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5 Extraordinary endangered animals you need to know about

BY READERS DIGEST

20th Oct 2022 Animals & Pets

5 Extraordinary endangered animals you need to know about

From the ancient Greenland shark to the mysteriously iridescent golden mole, here are five amazing endangered animals that you need to know about, taken from Katherine Rundell's newest book

In her new book, The Golden Mole and Other Living Treasure, Katherine Rundell dives into a colourful treasure trove of endangered animals, exploring what makes them special—and what puts them in danger.

We've picked five of our favourites that we think you need to know about.

The lemur

Lemurs

Lemurs are native to the island of Madagascar

Natives of Madagascar, lemurs live in matriarchal troops led by an alpha female. When cold or frightened, they group together into a “lemur ball”, forming a black and white sphere ranging in size from a football to a bicycle wheel.

Rundell describes lemurs as looking like a cross between a monkey, a cat, a rat and a human, with a stare that resembles “that of a chemically enhanced young man at a nightclub who urgently wishes to tell you about his belief system”.

At least fifteen species of lemur were eradicated when humans arrived on Madagascar. Due to deforestation, 24 species are currently critically endangered, 49 are endangered and 94 per cent of all species are threatened.

The pangolin

Pangolins

Pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world

With a tongue longer than its body, and a body entirely covered in scales, Rundell presents a unique mammal in the pangolin. According to the folklore of the Sangu people of southwestern Tanzania, pangolins fell from the sky, sent by the ancestors, and would follow the first person they met home.

"In Zimbabwe, folklore presented the pangolin as a harbinger of good luck"

If a pangolin arrived at a person’s home, a ceremony of songs and dancing would ensue. Pangolins were said to dance on their own back legs during these ceremonies. In most accounts, the ceremony would end with the pangolin being killed, wrapped in black cloth and returned to the ancestors. In Zimbabwe, folklore presented the pangolin as a harbinger of good luck, and warned against killing them.

Currently, pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world. Their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicines, and their flesh is often eaten as a delicacy. Of the eight species of pangolin, two are currently listed as “critically endangered”.

The narwhal

Narwhals

Narwhals are best known for their tusks

Narwhals are known for their long, twisting tusks that were, throughout history, mistaken for unicorn horns and thought to have magical curative properties. Among the historical figures who had so-called unicorn horns in their possession were Ivan the Terrible and Elizabeth I.

Narwhals are one of the mammals about which we know least, given that they live in dark, icy waters where humans cannot follow. They are currently listed as “near threatened”, with their greatest threat being climate change. As warming temperatures shrunk ice cover, they lose precious places to hide from killer whales and feed themselves.

The Greenland shark

Greenland

As you may have guessed from the name, the Greenland shark can be found in Greenland

According to Inuit legend, the Greenland shark emerged from the urine pot of Sedna, the goddess of the sea. As such, they are known for smelling of urine. Another explanation for this smell is high concentrations of urea in the shark’s body, ensuring it has the same salt concentration as the ocean so that it does not lose or gain water through osmosis. This high concentration of urea also makes it poisonous to humans when eaten fresh.

"According to Inuit legend, the Greenland shark emerged from the urine pot of Sedna, the goddess of the sea"

The Greenland shark is the planet’s oldest vertebrate, with the oldest known shark being somewhere between 272 and 512 years old. They prefer to be at the bottom of the ocean, where it’s dark and cold, and have been found as far down as 2200 metres. (Rundell puts that in terms that are a little less abstract—it’s the equivalent of six Eiffel Towers!) As such, it’s unknown how far they are endangered. They’re listed as “near threatened”, but for all we know they could be very common, or urgently at risk.

And of course, the golden mole

Golden Mole

The golden mole has evolved to glow for unknown reasons. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The title animal of Rundell’s captivating book, the golden mole is actually not a mole at all. It’s more closely related to the elephant, believe it or not, and their kidneys are so efficient that they can go their entire lives without a single drop of water!

There are 21 species all from sub-Saharan Africa, of which more than half are at risk of extinction. Their biggest threats are pollution and loss of habitat.

"The golden mole is actually not a mole at all. It’s more closely related to the elephant"

What is especially interesting about the golden mole is that it is iridescent, having evolved to glow for reasons unknown.

All of the information in this article comes from Katherine Rundell’s book, The Golden Mole and Other Living Treasure, a glorious bestiary of the world’s most extraordinary endangered animals

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