Endangered Species   Oct 16, 2007   2:00/1:00 MT/PT
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Endangered Species Title

What does it mean to be Threatened? Endangered?

When a species is threatened it is a warning that there is a problem of some kind with the species. If an animal or plant is threatened it means that it may become endangered if we don't take immediate steps to protect it.

Animals or plants that are considered to be endangered are in danger of becoming EXTINCT and need our immediate attention and protection.

Food WebWhen a species becomes extinct, it is gone forever. This changes the food web it belonged to, which in turn disrupts the biodiversity of its habitat. Plants and animals also serve many other beneficial purposes to humans including medicinal, agricultural, ecological, commercial and or aesthetic or recreational uses. Species need to be protected and saved so that future generations can experience their presence and value.

red uakari
Red Aukari

How many Species are Endangered?

There are about 450 animals in the United States that are listed as endangered, and about 160 that are currently threatened.

Worldwide, there are about 975 animals listed as endangered and 200 listed as threatened. Does that mean that most of the endangered animals are in the United States? No! But it does mean that the United States is pretty good at getting the ones who are endangered listed on the endangered species list.

Most plant and animal species that are actually endangered aren't on the list. Scientists have identified only about 1.5 million species in the world, and there could be as many as 30 million. Thousands of species become extinct every year before we even know they exist.

As species go extinct, we lose opportunities. Currently, about 40% of our medicine is made from things found in nature, and we have only explored about 5% of the known plant species for medicines.

Wooly Mammoth

Since 1600 A.D., more than 700 species of plants and animals have gone extinct. This is only counting the plants and animals that we know of.

The majority of plants and animal species in the world have never even been documented. There is no way of knowing how many of these undiscovered treasures were lost to extinction.

In one month, it is estimated that between 30 and 1,400 species will disappear. In one day alone, we can say good-bye to at least one plant or animal species.

“The extinction of even a single plant species may result in the disappearance of up to 30 other species of plants and wildlife.”
(USDA Forest Service, 1993)

What Causes Species Endangerment?

Species Endangerment

  • Habitat Loss = 88%
  • Competition from
    other Species
    = 46%
  • Pollution = 20%
  • Over Hunting = 14%
  • Disease = 2%

Human development also
causes changes in habitats

Development by humans causes changes in habitat. We can change a habitat by over-hunting a species; our fashion demands for animal skins, feathers and eggs; pesticides that wreak havoc on a food chain; chemicals which destroy habitat; and the introduction of non-native species - even your pet cats can cause damage!

How Does Extinction Happen?

cometSpecies disappear because of changes to the earth that are caused either by nature or by the actions of people. Sometimes a terrible natural event, like a volcano erupting, can kill an entire species. Other times, extinction will happen slowly as nature changes our world. For example, after the Ice Ages, when the great glaciers melted and the earth became warmer, many species died because they could not live in a warmer climate. Newer species that could survive a warmer environment took their places.

People can also cause the extinction of plants and animals. The main reason that many species are endangered or threatened today is because people have changed the homes or habitats upon which these species depend.

Earth and animals clipartA habitat includes not only the other plants and animals in an area, but all of the things needed for the species' survival -- from sunlight and wind to food and shelter. The United States has many habitats, from ocean beaches to mountain tops. (Check out D4K's show on Habitats!) Every species requires a certain habitat in order to live. A cactus, for example, needs the sunny, dry desert in order to grow. A polar bear, on the other hand, would not live in a desert, because it could not find enough food and water.

Pollution can also affect wildlife and contribute to extinction. The Nashville crayfish is endangered mainly because the creek where it lives has been polluted by people living nearby.

Pesticides harm environmentPesticides and other chemicals can poison plants and animals if they are not used correctly. The bald eagle is one bird that was harmed by pesticides. In the past, a pesticide called DDT was used by many farmers. Rains washed the pesticide into the lakes and streams where it poisoned fish. After eating the poisoned fish, the eagles would lay eggs with very thin shells. These eggs were usually crushed before they could hatch. Today, people are not allowed to use DDT and the bald eagle, although still endangered, has begun to increase in number and is a true success story in how we can make a difference when we all work together!

People can also endanger plants and animals by moving, or introducing, new species into areas where they do not naturally live. Some of these species do so well in their new habitat that they endanger those species already living there, called the native species. For example, when some fish are introduced into a lake or stream, they may prey upon, or eat the food of the native fish. The native species may then have to find a new source of food or a new home, or face becoming endangered or extinct.

Another way that people harm animals and plants is by taking them from the wild. Some people might catch an insect like the Mission Blue Butterfly for a butterfly collection. Others might capture a wild animal for a pet, or pick a flower because it's pretty. In addition, some people illegally hunt animals for food, skins, or fur. American Crocodile

In the past, American crocodiles were killed so that their skins could be made into shoes and other clothing. The American crocodile is now an endangered species because of our actions in the past.

Earth has seen at least five great extinction periods, each wiping out up to 95 percent of all living species. They involved massive volcanic eruptions, disastrous meteor strikes and rapid climatic changes. The next great extinction could very well be the result of humankind's abuse of the environment.

Who Decides what species are endangered or threatened?

In the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides which species are threatened and which are endangered through its Listing Program. The review process starts when someone—anyone—sends a petition to the Service. The petition asks the Service to see if there is evidence that the species is on the edge of extinction. A species will be classified as endangered if there is enough evidence. The decision is based on scientific evidence.

The World Conservation Union has created the Red List of Threatened Species. The Red List is the most authoritative listing of endangered Species from around the world.

