Endangered Species… It means we still have a chance to save the species!
It can all be very confusing so here is a quick simplified breakdown. In the United States we have the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 which lists about 1,995 species. The ESA is for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened by extinction as well as the habitat and ecosystems these animals rely on. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are the organizations that are to carry out the ESA. The US Fish and Wildlife Service lists 597 animals on the endangered species list in the United States and 794 plants.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the largest global environmental organization with over 1,000 staff, 1200 member organizations (governments, NGOs) and over 11,000 volunteer scientists. Protecting biodiversity lies at the heart of their mission and they are the lead for assessing the status of each species. There are over 10,000 animals listed on the IUCN endangered species list, over 10,000 plants.
The number one reason for the huge numbers of animals on the endangered species list is… Habitat destruction. Can you think of an area in your hometown that was once a wild space and is now a road, apartment complex, store or house? Urban sprawl and the 7 billion people on our planet put a huge weight on the natural world around us.
This past Friday (May 18th) was Endangered Species Day. A day to bring awareness to the population declines of a huge number of species, what is causing their decline and what you can do to help. At the El Paso Zoo, led by Education Specialist, Heather Rivera, we had our own awareness celebration. It was culminated with a fun endangered species fashion show. Volunteers and staff members dressed up as their favorite endangered species and strutted their stuff while educating people on how they can take action and help. Take a look at some of the pictures from the day, especially that dang cute sea otter!
The animal I chose was sea otters. The southern population of sea otters is listed as threatened. Sea otters were hunted for their fur causing populations to decline to a few thousand animals. Populations have recovered but are still low and are at risk. I chose the sea otter for a few reasons: 1. HOLY CUTENESS! 2. Keystone Species and 3. Unique characteristics such as:
- high density of fur to keep warm (unlike most marine mammals have thick layers of blubber)
- give birth in the water and take care of their young resting on their bellies for six to nine months
- lay on their backs and dine off their bellies
- use tools such as rocks to crack open clams and other molluscs
- intertwine themselves in kelp to stay somewhat stationary in a constant moving ocean
Sea otters in California once numbered about 16,000 animals in the early 1900s. In the 1930s due to the fur trade the number was reduced to 50 individuals in the wild. Recovery efforts were put in place such as relocation of animals and an establishment of a no otter zone to reduce the competition between fisheries and sea otters. Today there are a few thousand individuals in the wild but they need more space and are entering the illegal otter zone. What you can do to help out sea otters is sign petitions and urge our government to “OPPOSE RESTRICTIONS ON SEA OTTER PROTECTIONS and SUPPORT the recovery of the southern sea otter and a healthy coastal ecosystem”. Visit seaotters.org to learn more and take action!
The other risk to southern sea otters is an oil spill. An oil spill can quickly wipe out the thousands of southern sea otters because of their small geographic range and small population. It is incredibly difficult to remove oil from sea otter fur because of the density and survival rates are low. Prevention of oil spills is extremely important. So what can you do everyday to help out sea otters? Ride your bike, walk, take the bus or carpool! The less we depend on oil, the less there is a risk of an oil spill that can eliminate our southern sea otters.
With all of that being said, I am going to ride my bike to the grocery store today and hopefully ride my bike to work tomorrow! My motivation to ride the 10 miles to work has been at a low, but Endangered Species Day and my sea otter friends have revived my motivation! Take one last look at a cute sea otter and get on your bike as well! I mean, it is National Bike Month as well!!
Endangered isn’t the end, it’s the new beginning.