All About Animals: The Issues (Ages 16-18): Endangered Species

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was established by the United Nations to regulate the trade in wildlife. The agreement was introduced in 1975 and 164 countries have signed it to date. They report on which species are the most threatened and regulate the trade in order to protect them from extinction. Five thousand species of animals and 28,000 species of plant are protected by CITES.

Species with the highest risk of extinction can be found on CITES Appendix 1.



It is estimated that there are now fewer than 100,000 chimpanzees left in the wild; they live in a range of wooded habitats. They live in 21 African countries and are most concentrated in rainforest areas. They live in social groups, with numbers ranging from just a few to over 60.

Habitat Loss
Africa has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, with its population doubling every 24 years. This puts tremendous pressure on natural resources. Forests are cut down to graze cattle, to create living space and to provide land to grow crops. The wood is used for firewood, charcoal and building supplies. With the steady decline of the forests inevitably comes the steady decline of chimpanzee populations.

Chimpanzee meat is no longer exclusively the food of the forest peoples but is now commercially available in urban areas, too. Bushmeat, including chimpanzee flesh, is also eaten by people in logging camps. The Jane Goodall Institute has very real concerns about the bushmeat trade. They say: ‘The large-scale commercial bushmeat trade could eradicate all great apes within 10 to 15 years.’

CITES prohibits wild-caught chimpanzees being used in circuses, but in areas where CITES has not been ratified or where it cannot be enforced, chimpanzees may be taken from the wild as infants, which often means the killing of the adults in their group.

Although the last European laboratory to use chimpanzees in research has recently ended this practice, there are many more laboratories around the world that still do. Chimpanzees have been used in brain and skull research, social deprivation studies and have been infected with HIV even though they do not develop AIDS as humans do. For further information about chimpanzees in research, visit PETA US’ website.


These beautiful cats are generally found in the dense, damp, forested areas of India and Southeast Asia. Once common in all parts of Africa apart from the Sahara, they have now disappeared from most parts of northern Africa (apart from a few areas of the Atlas mountains) and are scarce in the extreme west of the continent. The leopard, especially in the Middle East and South West Asia is under extreme threat and is listed in CITES Appendix 1.

The European fashion for leopard skins may have diminished since the 1970s but leopards are still killed for their skins. In April 2003, 109 leopard skins were seized by Nepalese police. These crimes are often overlooked, but in February 2002, judges in India sentenced two women to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 rupees for possessing four leopard skins.

While it is illegal to take leopards from the wild to put in zoos, captive-bred leopards (and other animals) retain their wild instincts. They are shy creatures, used to remaining hidden and avoiding open spaces. Zoos want people to see the animals and so, in captivity, leopards are often prevented from engaging in their natural behaviours.

Game Hunting
For just £1800 you can track and kill a leopard on a big game hunting trip. These trips are geared toward tourists. You list the animals you want to kill and the tour guides will take you to where you are likely to be able to kill them.

The bones of the leopard are used in traditional Asian medicine and are sometimes prescribed as a substitute for tiger bones in the treatment of rheumatic diseases and for aching joints and muscles. Ironically, the success in controlling the trade in tiger parts may actually have led to greater risk for other cats.


Elephants in the wild are restricted to isolated pockets. Currently it is estimated that there are between 35,500 and 51,000 wild Asian elephants living in 13 countries. Elephants can still be found in 37 African countries and they are thought to number around 300,000.

Both species are classed as endangered as they face a “very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.” The threats they face are many and include:

Not only do logging operations threaten the habitat of elephants and countless other species, but elephants are also captured and used to haul the heavy machinery through the forests; thus, they are forced to help destroy their own habitat.

Meat and Ivory
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) believe that ‘meat is the new ivory’ and that the trade in elephant meat is more lucrative than the ivory trade in some parts of Africa. It is estimated that several elephants are being killed every day in the Congo basin alone for their meat and ivory. The link between the logging trade and the meat trade is a close one, with timber trucks ferrying poachers in and carcasses out. Some logging agents are reported to supply hunters with guns and food, while others are involved in the buying and selling of bushmeat.

Elephants are intelligent, social and complex animals. They rarely thrive in zoos yet they remain a tourist attraction. Zoos can never recreate the natural environment or family structure an elephant requires. Campaigns in Britain have forced zoos to provide better conditions for elephants although they continue to die prematurely. Elsewhere in the world, conditions are very much worse. In Indonesia, for example, elephants are kept in barren concrete enclosures, chained by one or more legs. Trainers at Surabaya zoo admitted beating elephants in order to make them do tricks for the paying public. In Alaska, Maggie, an orphan elephant who witnessed her family being slaughtered, lives alone in a barren concrete pen. There are currently 83 elephants in British zoos and approximately 1,200 worldwide.

Elephants in circuses are becoming less common in Britain but a few still remain. When not performing or being trained, elephants may be chained by one or more legs throughout the day. In the practice ring, elephants may be whipped and beaten in order to get them to perform. One worker at the famous Chipperfield’s circus was caught on camera whipping Flora, an elephant who was already sick, in order to make her walk around the ring faster. While Flora was being whipped, another elephant, Rhanee, looked on, rocking back and forth in terror.


