so small, they are very vulnerable and have suffered greatly due to this illegal fishing practice.
How You Can Help: Sadly, the Vaquita may be beyond help. However, the Porpoise Conservation Society and other organizations refuse to give up hope. Their website has some tips on how you can raise awareness and support sustainable fishing practices that will help the Vaquita, and hopefully prevent other sea creatures from suffering the same fate.