Humans have had one of the greatest impacts on the planet, with pollution contributing to global warming and deforestation wiping out entire species. There have even been reports calling humans an invasive species– especially when you consider that we’re found at all corners of the globe.
So, with deforestation and the animals affected being the focus of this article, what are some endangered species that live in trees?
Some endangered species that live in trees include primates like chimps and orangutans, pygmy sloths, lemurs, and koalas, but also monarch butterflies, giant pandas, tree frogs, lorises, several bird species, big cats, and many others. Protecting these species from extinction is critical to preserving the ecosystem and biodiversity of their respective living areas.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at several endangered species that live in trees, including what the biggest risks to their species are and whether steps are being taken to reverse their declining population.
1. Pygmy Sloths
While scientists have identified six different sloth species, pygmy sloths are the only ones on the endangered list.
Sloths live primarily in trees– they sleep in them, eat in them, and live in them. In fact, they only come down an average of once per week- and that’s to use the bathroom.
The reason the three-toed pygmy sloth is critically endangered is that they only live on a small island off the coast of Panama. While the island is protected, there are also indigenous people that live there who are permitted to use the island for resources, including the trees that pygmy sloths call home.
2. Giant Pandas
Giant pandas don’t live exclusively in trees. Instead, they roam around a specific area that has a lot of trees. Many giant pandas also make trees their home- they’re known for sleeping in hollowed-out trees and they often rest and play in them during the day.
I’ve included giant pandas in this list because while they are no longer considered endangered, there was a lot of work that went into increasing the species’ numbers. They are also still considered vulnerable. There were still only just over 1,800 giant pandas living in the wild according to the last count in 2015.
3. Tree Kangaroos
Tree kangaroos are the biggest tree-dwelling mammal on the Australian continent and weigh around 15-20 pounds. Not only do they spend most of their time in trees, but tree leaves and bark are dietary staples, too.
Plus, these critters are built for trees. They have short arms and legs for climbing and can fall as far as 60 feet without getting injured.
Like other marsupials, tree kangaroos’ offspring spend months living in their pouch. They only give birth to one offspring each year, so their species doesn’t grow rapidly.
There have been 12 different types of tree kangaroos identified and Matchie’s tree kangaroos are endangered. They only inhabit the northeastern part of the Huon peninsula of Papua New Guinea and are estimated to have a population of just 2,500 individuals.
Koalas live in four known places on the Australian continent, including New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and one small territory in Southern Australia. Koalas live primarily in trees but might venture down to the ground on occasion.
Koalas’ survival depends on the presence of not just trees, but food trees. They’re known for eating eucalyptus trees and also consume the leaves of a few other tree species related to the eucalyptus tree.
The koala only gained endangered status in February of 2022. Their population is on a sharp decline and it’s believed there may be anywhere from just 43,000-100,000 koalas left in the wild.
5. Big Cats
Being at the top of the food chain hasn’t necessarily helped these big cats stay off the critically endangered list.
Some of the big cats that spend a lot of time in trees on the endangered list include leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards. The margay is also a big cat species that are endangered, though they prey on small animals like mice and eat fruit.
While there are many other big cats that are endangered, they didn’t make the list because they don’t really live in trees. However, you may see them lounging in one or climbing a tree to get an advantage while hunting from time to time, particularly the ocelot and marbled cats.
The orangutan might be the largest mammal that lives in a tree. Not only do they spend their days swinging between vines and branches, but orangutans also make their nests in trees. In fact, orangutan means “man of the forest” in the Malay language.
While orangutan habitats are protected in some areas, these primates are only found in forests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The forests of Sumatra have been decimated by palm oil and mining companies and it’s estimated that only around 7,500 Sumatran orangutans still exist.
While Bornean orangutans are only endangered and not considered critically endangered, it’s believed only 104,700 of them exist in the wild. Researchers also discovered a third species called the Tapanuli orangutan they announced in 2017. However, it’s believed only 800 of these exist in the wild.
As orangutans become more endangered, their positive effects on the forests disappear as well. They spread seeds as they move through trees, playing a critical role in growing the forest.
Chimpanzees can be found roaming several countries around the world. Genetically, researchers have found that we share 98% of our DNA with this tree-dwelling species. They’ve been heavily studied because of this similarity.
While the population of chimpanzees is a lot higher than many of the other species on this list, they’re still considered endangered. Chimpanzees have faced a sharp decline in their population over the last century.
The number of chimpanzees in the world was believed to be around 1 million or so in the 1900s. Today, however, it’s estimated that there are only between 172,700-299,900 chimpanzees in the world.
8. Mountain Gorillas
Mountain gorillas only spend an estimated 5-20% of their day in trees compared to chimps spending about 61% of the day and orangutans live primarily in trees. However, trees still are a pretty big part of their natural habitat.
Mountain gorillas only live in the mountains of the countries of Uganda and Rwanda. Since they only live at elevations of 5-13,000 feet, there is only a small area where they call home and it’s estimated there are just over 1,000 mountain gorillas alive in the wild.
The biggest threats to mountain gorillas are poaching and civil conflicts in the area. Gorillas sometimes retreat to higher elevations, but cannot live there for extended periods of time because of the cold temperatures at higher altitudes.
