If you take it from some researchers, there are, give or take, 8.7 million different species living on the planet. 8.7 million! In other words, for every single individual living in New York City, there’s a totally different, completely unique animal. You’re more than aware of some of them, of course. But for every standard-issue lion or bear, there’s a Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat or a Hispaniolan Solenodon.
So scroll on, and say hello to some of the most uncommon beings to live and breathe on the surface of this floating rock. Herein are the rarest animals on earth, ranging from the cute to the extraordinary to the downright scary. And for more of nature’s weirdest, check out the 30 Toughest Animals You’d Never Want to Meet in a Dark Alley.
Due to their status as a delicacy in China and Vietnam, and the belief that their scales have medicinal powers, “All four Asian species of pangolin are currently listed as endangered or critically endangered,” says Ian Britton, who works in animal rescue in Namibia for REST Namibia and runs the Pangolin & Co. Instagram. In addition, he warns, the four species of African pangolin “are quickly moving in that direction,” too (meaning toward critically endangered). With their unique look and scales made of keratin—yes, the same keratin that people pay big bucks for at the hair salon—it’s unfortunate that the pangolin holds the distinction as the world’s most trafficked animal.
2The Seneca White Deer
The Seneca white deer are an extremely rare herd of deer who are leucitic, meaning they lack pigmentation in their body, but still have brown eyes. Due to their limited number—there are about 300 in total—the species was given a protected space at the former Seneca Army Depot, where they are free from predators and open to the public to view.
3The Elephant Shrew
“One of my favorite [creatures]” says Chris Riley, owner of travel site DaringPlanet.com, is the elephant shrew—or, if you go by its proper name, the Boni Giant Sengi. “Indigenous to the Boni Dodori forest in Kenya,” he explains, the elephant shrew “has a very unusual appearance, with the body of a mouse and the head of a miniaturized anteater.”
Unfortunately, due to deforestation, he says, the shrew’s population has shrunk rapidly, and it “probably won’t be all that long until it disappears” entirely. Approximately 13,000 total elephant shrews still exist along 19 different subspecies in the world, though some populations—such as those in the Gede Ruins National Monument—number as few as 20 individuals.
“The Ti-Liger,” says Danielle Radin, a journalist and ethologist, “is one of the rarest animals on the planet.” In fact, this man-made mix between a liger and a tiger is barely spotted. There exists one in Oroville, California, she says, as well as somewhere between six and 10 in total around the globe. While they are usually much larger than the average tiger cub, the species—unlike other Dr. Moreau-like crossbreeds—don’t usually have the health problems of their hybrid peers, meaning there’s a possibility of their population increasing.
5The Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat
While you may have seen a wombat at your local zoo, odds are you’ve never set sights on this furry fella. Born with spectacularly poor eye sight, these cute critters use their noses to search for food in the darkness. All in all, Radin explains, “there are only about 115 left in the wild, all of which are found in Queensland, Australia.”
6The Yangtze Finless Porpoise
The Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, was once home to two species of dolphin—the finless porpoise and the Baiji dolphin. However, due to man-made environmental changes, the Baiji dolphin went extinct in 2006. Its brethren, the finless porpoise, is known for possessing a “mischievous smile” and the heightened intelligence of a gorilla. Unfortunately, its population is quickly going the way of the Baiji dolphin, currently being listed as “critically endangered” by the WWF. As of 2013, there were 1,000 of them, though that number is thought to have decreased since then.
The vaquita is the world’s rarest marine mammal, discovered in 1958 and having been driven almost to extinction since then. With large gray fins and a dark ring around its eyes, this porpoise is recognizable immediately, though they will quickly swim away when approached. Due to their often being drowned in nets used by illegal fishing operations in the Gulf of California, the vaquita has been reduced to a population of around 30 individuals, and seems likely to go extinct before most of people ever get to see one.
Discovered in 1992, the saola is a rare breed of mammal native to Vietnam. With two long, parallel horns, the creature is often referred to as the “Asian unicorn.” Resembling an antelope, but technically related to cattle, the saola are found only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos, making their population—albeit certainly extremely small—unknown in exact figures to researchers.
9The Amur Leopard
The Amur leopard is unique for its kind in that, instead of the savanna, it’s settled in the Russian Far East. With particularly warm fur, and the ability to run up to 37 miles per hour, the Amur is truly a feat of nature. Despite a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, however, the Amur is extremely rare, with only about 84 currently being counted by the WWF.
Hector’s dolphins are not only the rarest but also the smallest, marine dolphin in the world. With short, husky bodies and distinctive facial markings, these unique dolphins are found only in the waters along New Zealand’s North Island. Current estimates place the species at around 7,000 individuals, with some subspecies having populations as small as 55.