/ 19 May 2023

South Africa ranks 20th globally for the most endangered species

Sunda Clouded Leopard

With 477 species at very high risk of extinction in the wild, South Africa ranks 20th on a list of countries with the most endangered species, according to a study titled Red List Nations. 

The information is based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, “a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity”.  


The study found that “the number of endangered species continues to increase year after year, with current figures estimating that around 16 000 different species could become extinct in the near future”. These species include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, molluscs and other invertebrates

With 1 233 endangered species, Indonesia tops the list. “Aside from its stunning beaches and scenery, this Asian country is known for their production of palm oil and coffee which has been detrimental to animal species in the area, including the Javan Rhino,” of which only an estimated 60 remain, according to the study.

The black rhino, native to Eastern and Southern Africa, is also listed as critically endangered. According to the IUCN, there were only 6 195 in 2021.

With 1 178 endangered species, the United States is second on the list, followed by Australia (1 067), Mexico (953), Brazil (856), Madagascar (849), India (813), Malaysia and Colombia (755 each), and the Philippines (693).

Among those species is the Madagascar teal. Data by BirdLife International says there is a population of 1 900, which is declining. 

Causes of population declines

Demand from Asia for wildlife parts and products continues to drive the trade in species, exacerbated by the involvement of organised crime networks, according to The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). 

But that is not the only reason that causes species to become endangered. The National Geographic Network says habitat loss is a major reason species end up on the endangered list. This is caused by human activities such as clearing land for housing, industries, crop and livestock farming, hunting and poaching, as well as the invasion of alien vegetation and fauna. The report also suggests looking into other threats such as mining and quarrying, logging and wood harvesting, as well as agriculture and forestry effluents to slow down the further decline.

Habitats must be protected if endangered species are to survive. 


Species in decline

The report looked at species that are most affected by these threats. Insects took the number one spot. This was followed by reptiles, fish and arachnids.

“With the impacts of climate change becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s society, it may come as no surprise that insects have seen an increase in threat since 2017. Insects are vital to the decomposition of waste on our planet, and without them, there would be so many more species vulnerable to endangerment,” the report found. 

The report noted how crucial it is to protect them. Two of the biggest threats to insects include pesticides and loss of habitat.  

The Endangered Species Coalition says by protecting habitats, entire communities of animals and plants can be protected. Parks, wildlife refuges and other open spaces should be protected to conserve species. The coalition suggests “10 easy things you can do to save endangered species”, among them not using herbicides and pesticides, recycling and buying sustainable products, becoming involved in a local initiative or nature centre and growing indigenous plants.  

Lesego Chepape is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.