The term endangered refers to a species that is in danger of becoming extinct due to climate change, loss of natural habitat, or dwindling numbers in general.
As early as the 1800’s, humans began noticing the decline of certain species of animals in their usual habitats. An example is the whooping crane. Once abundant from Canada to Mexico, it was estimated in 1941 that only 16 birds remained in the wild. Another early example of mankind noticing the extinction of species was the introduction of “kudzu” in the southern United States. This fast-growing plant took over the south, growing on plants and trees and squelching the life out of them.
In those early days protective practices were put into place to try and prevent the extinction of endangered species. However, lack of knowledge on the subject caused the early conservationists’ efforts to be too little.
Today there are many species of plants and animals on the endangered species list. Examples of animals on the list include, but are not limited to:
- Extinct: Javan Tiger, Dodo, Passenger Pigeon, Steller’s Sea Cow, Aurochs, Caribbean Monk Seal, Elephant Bird, Woolly Mammoth, Dusky Seaside Sparrow, Thylacine,
- Extinct in the wild: (this refers to animals that exist in captivity, but not in the wild) Wyoming Toad, Red-tailed Black Shark, Socorro Dove, Hawaiian Crow, Scimitar Oryx, Catarina Pupfish
- Critically endangered: (this refers to species that have a very great risk of becoming extinct in the near future) Bactrian Camel, , Brazilian Merganser, Ethiopian Wolf, Saiga, Takhi, Iberian Lynx, Kakapo, Arakan Forest Turtle, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Javan Rhino Axolotl, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Northern White Rhinoceros, Brown Spider Monkey, Gharial, Vaquita, Philippine Eagle, California Condor, Chinese Alligator, Sumatran Orangutan, Island Fox, Black Rhinoceros, Asiatic Cheetah, African Wild Ass, Mountain Gorilla
- Endangered:(this refers to species that have a great risk of becoming extinct in the close future) Malayan Tapir, Tiger, Dhole, Blue Whale, Snow Leopard, African Wild Dog, Green Sea Turtle, Steller’s Sea Lion, Asian Elephant, Giant Panda, Philippine Eagle, Asiatic Lion, Markhor, Bornean Orangutan, Grevy’s Zebra, Tasmanian Devil, Japanese Crane, Gorillas, Bonobo, Wild Water Buffalo, African Penguin, Goliath Frog, Rothschild Giraffe, Giant Otter, Lear’s Macaw, Pygmy Hippopotamus
- Vulnerable: (this refers to species that face an intermediate risk someday soon) Cheetah, Gaur, Lion, Sloth Bear, Sarus Crane, Dugong, Polar Bear, Komodo Dragon, Great White Shark, Hippopotamus, Mandrill, Fossa, Crowned Crane, Clouded Leopard, Galapagos Tortoise, Indian Rhinoceros, Mountain Zebra, African Elephant, Humboldt Penguin
- Near threatened: (this refers to species that might become threatened in the immediate future): Solitary Eagle, Blue-billed Duck, Maned Wolf, Tiger Shark, Southern White Rhinoceros, Okapi, African Grey Parrot, American Bison, Jaguar, Striped Hyena, Narwhal, Magellanic Penguin
- Least concern: (these species face no great threat in the immediate future) Common Wood Pigeon, Common Bottlenose Dolphin, Brown Bear, Grey Wolf, House Mouse, Rock Pigeon, Giraffe, Scarlet Macaw, Platypus, Bald Eagle, Brown Rat, Cane Toad, Humpback Whale, American Crow, Wolverine, Human Mute Swan, California Sea Lion, Mallard, Red-tailed Hawk, Indian Peafowl, American Alligator, Emperor Penguin, Southern Elephant Seal, Meerkat
There are many more species that are truly endangered than room on the endangered species lists allows for. It is estimated that the known endangered species in the world are ten times higher than the actual number of species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the rate of extinction is at least 100-1000 times higher than it would be without the dangerous effects brought on by humans.
What is Causing the Endangerment?
Endangerment is brought about by many factors. These factors might include climate changes due to global warming, the loss of natural habitat due to human expansion, pollution, or poaching, among others.
Climate change is a factor in the decline of many animals listed on the endangered species list. Some scientists say that due to warmer weather the animals are unable to mate as they normally would. The decline in mating brings about an obvious decline in numbers. For other species, such as the arctic polar bear, the warmer weather is literally melting their homes.
Global warming is believed to be brought about by the emission of greenhouse gasses into the earth’s atmosphere. Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been put into place to monitor the amount of pollution released into the air. Other strategies have been put into place to lower the greenhouse gasses in the air, such as recycling campaigns and products like the electric car.
Loss of Habitat
A species loss of habitat can happen in numerous ways. For instance, logging might affect plant species as well as animal species which make their homes in the trees. Another example is the development of housing, business, and shopping districts for humans. As the human population expands, people push outward into the unoccupied territories. Animals are pushed from their habitats to make way for the people. Plants are torn from the ground, and eventually stomped out altogether.
An example of this is the giant panda. Once abundant in China and Tibet, today the panda now faces extinction on the endangered species list. As the Chinese population swells, the people move into the very plains where the panda once made its home. Pandas have been forced to seek out new homes and food sources, which sometimes proves impossible for them.
Steps are being taken to recoup the loss of a species’ natural habitat. Through zoos, reservations, and captive breeding programs, conservationists hope to make a difference.
