Partnering with animals to tackle the climate crisis at COP28Read more
While it’s well known that certain animal species are endangered, it’s easy to underestimate the true extent of the problem. The reality is that countless species are at risk, with a staggering 22% of European animals facing the threat of extinction. This alarming statistic is a stark reminder of the important actions needed to protect and preserve the continent’s wildlife.
Though the list of at-risk species in Europe is extensive, in this article, we take a closer look at 10 of the most endangered animals, including highly vulnerable species with populations on the verge of extinction.
Each of the animals below faces a unique set of challenges and threats, making it all the more important to educate ourselves on how to conserve their declining populations. From the Mediterranean monk seal, which has an estimated population of around 400, to the Bavarian pine vole, which has fewer than 50 individuals remaining, discover some of the most endangered animals in Europe below.
What is a wild hamster? The common hamster (Cricetus cricetus) is a stout-bodied rodent measuring up to 34 centimetres (13 inches) long, with shorter tails that typically measure around 6 centimetres (2 inches). They typically have thick, long, reddish brown fur, with round cheeks, small furry ears, and wide feet. The common hamster is not the species that is commonly kept as a pet. Their cousin the golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) is often sought after as a pet.
The wild common hamster population is highly fragmented. It’s found in grasslands across many European countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany, as well as Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and the Czech Republic.
How many wild hamsters are left? While it’s not known exactly how many hamsters are left in the wild, we do know that they’re critically endangered. Their range has shrunk by an estimated 94% in France and 75% in Eastern Europe. According to the IUCN, if no conservation efforts are taken to protect the wild hamster population, it risks becoming extinct within three decades.
Why is the wild hamster endangered? The causes behind the decline of the wild hamster population are complex and unclear. However, it’s thought that a driving factor is habitat loss and fragmentation, caused by the building of infrastructure and roads as well as agricultural practices. The lifespan of the wild hamster is very short—one to two years. Because of this, they would need to produce two litters per year just to maintain their current population levels.
What is a Karpathos frog? The Karpathos frog (Pelophylax cerigensis) is typically a green or brown colour with dark patterns and markings. Like most frog species, they have powerful hind legs that enable them to jump relatively far distances for their size and webbed feet that are adapted for swimming. They have large eyes on the sides of the top of their heads, enabling them to see even when sitting in water.
Karpathos frogs are native to the small Greek island of Karpathos. They’re known to inhabit only two of its small freshwater rivers, living in slow or still waters.
How many Karpathos frogs are left? According to the IUCN Red List, Karpathos frogs are critically endangered—which is only one step away from extinction. It’s estimated that there are a few hundred mature individuals left in the wild, and the population is decreasing.
Why is the Karpathos frog endangered? Habitat loss is a major threat to the survival of the Karpathos frog. Human activities, such as deforestation, urban development, water extraction and agriculture, have led to the loss, pollution, and degradation of the frog’s preferred aquatic habitats. Collecting Karpathos frogs for scientific research purposes—while not a major threat—also puts a strain on the species, especially when their range and distribution is limited to such a specific area.
What is a Bavarian pine vole? A Bavarian pine vole (Microtus bavaricus) is a very rare, small rodent that is only around 10 centimetres (4 inches) long, weighing just 18 to 28 grams (less than one ounce).
Found hidden in the underground passageways of the Northern Limestone Alps in Austria and parts of southern Bavaria, its brownish fur and small tail provides camouflage. This tiny vole is a herbivore, with a diet made up mostly of roots, grasses, and herbs.
How many Bavarian pine voles are left? Bavarian pine voles are critically endangered, with less than 50 mature individuals remaining in a declining and fragmented population.
Why is the Bavarian pine vole endangered? The primary threat to this species is human-caused habitat loss. In the 1980s, the construction of a hospital on the land where Bavarian pine voles were originally discovered destroyed their only known habitat. The forests in which they’re now found are also becoming uninhabitable, as the fertilisers used in agricultural practices pollute the soil and logging destroys the land.