9. Monarch Butterflies
While you’re most likely to see a monarch butterfly flying around outside, they return to trees when they are ready to roost. Specifically, monarch butterflies prefer trees nearby bodies of water.
Monarch butterflies are a migratory species native to North America. They migrate to the Northeast United States and parts of Canada during the breeding season where milkweed grows abundantly. Milkweed is essential for the monarch butterflies’ survival, as it is the only place they lay eggs and the only plant that larvae feed on.
In the colder months, monarch butterflies migrate to California and Mexico. They are considered endangered because of their decreasing numbers. Mexico has seen a 53% decrease in the monarch butterfly population and a decrease of 22-72% in the United States and Canada.
One of the biggest threats to the monarch butterfly population is pesticides, particularly in agricultural areas of Mexico. Development in forests that monarch butterflies call home is another contributing factor to their decline.
10. Golden Lion Tamarins
The golden lion tamarin is a primate species known for its shiny, reddish-gold coat. They live primarily in the trees of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and spend their days swinging between vines and branches.
At one time, it was believed there were around 200 golden lion tamarins left in the world. Today, they have been upgraded from critically endangered to endangered because of conservation efforts. It’s estimated there are around 3,000 golden lion tamarins total worldwide, with 2,500 living in the wild and the rest living in zoos.
11. Endangered Bird Species
Birds are regularly seen perching on wires, fence posts, and trees. They also build their nests in trees. It’s where they make their home, where they sleep, and where they raise their young.
It would take entirely too long to list all the bird species that have become endangered over the years. Things like deforestation, urban development, invasive species, and climate change have all impacted many bird species.
There are a lot of bird species at risk of becoming endangered, however, there have been many conservation efforts to reverse the decline of certain bird species before they become extinct.
According to Earth.org, some of the most endangered bird species include the New Zealand kakapo, hyacinth macaw, North African ostrich, New Zealand kiwi, California condor, Mariana fruit dove, and burrowing owl.
The loris is a small, adorable primate that calls the trees of the East Indies, southeastern Asia, southern Africa and India, and Sri Lanka home. They are known for their big, round eyes and smaller bodies.
While there are 25 different species of lorises, it is the pygmy slow lorises at the greatest risk of extinction. Slow lorises and slender lorises have also been endangered, but efforts from the Lemur Center have helped grow their population.
A lorises small size and big eyes make them a big target for poachers. Lorises are often sold in the Indonesian markets both for medicine and for people to keep as pets, despite it being illegal to poach and sell this protected animal. It’s estimated their population has declined by 80% in the last 24 years.
Lemurs are one of the most endangered species. Even though there have been an incredible 111 species of lemur discovered to date, it’s estimated that 98% of these species are endangered and 31% are critically endangered.
Despite the many species of lemur that have been discovered, they only live on Madagascar and its neighboring islands. Like many other species discovered in Madagascar, lemurs live only there and nowhere else in the world.
In addition to threats from deforestation that threaten the biodiversity in the area, lemurs are targeted by poachers and even the locals in the area. They are sometimes killed for food, because of cultural beliefs, or even taken to be sold in illegal markets as part of the pet trade.
14. Tree Frogs
The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that there are around 800 species of tree frogs worldwide. Several of these species are on the endangered species list, and not only because of the destruction of trees in their natural habitat.
Tree frogs are at risk not only because of deforestation but also because of pollution. They breathe air using their skin when in water because otherwise, they’d be at risk of drowning as humans would. However, this also makes them susceptible to water pollution, which is a big problem in many areas. Additionally, tree frogs are a staple in many animals’ diets, including those of different mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish.
That being said, with the many species of tree frogs spread across different continents, not all species of tree frogs are endangered. There are also conservation efforts underway. For example, Australian officials released more spotted tree frogs into the wild, hoping that it would increase their population after the 2019 brushfires that nearly wiped them all out.
How Deforestation Impacts Endangered Species That Live in Trees
Deforestation is basically the removal of trees or a group of trees from an area. It happens for a variety of reasons, including gathering resources or clearing land for development.
While most animal species are feeling the impact of things like climate change and deforestation, it’s the arboreal animals that live in the trees that are losing their actual homes from trees being cut down. This affects the biodiversity and other parts of the ecosystem as well.
Even when animals escape to another area to live, they often face competition from the critters already living there. They may have to fight over resources to survive.
Unfortunately, it isn’t only the animals that live in trees that are at risk of extinction because of deforestation. Deforestation is something that impacts all animals living in forests and rainforests, including Sumatran rhinos and tigers, Borean pygmy elephants, and countless others.
Sadly, deforestation isn’t the only threat that these animals are facing. Some animals face additional challenges from poachers, climate change, and invasive species that are destroying their natural environment. Making efforts to reduce these obstacles is critical to removing these animals from the endangered species list.
While many animals rely on trees to provide things like food and shelter, it is the endangered animals that live in trees that are at the greatest risk of being wiped out by deforestation. Several of these animals also have additional threats from hunters and poachers, invasive species, climate change, and pollution as well.
Learning more about these animals and how their habitats are being destroyed is really the first step to knowing what can be done to reverse it. Many animal species have been brought back from the brink of extinction with the right efforts.