What are Endangered Species?
Endangered species are plants and animals that are threatened with extinction. If one of these species goes extinct, it can damage an entire ecosystem. About 95 species of birds and 40 species of mammals have gone extinct in the past 350 years. However, seven times that number are endangered today.
There are three levels of classification of scarce animals and plants. These are endangered,
vulnerable and lower risk.
These species face the highest risk of extinction. The California condor is at risk of extinction. There are only about 330 birds left.
Vulnerable is another word for threatened. There can be a lot of a species in some places but they face dangers like too much hunting and too much trapping. The gray wolf is a vulnerable species.
Lower risk also means rare. These species have lower populations than normal. Bristlecone pine trees only grow in the Western United States, but their risk is pretty low.
What Are the Threats to Species?
There are a number of threats to species, including habitat destruction, wildlife trade, overhunting and invasion of nonnative animals and plants.
This is when humans destroy animal habitats for farming or building. Habitat destruction is probably the biggest threat to species today. The cutting down of tropical rain forests hurts a lot of species because the tropical rain forests are the most biodiverse places on earth.
This is when people capture animals for zoos, research, pets and commercial purposes. Some people kill animals for their body parts. The Spix’s macaw of Brazil is endangered because so many have been caught for private bird collectors. The orangutan is also endangered because of trade. Orangutan mothers are killed so the babies can be brought to zoos. Gorillas and chimpanzees are sold for their meat. Some animals are killed for their tusks, horns, fur or hides. These include the African elephant, rhinoceroses, wild chinchillas, the Tibetan antelope and snow leopards. Even though these animals are protected by law, they are still hunted or captured illegally.
Overhunting threatens many species including the West Indian manatee, the Asiatic lion, the dugong and many species of pheasants. People will hunt animals they think are threatening their livelihoods. Livestock owners shoot, trap or poison animals they think hurt their cattle. Farmers in North America have hunted the red wolf and many species of prairie dogs to the point these animals are endangered. Some fishermen kill seals because they think the seals are reducing the amount of fish.
Invasion of Nonnative Animals and Plants
Native plants, birds and other animals are threatened when people bring domestic animals to an area. If livestock are allowed to overgraze, they can destroy native animals’ habitats. Pet cats can prey on small birds and mammals. Lakes and rivers stocked with game fish can threaten native fish.
What is Being Done to Save Species?
People have organized to try to help protect wildlife. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is one of the most famous of all organization for conservation. The WWF and groups like this educate people about conservation and get governments to help.
Many countries have created nature preserves to protect endangered species. There are more than 37,000 of these protected areas around the world. Most countries have also passed laws to protect animals and plants.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects endangered species in the United States from hunting and collecting. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also helps protect wild species worldwide. This treaty, written in 1973, controls trade of animals, plants, their body parts and any plant or animal products.
Even though there are laws protecting species, many animals are still being poached and hunted. The giant panda, the mountain gorilla, the African elephant and rhinos are still in danger because of this. The laws are not strong enough to protect them.
How You Can Help
Kids and adults can do a number of things to help save the species.
- Adopt an endangered animal. Your local zoo or wildlife organization can show you how.
- Write a report for school about endangered species.
- Be careful when you are on the road so you don’t hit any animals. In the United States, a large number of Florida panthers and Florida black bears are killed because of road collisions.
- Plant a tree or a garden to bring wildlife to your area.
- Write to your government officials telling them that you think helping endangered species is important.