There are eight types of bear in the world: Polar Bears, Brown (or Grizzly) Bears, American Black Bear, Asiatic Black Bear, Sun Bears, Sloth Bears, Spectacled Bears and Giant Panda Bears. Some are on the verge of extinction but all face threats.

Habitat Destruction
Probably the biggest threat to bears worldwide is loss of habitat, and with it, loss of their food source. Giant Pandas rely on bamboo forests but many of these have been cut down by Chinese farmers. It is believed that only 750 to 1000 pandas are left in the wild.

Asian Black Bears are also listed as endangered. Loss of habitat is a major contributing factor to their status. Other threats include:

In China, bears are imprisoned in farms and ‘milked’ for their bile daily. The bile is used in Eastern medicine. Bears are taken from the wild for this trade and, according to the WSPA, bear farming continues to jeopardise the survival of bears in the wild. There are currently 247 bear farms housing over 7,000 bears—mostly Asiatic black bears. These appear on Appendix 1 of CITES. .

Bear Parks and Zoos
Japan is home to eight bear parks where bears are confined in small concrete pits. Here they are denied their most basic requirements including access to shade or shelter. The public tease and torment the bears by throwing in ‘bear biscuits’ and watching the fights that ensue. Injuries sustained are often not treated.

Repetitive behaviour is not unusual in bears at zoos. This is indicative of stress and psychological trauma.

Some of the animals may have been obtained illegally. Sun bears were found in a zoo in Indonesia with forged documentation claiming that they had died. Sun bears are endangered, with fewer than 10,000 left in the wild.

Dancing Bears
Around 1,200 bears in India ‘dance’ on their hind legs for up to 12 hours a day to entertain tourists. The cubs are captured in the wild and traded, even though this has been illegal since 1972.

Once sold, the young cub will have his or her muzzle pierced so the handler can control the bear. This is an invasive procedure and infection is common. Due to the stress of capture, the terrible transport conditions, starvation, dehydration and rough handling, 60-70 per cent of bear cubs captured die even before the training begins.

Training involves starvation and beatings in order to make the bears rise up onto their back legs. The bears’ teeth may be wrenched out and sold as charms to tourists.

During their brief lifetime—rarely beyond eight years, as opposed to their natural lifespan of 30 years in the wild—respiratory infection is common, caused by the constant walking along dusty streets.

Bear Baiting
Although illegal in every country, bear baiting remains a popular past-time in Pakistan, where politicians and senior police officers can still be found watching the show. A series of dogs are set upon a chained bear who must fight for his or her life. The dogs and the bear sustain horrendous injuries.

Game Hunting
Black and brown bears are routinely hunted in North America. There are an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 brown bears left in the wild. In all but the most isolated habitat areas, brown bears have been eliminated from much of their former range. In North America, numbers have declined rapidly from approximately 100,000 in the 1800s to between 40,000 and 50,000 today.

One North American web site boasts: ‘Using snowshoes in mountainous terrain, we’re hunting them as they emerge from their dens. Expect your Bear to have a thick full hide and long claws, a very nice trophy.’ For a two-week hunt, the cost is £5,700. The same web site recognises that there are only isolated pockets of black bear in the area: ‘There aren’t a lot of Black Bear in our area, but the ones we do have are big!’ To track and kill one of these on a guided hunt costs £2,500.

Food and Medicine
Sun bears are eaten in some countries and their claws are collected as ‘good luck’ charms. The Asiatic Black Bear is also hunted for his or her meat and the paws are eaten as a delicacy. Their bile and bones are also used, as they are believed to possess medicinal properties.

Hunting Spectacled Bears is illegal but they are still routinely poached. Their bones, gallbladders and fat are used for medicines and their gall bladders are most highly prized. Because of the cruelty involved and the scarcity of Sloth Bears, India has banned the hunting of the Sloth Bear and the sale of products made from their gallbladders.

The Pet Trade
Like many wild animals, some bears are traded and collected as exotic pets, although they are unsuitable companion animals.

Bears are still used in circuses around the world. Polar bears and brown bears are made to perform tricks like ‘dancing’, roller-skating or bike riding. While bears aren’t seen in circus performances in Britain, campaigners say that British circuses still own bears and hire them out to do television commercials and other TV appearances.


There are seven species of marine turtle. Four are classified as endangered and two as critically endangered. International trade in turtle products is banned under CITES. The tourist trade is the main reason why turtle numbers are in decline.

Tourism poses the greatest threat to turtles for a number of reasons. Turtles migrate huge distances but during certain times of the year they congregate in shallow waters to breed. Females come ashore to lay clutches of up to 150 eggs. Two months later, tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand and make their way to the sea. But many of the tropical and sub-tropical beaches turtles have used for millions of years are now populated by tourists.

Many females will not lay their eggs if noise or lighting from local resorts is too great. Nests can be damaged by sunbathers, and newly hatched turtles can become disoriented by beachfront developments and may never reach the sea.

In the Mediterranean, the nesting periods of the loggerhead and green turtle coincide almost exactly with the peak tourist season (May to August).

Speedboats can be deadly, especially during the mating season when turtles spend long periods of time close to the surface.

Turtles are still killed for their shells, which are made into souvenirs such as combs and ashtrays.

Further information is available from:

World Society for the Protection of Animals