The Amazon is home to more than 40,000 plants and over 4,000 animal species including 3,000 freshwater fish, thousands of birds and butterflies, and mammals – these are just the ones that humans have discovered. Aside from supporting such a rich biodiversity, the Amazon is also the world’s largest rainforest, playing a crucial role in helping absorb and store carbon dioxide amid increases in global carbon emissions. However, rampant deforestation and increasing wildfire events exacerbated by climate change are destroying more natural habitats every day, threatening the survival of many important and rare species. The situation deteriorated under the administration of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who famously encourages logging and mining activities, causing deforestation rates to reach a 15-year high. Despite the results of last year’s presidential elections raising hope for the future of the Amazon, countless animals remain on the brink of extinction. Here are just eight Amazon rainforest endangered species.
8 Amazon Rainforest Endangered Species
1. Golden Lion Tamarin
There are numerous monkey species that are endemic to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, one of which is the Golden Lion Tamarin. Its name, which interestingly was first coined by Madame de Pompadour in 1754, derives from its strikingly orange-coloured lion-like mane. The tamarin primarily lives in trees and forage for fruit, insects and even birds by traveling between branches. But deforestation to support the exponential growth of the logging and agriculture industries has destroyed the animal’s natural habitat. Today, only 2-3% of its original rainforest habitat remains, threatening the survival of the species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently classifies the Golden Lion Tamarin as an endangered species.
The largest cat in the Americas, jaguars are one of the most iconic species in the Amazon currently threatened by the destruction of the ecosystem. These big cats are strong swimmers and climbers, and require large areas of tropical rainforest and stretches of river bank to survive. They also hunt most animals in the Amazon ranging from deers, armadillos, monkeys and lizards, playing an important part in population control of other species. Habitat loss – jaguar now occupy less than half of its historical range, growing conflict with farmers and ranchers, as well as climate change which has increased risk of wildfire and reduced water resources, has driven the animal to be an Amazon rainforest endangered species.
3. Amazon River Dolphin
Also known as the pink river dolphin, the animal lives only in freshwater and is found throughout the Amazon river basins in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. Though the dolphin is protected in Brazil, its population continues to halve every decade and is now a IUCN-listed endangered species as poachers persistently hunt them for their fatty blubber to be used as bait to catch a carnivorous catfish. In other parts of the Amazon, the dolphin faces increasing threats of water pollution as well as dam installations creating habitat fragmentation. As female river dolphins bear only a single calf every four to five years on average, population numbers can be slow and difficult to recover.
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4. Giant Otters
As the name suggests, the giant otter is the largest species within the weasel family and are commonly spotted in the Peruvian portion of the Amazon rainforest, where they feed on fish and crustaceans. Much like most threatened species, habitat destruction and illegal hunting has driven its population to worryingly low numbers. The otters also face an additional threat of water contamination from mining and agricultural activities in the Amazon, and overfishing in their habitats. Though the species has been protected under Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) since 1973, given the large territory that this animal requires, its protection and conservation can be a complicated task.
5. Uakari Monkey
Another endangered monkey species on this list is the Uakari Monkey, an animal that is incredibly identifiable by its bright red face and bald head – not unlike an old man with a terrible sunburn. This particular primate was named after the Uakari tribe that once lived in the Amazon but has now unfortunately become extinct. However, worrying trends show that the monkey is on track to follow its namesake as extensive deforestation has destroyed much of their natural habitat, making it difficult for the animal to forage and nest. Some of its populations have also been vulnerable to illegal hunting. Native to western Amazon rainforest, the Uakari Monkey plays an important role in seed dispersal and is particularly crucial for its ability to transport seeds at a greater distance than smaller animals.
6. Hyacinth Macaw
Also known as the Blue Macaw and the protagonist of the film Rio, this strikingly blue parrot (and the largest flying parrot in the world) faces growing threats and pressure as its natural habitats and resources continue to shrink from land clearing. They nest almost exclusively in large cavities of old Manduvi trees and were historically widely spread across Brazil. Today, they’re found mostly in small pockets in the Amazon, most notably in central Pará, where human activities have led to 203,460 hectares of tree loss in 2019 alone. Aside from deforestation, the parrot has suffered other threats such as poaching for its unique feathers and the exotic pet trade. Though the animal is still considered only “vulnerable” by the IUCN, many environmentalists believe the species is at the precipice of becoming endangered.
7. South American Tapir
The South American Tapir is a herbivorous mammal that is similar to a pig in shape, feeding primarily on clay licks. This animal is a keystone species for its role as a disperser and predator of tree seeds, supporting the diversity of forests and overall health of the ecosystem. But habitat loss from logging activities and deforestation have been the biggest threat to this species, along with illegal hunting and poaching, driving its population numbers to plummet. The tapir is currently facing extinction in Peru, while in the Argentina portion of the Amazon, tapir populations have declined by an estimated 60% within the last two centuries. Conservation efforts have struggled to help recover the species as they require extensive habitats, and many of its protected areas are surrounded by unprotected private lands.
8. Poison Dart Frogs
There are more than 100 species of poison dart frogs, most of which live in the Amazon. Posison dart frogs are brightly coloured – they can be yellow, copper, gold, red, blue, green, black or a combination of those colours – and notoriously poisonous where its striking hue helps warn off predators. They are also unique as they are active during the day, as opposed to being nocturnal like most frog species. The amphibian is terrestrial with a few arboreals, and loss of its habitats increasing food competition and risks of being preyed upon, causing these frogs to become move closer to extinction. Scientists also found chytridiomycosis, a bacterial disease found in amphibians, to have killed thousands of animals each year, which resulted in the extinction of some species.
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