Wolf vs. Pangolin. Sloth vs. Orca. The ‘Rare & Ready to Be Saved’ Final Four Starts Now

It’s not too late to vote for your favorite endangered animal and pledge to help ensure its long-term survival.
(Photo-collage: TakePart)
Mar 28, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

The penultimate round of endangered animal bracketeering has arrived.

The red wolf, Chinese pangolin, pygmy three-toed sloth, and Southern Resident killer whale have advanced to the Final Four of “Rare & Ready to Be Saved,” TakePart’s annual bracket game spotlighting the Endangered Species Coalition’s efforts to protect imperiled animals and their diminishing habitats.

The first semifinal pits the red wolf against the Chinese pangolin. The animals took similar paths to the Final Four. The pangolin, an armor-plated anteater native to swaths of Asia, easily outpaced the bog turtle in one quarterfinal, while the red wolf, a medium-size predator that survives in the wild only in eastern North Carolina, outclassed the Malayan tiger, a pre-tournament favorite, in their Great Eight showdown.

Semifinal No. 2 is an outsize matchup of species from dramatically—some might even say comically—different weight classes: the pygmy three-toed sloth (its average weight is 6 pounds) versus the Southern Resident killer whale (which can tip the scales at more than 20,000 pounds). These two semifinalists had no trouble emerging from their respective regions, with the sloth defeating the Sumatran orangutan and the oceanic apex predator earning a W over the monk seal.

It’s true: “Rare & Ready” is a game featuring hypothetical matchups between animals that, odds are, would never occupy the same physical space in nature. But real-world stakes are tethered to the amusement. While the bracket game will crown a winner next week, in reality all of its 16 contestants are victors—because for every 10 votes received, TakePart, in its discretion, will donate $1 to the Endangered Species Coalition, up to $5,000. The nonprofit will, in turn, use the funds to shield endangered species in their native habitats.

To be clear, each Final Four representative could use the helping hand.

The wild population of the red wolf stands at just 50 to 75 individuals. Owing to political pressure from landowners fearful that the predators will kill their livestock, the canids can still be shot under depredation permits. Their semifinal opponent, the Chinese pangolin, is one of the most heavily trafficked animals in the world. While population estimates are unknown, tens of thousands are thought to be poached annually. In parts of China, the insectivore is considered a culinary delicacy. Though there’s no science to back it up, its scales are used to treat maladies in traditional Asian medicine.

The pygmy three-toed sloth owes its designation as critically endangered—only 500 to 1,500 of the sluggish tree dwellers remain in the mangrove forests of Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a Panamanian islet—to deforestation by indigenous fishers in need of firewood and timber. The reason its Final Four opponent, the Southern Resident killer whale, is exceedingly rare—90 individuals, spread across three pods occupying the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest, remain—is a bit more complicated. In the 1960s and ’70s, the orcas were regularly caught and used to lure tourists to marine theme parks, such as SeaWorld. While that practice has since been outlawed, the species’ long-term survival is precarious for other reasons, chiefly that its primary prey, the Chinook salmon, is itself endangered.

The clock is ticking. There’s only one week—and two rounds—left in this year’s “Rare & Ready to Be Saved” game. If you haven’t already done so, sign up to play and vote. It’s a lighthearted, win-win way to have some fun (say, on your lunch break or during your subway ride home) and do the right thing on behalf of endangered animals.