Many animals on the planet are endangered or near extinction. While it is a dire situation in multiple cases, there are still things that we can do to help these species continue on, repopulate, and thrive despite their current predicaments. We can also work to make sure that more species do not end up on the endangered animals’ list.
Preserving animal habitats, reducing pollution, limiting urban encroachment, encouraging laws that keep endangered animals safe from hunting, and supporting programs that take care of the animals and their habitats are some of the things that we can do to help.
We are currently in the middle of the planet’s sixth major plant and animal extinction. The previous mass extinction ended the reign of dinosaurs and was caused by large natural disasters. The current extinction is thought to be caused almost exclusively by humans. Because of this, we also have the power to slow down and end the extinction.
By the numbers:
- Twenty-five percent of the world’s mammals are threatened with extinction
- More than forty percent of amphibians are also threatened with extinction
- There has been a sixty percent decline in all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish since 1970
- The most significant cause of population decline in plants and animals is habitat loss and degradation
- Twenty percent of the Amazon rainforest has vanished in the past fifty years
- Approximately fifty percent of all shallow-water coral has vanished in the past thirty years
- Fifty-five percent of the threats facing fish are due to overexploitation or overfishing
- Freshwater habitats have lost eighty-three percent of their vertebrate population since 1970
- South and Central America have lost eighty-nine percent of their vertebrate population since 1970
- Animal Welfare Institute: Endangered species
- Earth Day Network: Fact sheet: Global species design
- World Wide Fund for Nature: How many species are we losing?
- National Geographic: Endangered species, explained
Why Do Animals Become Endangered?
There are several reasons that animals become endangered. They lose their habitats due to human construction, pollution, or degradation. They may also suffer from overhunting or overfishing. In addition, reasons for animals becoming endangered include invasive species, disease, climate change, transportation (roads and vehicles), unsustainable agriculture, energy production, mining, fragmentation of rivers and streams, and water abstraction.
The majority of these causes can be reduced by changes in human behavior and how we approach land and wildlife impact in our business projects and lives.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency: Learn more about Threatened and Endangered Species
- American Museum of Natural History: Why are there so many endangered animals these days?
- Idaho Public Television: Endangered species facts
- The National Wildlife Federation: Endangered species
Long Term Impact
When a species becomes endangered or extinct, it can affect other species that were dependent on them. Sometimes, this even includes humans. For example, when the bison population declined significantly, tribes lost the means to keep their nomadic lifestyle.
More recently the decline in the bee population is causing farmers to need to import their own bee colonies to pollinate crops. If the decline continues, it may mean the loss of entire food crops, and eventually, plant species.
Another example is how animals help to protect us from some diseases. The opossum is resistant to ticks that carry Lyme disease and acted as a buffer between us and the potentially serious illness. As the opossum declined, they were replaced by species with less resistance to the disease. Now, we are seeing higher incidents of Lyme disease in the human population.
- African Wildlife Foundation: Why does it matter if a species becomes extinct?
- Scientific American: Humans are more at risk for disease as biodiversity disappears
- Stanford University: As big animals go extinct, so do the benefits they offer humans, Stanford scientists find
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: Benefits of conserving endangered species
If you are feeling hopeless after reading this far, you do not need to be. There are plenty of things that you can do as an individual to assist endangered species and prevent further decline:
- Learn about the endangered species in your local area
- Visit and support a wildlife refuge
- Volunteer for an organization
- Donate to a wildlife preservation organization
- Reduce your water use
- Participate in clean-up days at local parks and beaches
- Clean bird baths to prevent the spread of disease
- Put decals on your windows so birds can see where the glass is
- Use native plant species in your garden
- Avoid pesticides and herbicides
- Buy sustainable products
- Slow down when driving through wilderness areas
- Endangered Species Coalition: 10 easy things you can do to save endangered species
- Share America: Top ten ways to save wildlife
Groups and Organizations
There are many groups and organizations to donate your time or resources to. They are also great sources of information if you would like to learn more about endangered species and the efforts that are being made to preserve their habitats.
Some of the more well-known ones include the American Bird Conservancy, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Jane Goodall Institute, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, The Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Below, you can find links to some of the many active organizations:
- American Bird Conservancy
- Save Animals Facing Extinction
- National Audubon Society
- International Fund for Animal Welfare
Resources for Kids and Young Adults
Is your child also interested in learning more about animal species and what can be done to protect them for future generations? The following are great educational resources for young learners:
- PBS Learning Media: Extinction
- US Fish and Wildlife Service: Homework help
- Project Learning Tree: 21 endangered species art project ideas for elementary kids
Are you still interested in learning more? The National Ocean Service goes into detail about the difference between threatened and endangered species. The Los Angeles Zoo also goes more into depth about the various categories that endangered animals are put into. If you would like to learn more about the types of species going extinct, The Philadelphia Zoo has information about the most endangered species on the planet.