Endangered Species: Here Today and Need to Stay

Photo: Piping Plover (USFWS)

By Cecilia Aleman

On Endangered Species Day, we recognize thousands of different species across the globe that are in need of our help. In the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed several of these species as federally threatened or endangered. Their habitats are being destroyed and encroached upon, and the devastating effects of climate change are causing populations to dwindle.

SCA members are heavily involved in wildlife conservation efforts through data monitoring, helping to restore natural habitats, and educating others about the importance of a balanced ecosystem. We’ve rounded up a few of these threatened and endangered species and why it’s critical to protect them – for the planet and us!

1. Sea Turtle 

Classified as some of the largest living reptiles, sea turtles spend most of their lives in the water. While nesting, hatchlings provide an abundance of nutrients on the sandy beaches and ultimately deliver them to the ocean, ensuring that other marine life stays healthy and essential vegetation continues to grow.

Unfortunately due to human activities and climate change affecting nesting site temperatures, nearly all six species of sea turtles found in the United States are now listed as threatened or endangered. In an effort to preserve their populations, SCA helps monitor and protect nesting sites at places like Padre Island National Seashore in Texas to increase the chance of hatchling survival. And recently, SCA alumna Donna Shaver was nominated for a public service award related to her turtle rescue work.

2. California Condor 

Photo: Madison Roberts

“It’s a bird…it’s a plane…” takes on a whole new meaning if you’ve ever had the rare experience of spotting a California Condor. With a wing-span of close to 10 feet and weighing over 20 pounds, this bird is the largest flying species in North America. Scavenging across deserts in California, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, this bird of prey acts as a natural garbage collector by removing animal carcasses.

Once on the brink of extinction caused by lead poisoning and human behavior, conservation programs have succeeded in increasing the population of these magnificent creatures. But while the numbers have risen, only a little over 400 in the world still remain. SCA assists in wildlife management at national parks, forests, and refuges where critically endangered species like the California Condor reside.

3. Ocelot 

Commonly referred to as “the little leopard” because of their spotted patterns, Ocelots are small wild cats not far removed from our domestic feline friends. One of 6 wild cat breeds currently in the United States, these nocturnal critters are great swimmers, climbers, and keep their surrounding habitat balanced and thriving by hunting small vermin. Populations used to occupy most of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, but can now only be spotted in the South Texas area.

In 1986, Ocelots were listed as endangered in the U.S. from habitat loss and less than 60 are currently living in the country today. Additionally, Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge in Texas is currently the only site with a breeding population. SCA works to restore the vegetation ocelots need to live and by tracking their routes in an effort to decrease their collisions with vehicles, and also helped contribute to the birth of several kittens a few years ago.

4. Dusky Gopher Frog 

Photo: Wikimedia CommonsU.S. Department of Agriculture 

What’s in a name? The Dusky Gopher Frog is just what it sounds like – a dark frog that has gopher-like traits, which includes living underground. They can be found in the wetlands of Mississippi and are efficient pest-controllers thanks to their diet of mosquito eggs and larvae.

The amphibian species is considered critically endangered largely in part from habitat loss as the result of urbanization and severe drought. Multiple recovery plans to protect them have been ongoing and SCA interns participate in wildlife biology programs that monitor tadpoles and research patterns of adult Dusky Gopher Frogs.

All of these species, whether large or small, contribute to biodiversity and the overall health of our planet. By bringing awareness to their roles and significance, we are protecting our environment for future generations. For opportunities to work with critically endangered and threatened species, visit SCA’s Individual Internships page.