Around the globe, unique and fascinating species face extinction from hunting and habitat destruction, which affects vulnerable animals in every kind of environment. Biologists, conservationists, wildlife preservation centers and zoological parks work to breed and shelter rare and critically endangered animals when and where they can, but many species are down to the last few individuals and face an increasingly uncertain future. For some, however, the future is all too clear. Lonesome George, a Pinta Island tortoise from the Galapagos Islands, is the very last of his kind. For centuries, until they were believed to be extinct, his species kept sailors and pirates well-fed on the high seas. George alone survived. But when George dies, millions of years of evolution will come to an end. Other species, like Spix’s macaws, lemurs, Iberian lynxes, rhinos, black-footed ferrets and Chinese rafetus turtles, were well on their way to joining George as the loneliest animals in the world until help arrived, providing hope for a better outcome.
Each species in trouble presents unique challenges, including inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity, sibling rivalry on an extreme scale, and individuals who may never have seen another of their kind. There are some successes with captive breeding. For example, the black-footed ferret, once thought to be entirely extinct, is now being reintroduced to its natural home on the American plains after an incredible intervention by scientists. But rebounding in artificial settings doesn’t put endangered animals in the clear – populations may grow, but without successful action to preserve and maintain their wild habitats, they may be confined to laboratories and sanctuaries forever.
The Loneliest Animals follows the plight of these incredible, charismatic creatures and the struggles of the dedicated conservationists who fight for them.
The Loneliest Animals premiered April 19, 2008 on PBS (check local listings).