Come look at the amazing photo gallery of mammals, plants, fungi, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds that are "red-listed" by the World Conservation Union.

How are Endangered Species protected?

What is an Endangered Specie Recovery Plan?

Recovery plans are created to save endangered plants and animals from becoming extinct.

The recovery plans attempt to make the species stable and increase in numbers.

A recovery plan includes four things:

1. A description of the species' current situation.

2. A recovery objective—like the number of members the species should have in order to be stable.

3. A schedule of what must be done to meet recovery objectives.

4. A list of outside reviews of the plan to be sure that the plan works.

Unfortunately, recovery plans aren't always carried out, so sometimes great recovery plans are created, but never used.

US fish and wildlife service logoIn addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may decide that no recovery plan it could create would ever help. If this is so, then they will not create a plan. A Regional Director who is in charge of the place where the endangered species lives decides whether to have a recovery plan created. If a plan is to be created, he or she appoints a recovery team.

The recovery team members must decide on the recovery plan. Often, there are disagreements. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service can give guidance and try to resolve disputes.

There is no timeline for drafting the recovery plan, and sometimes it can take a long time to finish. Before the plan is finalized, there is a time period when the general public can comment.
Other ways in which the United States has helped Endangered Species is by creating laws to protect species. View these laws.

condor chick being hand fedWhat else is being done?

Endangered animals can be raised in captivity in zoos and then released into the wild to help reestablish the population. To make sure they survive in the wild, some animals are hand fed using a puppet that looks like the mother of the species. Most condors are raised in the zoos in this fashion.

Bald Eagles - America's Bird

The bald eagle is a true success story! In 1963 there were only about 417 nesting pairs in the United States. Today there are about 9,789 nesting pairs! We can make a difference!

Bald Eagle

The bald eagle’s scientific name, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, means “white-headed sea eagle.” Eagles can live up to 28 years in the wild!

Did you know...

... the largest bald eagle nest ever recorded was found in Florida? It was more than nine feet wide and 20 feet high and weighed more than two tons! Now that is one big nest!

Visit the Center for Biological Diversity  to read about other success stories.

What can you do to help?

Join an organization; make space for wildlife; plant native plants; control introduced animals and plants; recycle, reduce, and reuse; and conserve existing habitats.

Make your voice heard!

Check out more ways that you can help Endangered Species.
children holding hands

Check out these amazing animals that are currently endangered

Crested Gibbon

The Crested Gibbon is one of the world's most endangered primates.

The Crested Gibbon gets its name from the tuft of long fur on the crown of its head.

Male Crested Gibbons are black; females are golden with black faces. Find out more...

golden lion tamarin
Check out the World's rarest mammals.
To be on this list there must be 1000 or less found in their natural environment.

Read the story of the
golden lion tamarin...who was once listed as
one of the world's rarest mammals


Orangutans are highly intelligent observers; they have been known to watch humans untie a boat and row it across a river, and then repeat the behavior themselves.

Like humans, orangutans pass down socially learned traditions; for example, the orangutans in Borneo use leaves as napkins to wipe their mouths, and orangutans in parts of Sumatra use leaves as gloves when handling thorny branches.

When was the last time you used a leaf to wipe your mouth?

Learn more about orangutans
from the folks at Nature.

Endangered Marsupials

There are many factors which have contributed to the endangerment of many of the marsupials in Australia and throughout the world.  The reasons most of these mammals are endangered revolve around man's intrusion into their environment. 

Find out more about
in Australia.

The Yellow-Eyed Penguinyellow eyed penguin

Did you know that Penguins are specialized marine birds adapted to living at sea? Some species spend as much as 75% of their lives in the sea - only coming ashore for breeding and molting. Penguin wings are paddle-like flippers used for swimming, not flying.

The most vulnerable penguin is the yellow-eyed penguin, which inhabits the coasts and offshore islands of southeast New Zealand. The yellow-eyed penguin population is estimated at less than 7,000.

The Florida Panther

The Florida Panther is one of the world's most endangered species. This amazing cat marks it's territory with scrapes (piles of soil, leaves, or pine needles.) Sometimes they even mark their territory by putting urine or feces on top of the scrapes to let others know to keep off their turf!

Florida panther kittens and their mothers keep track of each other with whistles. How does your mom or dad call you?

Did you know...

...the breathtaking curved horns of the Giant Sable Antelope can reach up to five feet in length? If a giant sable antelope were to lose its horns, they would not grow back.

giant sable antelope
The giant sable antelope can reach and sustain speeds of up to 35 mph!

Check it out!

The fastest human runs a little under 30 mph, and only for short distances.

galapagos giant tortoise
Did you know
...It takes a baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise a month to dig itself out of the nest in which it was buried and then born. Aren't you glad you didn't have to dig your way out! Find out more here!

javan rhinoJavan Rhinoceros

The Javan Rhinoceros is the least known of the five remaining species of rhinoceros, which can perhaps be attributed to it's low population. They are mainly found within the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, and they prefer lowland rainforest, large flood plains with mud wallows, (who doesn't love a mud bath?) and tall grass and reed beds.

Their diet includes up to 150 different plant species. They will eat around 50 kg of food each day or approximately 110 lbs of food! That would be a lot food to eat in one day! How much food do you eat in a day?

The Javan Rhino has an armour-like appearance given by its gray skin that folds into the shoulder, back, and rump of the animal. The horn of the Javan Rhino differs between the males and females, with the males horn reaching up to about 26 cm. or about 10 inches long. The females horn are stubby and knob like, or they have no horn at all.

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