What is a Sette Fratelli cave salamander? The Sette Fratelli cave salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis) is a small amphibian species. Its skin is typically a brown to dark brown colour, which helps them blend into the dimly lit environments of caves and rocky crevices. The body of the Sette Fratelli cave salamander is elongated and lean, and it has slender fingers and toes, which are also well-suited for navigating the tight spaces in their cave habitats. Their longer tails aid them with balance and movement.
Sette Fratelli cave salamanders live in the forests and rocky areas of Sardinia, Italy. Their habitat is restricted to the Sette Fratelli mountain, between 200 to 800 metres (650 to 2,600 feet) above sea level, with an estimated range of only 70 square kilometres (27 square miles).
How many Sette Fratelli cave salamanders are left? While the exact number of individuals is unknown, the IUCN Red List classifies this species as critically endangered, and its population is reported to be declining.
Around 80% to 90% of the entire population of the species once existed in Sardinia, and there has been an estimated 70% to 80% decline in this known population.
Why is the Sette Fratelli cave salamander endangered? The very limited geographical range of this species puts it at risk, while capturing the salamander for the pet trade puts a further strain on its survival. Climate change also endangers Sette Fratelli cave salamanders because of the species’ specific microclimatic preferences. As the climate shifts, it affects its distribution and activity.
Other European salamander species are also at risk from diseases that are caused by certain fungal infections, which have significantly reduced global amphibian populations.
What is a Peña de Francia rock lizard? One of the most endangered animals in Europe, Peña de Francia rock lizards (Iberolacerta martinezricai) are relatively small reptiles with distinctive bright green patterns on their mostly dark brown to black bodies. They usually have slender, long bodies, long tails, and relatively short limbs. Like most lizard species, they have triangular heads, with eyes that sit on the tops of the sides of their heads.
They’re found in Spain, specifically in rocky areas at high altitudes, such as mountain peaks.
How many Peña de Francia rock lizards are left? There are less than 100 mature Peña de Francia rock lizards left in the wild and their population is decreasing. Unfortunately, this species is critically endangered.
Why is the Peña de Francia rock lizard endangered? The construction of roads in the habitats of this lizard species poses a threat to its survival. Seasonal tourism is also a huge factor, causing an increasing number of all-terrain vehicles to be used within their habitat. Climate change may also play a role in the population decline of the Peña de Francia rock lizard, due to temperature shifts, altered habitats, and the increased risk of wildfire.
What is an Aeolian wall lizard? The Aeolian wall lizard, (Podarcis raffonei) is a small lizard species native to specific areas of shrubland and mountain regions within the Aeolian Islands in Italy. They’re known to inhabit a few isolated places on Vulcano Island, as well as very small rocky islets.
Aeolian wall lizards have relatively slender bodies, with flat, triangular-shaped heads. These lizards are agile climbers and often found on walls—as the name would suggest—and rocky outcrops. Their longer tails help them balance, but they can be detached from their bodies to help them escape from a threat.
How many Aeolian wall lizards are left? There are less than 500 critically endangered Aeolian wall lizards left. It’s estimated that 200 to 400 individuals can be found in Strombolicchio and Scoglio Faraglione, 20 to 30 individuals are left in La Canna, and the population on Vulcano Island is close to extinction.
Why is the Aeolian wall lizard endangered? The introduction of alien species to the Aeolian wall lizard’s narrow range of habitat, including non-native predators and competitors, has put the survival of the species at risk. Collecting Aeolian wall lizards and removing them from the wild for scientific research purposes also has contributed to the decline of their population.
What is an Oltenia blind mole-rat? An Oltenia blind mole-rat, scientifically known as Spalax istricus, is a rodent species that lives underground. These critically endangered animals are relatively small and have greyish brown fur that helps them to blend into the soil in which they live. Their strong, cylindrical bodies and arms, as well as their claws, are adapted for digging through the soil. Despite being blind and appearing to have no eyes, they do have very small eyes sitting under their skin and fur that can detect light. They have a tail, though it is very short.
Oltenia blind mole-rats are found in Romania, in steppe and forest-steppe grasslands.
How many Oltenia blind mole-rats are left? It’s very possible that Oltenia blind mole-rats are already extinct. Despite extensive search efforts, no data has been recorded about their population in the last 30 years. They are therefore classified on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered.
