On May 20 last week, Endangered Species Day marked a number of success stories in 2011. On the third Friday of every May, Endangered Species Day in the United States gives us the opportunity to celebrate endangered species success stories, while learning what more can be done to help animals at risk.
The Endangered Species Day helps raise awareness of the purposes of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, co-administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As of the date of this publication about 1,300 species of wildlife and plants are listed for protection as endangered or threatened. Often, the listed species are imperiled due to global climate change and loss of habitat. These causes can be directly addressed by human intervention.
Since its enactment in 1973, the Endangered Species Act, has helped to prevent the extinction of countless species.
Among a number of endangered species success stories in 2011 are:
1. Florida Panther
Its hard to believe that a population of 160 animals can be considered a success, but in the 1980s, habitat loss and over-hunting reduced the number of Florida panthers to only about 35. Years ago, thousands of cougars made their home in the eastern United States, but today, the Florida panther is the only cougar subspecies found east of the Mississippi. With the help of the ESA and supportive programs, habitat for this endangered animal has been protected, but more can be done.
2. Bald Eagle
The American Bald Eagle has also regained some of its dramatically lost population numbers recently. Several centuries ago, estimates are that as many as 100,000 bald eagles could be found in the area comprising the contiguous 48 states. Yet, by the early 1960, only 417 nesting pairs remained, due to pesticide contamination from DDT and habitat loss.
The National Bird was listed as endangered when the ESA was adopted and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) adopted captive-breeding programs and regulated habitat protection. A ban on use of DDT was also enacted. As a result, there are now about 10,000 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states.
3. Desert Tortoise
Survival of the Desert Tortoise requires habitat protection, more than anything else. With development encroaching onto desert southwest lands, the species has been threatened by livestock grazing, mining, off-road vehicles and even renewable energy projects like utility scale solar power projects. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service all protect land for this species with critical habitat designations under the Endangered Species Act.
4. Karner Blue Butterfly
The Karner Blue Butterfly requires a specific flower for its survival. But numbers of the wild blue lupine, found in the Midwest and Northeast, has been reduced due to development. Without the flower, the blue butterfly lacks food and has been driven to extinction in three states. However, with habitat restoration and re-introduction programs, there is promise again for the Karner Blue Butterfly in other areas.
5. Gray Bat
The key to survival for the Gray Bat is protection of limestone caverns in which they make their homes. Years ago, more than 2.25 million bats lived in the caves in the southern and midwestern areas of the United States. But, by 1976, human activity drove the bats out, reducing their numbers to only 128,000.
With the protection of caves and forest habitat under the Endangered Species Act, the population of the species is now at about 1.5 million.
Even though these endangered species success stories are promising, more work needs to be done. We need to help maintain or further encourage population growth of threatened or endangered animals by continuing to implement conservation programs.
What can you do to help?