Today is National Endangered Species Day, a day to recognize why wildlife conservation is important and what can be done to help prevent threatened species from extinction. In 2006, U.S. Congress officially made the third Friday in May a day to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the role that we can play in protecting critically-threatened species from deforestation, pollution, overfishing, and many more human-induced challenges.
“In the last 250 years, 571 species have been confirmed extinct” and “there are between 200 and 2,000 extinctions that occur every year”, explains Aleksander Hrubenja in their article. While the numbers can seem overwhelming, it is important to realize that many species have been brought back from the brink of extinction because activists and communities have worked to raise awareness and change the systems that threaten ecosystems, like deforestation, overfishing, poaching, habitat loss, road development, and pollution. Examples include the bald eagle, grey wolf, and the northern elephant seal. Hopefully, with the help of awareness-building and environmental efforts that support the wild flora and fauna that span the country, the species listed below (and many more) can begin to be better protected. Learn more about what you can do in your community and state here.
The Florida Panther
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Florida panther is the lone large feline still living in the Southeastern United States, although pumas and jaguars used to roam from coast to coast. Florida’s official state animal can now be found in Big Cypress National Preserve and areas of South Florida, but their numbers have dwindled to around 100 or so. Placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act in 1967, the panthers are seen as an umbrella species that helps maintain the health of the rest of the ecosystem. The largest threats to their numbers have been roadway deaths and habitat loss or fragmentation, and organizations like Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity are actively working to increase the size of wildlife protection habitats for this species. Learn more about the threats this species is facing and conservation efforts here.
The Mississippi Gopher Frog
The Mississippi gopher frog used to be found throughout Louisiana and Alabama too, but now is only seen in two counties in Mississippi. Preferring forested areas and temporary wetlands, there are only two ‘natural breeding populations’ at two ponds in Mississippi, and a third has been created by transplanting breeding pairs to an additional pond. Even with extensive efforts in Mississippi, it is estimated that only 100 of these 3-inch frogs still exist in the wild. The biggest threat they face is urbanization and habitat loss, but their sensitive numbers also make them extremely susceptible to changing climates. Learn more about them here.
The Tricolored Blackbird
This beautiful bird makes its home in the wetlands of California. Threatened by habitat loss due to agricultural development, town expansion, and water diversion, this bird has faced a significant population decline; scientists estimate that the 2 to 3 million tricolored blackbirds of the 1930s have dwindled to about 300,000 in the wild. They are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and efforts are being made in California to provide better nesting grounds in Wildlife Refuges. Learn more about these unique birds and what can be done to help them here and check out some conservation efforts that have already happened!
This year, raising awareness of endangered species is looking a little different, as we are all required to stay home and stay safe. However, many organizations are taking their resources digital, so it is still possible to have a day filled with education and awareness-raising activities. Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s “Ten Ways to Celebrate Endangered Species from Home”, which includes virtual field trips and free magazines. National Geographic has a 2019 interactive map for endangered species, divided by state here. You can also check out the Endangered Species Coalition’s events, featuring story time for children, a showing of the documentary Racing Extinction, and small challenges. And of course, there are so many environment documentaries on streaming services today, an abundance of live wildlife cameras on YouTube, and podcasts like these from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to just have running in the background while you make your way to the weekend.