Why is the Oltenia blind mole-rat endangered? Blind mole-rats have historically been treated as pests in agriculture, receiving no protection from European laws. When spotted in farms and gardens, they have often been killed. The Oltenia blind mole-rat is also threatened by habitat loss, as humans are converting land for agriculture in their habitats.
What is a Mediterranean monk seal? The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is a marine mammal with a unique appearance. It can reach lengths of 215 to 275 centimeters (7 to 9 feet), weighing around 235 to 300 kilograms (518 to 661 pounds). Adult male Mediterranean monk seals usually have a black fur coat with a white ventral patch, while adult females have a brown or grey coat with a lighter belly.
This seal species is known for its large, round, expressive eyes, as well as the long whiskers on its muzzle. Mediterranean monk seals have elongated, streamlined, and flexible bodies with strong, paddle-like flippers, making them well adapted for swimming in water. They have prominent, v-shaped nostrils on top of their snouts, useful for breathing at the surface of the water.
These seals are found around the eastern Mediterranean and the northeast Atlantic oceans.
How many Mediterranean monk seals are left? Mediterranean monk seals are an endangered species. There are only around 400 mature individuals left, though their population is reportedly increasing.
Why is the Mediterranean monk seal endangered? The Mediterranean monk seal’s range has been limited by human encroachment and habitat degradation. Humans have built infrastructure, including roads, hotels, houses, and power plants, along coasts, which has degraded breeding grounds and safe spaces for seal pups.
Tourism is one of the biggest threats to the survival of this seal species. For instance, in areas where diving has become popular, there has been a decline in pupping activity. Vessel strikes also injure or kill Mediterranean monk seals.
What is an angelshark? The angelshark (Squatina squatina) has a wide, flat body, resembling a ray or a skate. They’re usually a grey or brown colour, which is useful for camouflaging on the seabed. They have two dorsal fins, as well as pectoral fins, which help to distinguish them from rays and skates. Angelsharks have wide mouths full of sharp teeth, helping them capture prey such as fish and crustaceans.
The angelshark is found in the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea, around the Canary Islands, and around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, though its historical range is larger. Its presence is uncertain in many regions it once inhabited.
How many angelsharks are left? Angelsharks are critically endangered. While exact numbers aren’t known, it’s reported that the population is decreasing.
Why is the angelshark endangered? There are several factors contributing to the endangered status of angelsharks. They have historically been targeted by the commercial fishing industry for their meat and fins, which has been a significant cause of their population decline. They’re also often unintentionally caught as bycatch in other fishing gear, including trawl nets and longlines. As the species has a slow reproductive rate, they are more susceptible to overfishing.
What is a Balearic shearwater? The Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) is a medium-sized, long-winged seabird that breeds exclusively in Spain’s Balearic Islands. During the breeding season, it can also be found foraging on the Iberian peninsula as well as in Algeria and Morocco. After the breeding season, the species moves to the coasts of southwestern Europe, including Spain, Portugal, France, and the UK. Despite their scientific name, they are not closely related to Atlantic puffins.
How many Balearic shearwaters are left? The Balearic shearwater is critically endangered, and there are only about 19,000 individual birds remaining. Its population is reportedly decreasing in number.
Why is the Balearic shearwater endangered? Currently, the greatest threat to Balearic shearwaters is bycatch—the accidental catching of these birds by fishermen. Bycatch is sadly an issue that affects many animals around the world, including marine mammals and turtles. Predation by introduced species—including rats, cats, and genets—is also an issue. Acute pollution events like oil spills also threaten this species. Oil spills can remove the natural waterproof coating from a seabird’s feathers. When they are no longer waterproofed, these birds may experience effects like hypothermia.
There are various initiatives in place at international and European level to protect endangered species. The European Union’s new Nature Restoration Law, for example, intends to restore ecosystems and habitats of species on land and in water by setting binding targets for member states.
IFAW is actively committed to the protection of endangered species in Europe and around the world, and they need your help. Preserving biodiversity is vital for animals, people, and the planet.
every problem has a solution, every solution needs support.
The problems we face are urgent, complicated, and resistant to change. Real solutions demand creativity, hard work and involvement from people like you.