Once a large and harmful threat for plants and animals around the planet, pollution from pesticides and insecticides is now on the decline. Thanks to laws put in place banning the use of these harsh chemicals, pollution is being stomped out as a major threat to the endangered species of the world.
Before the outlawing of products like DDT, harmful chemicals spread through the food chain, killing off threatened and endangered species.
The hunting of animals for the use of sport or sale has led to the decline in numbers of many on the endangered species list. For instance, pandas and polar bears have faced serious harm as they were hunted for sport over the last century.
Today many countries have laws in place preventing poaching. These laws carry serious consequences if broken.
Terms Used To Determine Endangerment
Many agencies and funds have been put into place to combat species extinction. While they all use similar terminology, there are variances within the realm.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists several categories rating the level of “endangered”. These include least concern, near threatened, threatened, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild, and extinct.
In the United States, there are fewer categories. These include extinct, endangered, threatened, and delisted.
Another organization involved in the conservation efforts is NatureServe. Their five listings include critically imperiled, imperiled, vulnerable, apparently secure, and secure.
These different listings are quite self-explanatory, and they all boil down to the same thing. How endangered is a species?
How a Species Gains Listing
There are processes an individual or organization must go through in order to get a species listed, and therefore protected, on the endangered species list. These processes have many levels and steps, and the process can be relatively short (depending on the severity of the species threat) or take many months or years.
First of all, to even be considered for protection a species has to meet certain criteria. This criterion includes the following:
- There is the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.
- An over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
- The species is declining due to disease or predation.
- There is an inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
- There are other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
Once a petition for protection has been filed, the federal agencies in place will follow steps to determine if the species is truly endangered. These steps include:
1. If a petition is presented, and it shows that a species is probably threatened, the petition goes through a ninety day screening period (interested persons and/or organization petitions only). If the petition does not show substantial probability to support its listing, it is denied.
2. If the information presented in the petition is substantial, a status review is begun. This review includes a report on the “biological status and threats” of the animal. The results of this report can be listed as warranted not warranted, or warranted but not precluded.
- A finding of not warranted, the listing process ends.
- Warranted finding means the agencies publish a 12-month finding (a proposed rule) within one year of the date of the petition, proposing to list the species as threatened or endangered. Comments are solicited from the public, and one or more public hearings may be held. Three expert opinions from appropriate and independent specialists may be included, but is voluntary.
- A “warranted but precluded” finding is automatically recycled back through the 12-month process indefinitely until a result of either “not warranted” or “warranted” is determined. The agencies monitor the status of any “warranted but precluded” species.
3. The decision to actually list or reject the species is made within a year’s time. If a decision has not been made within the year, an extension may be granted for up to six months. Furthermore, listings can be grouped by category, according to similar geographies, threats, habitats, or taxonomy.
There are some who argue the benefits of conservation. They maintain that the money spent on, and efforts put into, endangered species conservation is not worth the time. However, the benefits are numerous.
In 2009 it was reported that more than fifty species have officially been delisted. This speaks to the success of the conservation efforts. Species that have recovered from the time they were placed on the endangered species list include:
- Bald Eagle (increased from 417 to 11,040 pairs between 1963 and 2007); removed from list 2007
- Whooping Crane (increased from 54 to 436 birds between 1967 and 2003)
- Kirtland’s Warbler (increased from 210 to 1,415 pairs between 1971 and 2005)
- Peregrine Falcon (increased from 324 to 1,700 pairs between 1975 and 2000); removed from list
- Gray Wolf (populations increased dramatically in the Northern Rockies, Southwest, and Great Lakes)
- Gray Whale (increased from 13,095 to 26,635 whales between 1968 and 1998); removed from list (Debated because whaling was banned before the ESA was set in place and that the ESA had nothing to do with the natural population increase since the cease of massive whaling [excluding Native American tribal whaling])
- Grizzly bear (increased from about 271 to over 580 bears in the Yellowstone area between 1975 and 2005); removed from list 3/22/07
- California’s Southern Sea Otter (increased from 1,789 in 1976 to 2,735 in 2005)
- San Clemente Indian Paintbrush (increased from 500 plants in 1979 to more than 3,500 in 1997)
- Red Wolf (increased from 17 in 1980 to 257 in 2003)
- Florida’s Key Deer (increased from 200 in 1971 to 750 in 2001)
- Big Bend Gambusia (increased from a couple dozen to a population of over 50,000)
- Hawaiian Goose (increased from 400 birds in 1980 to 1,275 in 2003)
- Virginia Big-Eared Bat (increased from 3,500 in 1979 to 18,442 in 2004)
- Black-Footed Ferret (increased from 18 in 1986 to 600 in 2006)
However, to date, there are more than 1800 species that are still on the endangered species list. These plants and animals need recovering.
Not only are the conservation efforts important for the species they help, they are important to mankind as well.
Many of the conservation efforts in the past have led to beneficial discoveries for humans. An example of this is the preservation of the Pacific Yew. The yew became a source of taxol, which has been found to be one of the strongest anti-cancer agents ever.
Every species on earth (and the ecosystems they perpetuate) work for the greater good of mankind. They provide breathable air, food, clean water, clothing, medicine, building materials, fertile soils, transport, climate regulation, and spiritual values.