Endangered species are like fire alarms. They tell us about problems in our home we call Earth. If we listen to their alarm calls, they could help us improve our lives and the health of our planet.
When the last of a type of plant or animal in the world dies, such as dinosaurs or passenger pigeons, then they are extinct or lost forever, and can never be brought back. This is a passenger pigeon. It is extinct
The dusky seaside sparrow is also extinct. The last of these birds died in 1987. These sparrows lost their homes as marshes were destroyed. What would it have been like to hear them chirping in Florida's marshes?
An endangered species is one that is getting close to extinction. This is the endangered black rhinoceros that lives in Africa.
Gray wolves are also endangered. They once roamed widely across North America. As predators, they keep their prey in balance with nature by ensuring the prey species does not become over-populated.
Before people understood how important predators are to keep a healthy balance in nature, many wolves were killed.
A threatened species is just a step behind, and may soon become endangered if we don't help. Endangered and threatened mean there is still time, but extinction is forever. This is the threatened green sea turtle that lives in tropical and temperate oceans.
The African elephant, the largest land animal on Earth, is also a threatened species. Thousands of these majestic animals have been slaughtered by poachers, who cut off their ivory tusks to make carvings and sell them for money.
If people knew elephants were being killed just to chop off their tusks, do you think they would still buy ivory carvings?
There are many different reasons why plants and animals become endangered or threatened. The biggest reason is loss of their homes or habitats. Habitat loss happens as more and more people move into new areas and push wildlife out. Illegal or unregulated killing of animals may also cause a species to become endangered. Another reason why endangered species are in trouble is because of pollution.
It is because of habitat loss that spotted owls are threatened. Northern spotted owls live in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. "Old growth" means trees that are more than 200 years old. Without careful planning, cutting of timber for forest products mean less habitat for these animals.
In an old growth forest you can find fallen trees, trees with broken tops, and mature and dying trees. Different aged trees like this are perfect for owls nests, food, shelter and protection from predators.
The spotted owl's problem started years ago when old growth forests were cut faster than they could regrow. This used up the forests too quickly and removed the owl's habitat.
The spotted owl is our fire alarm to the problem of over-cutting our forests. To resolve this problem, we must make sure we don’t cut down too much forest. Conserving owl habitat will also provide many other wildlife species with places to live.
It is also because of habitat loss that whooping cranes are endangered. These large wading birds feed in open marshes and rivers, called wetlands, as they migrate between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico. Migration means moving from one area to another with the changing seasons. Migrating animals need safe habitats as they travel along their migration route.
When wetlands are drained of all their water in order to make room for farming or city growth, the whooping cranes lose valuable resting and feeding areas between their summer nesting grounds and wintering areas. This is habitat loss.
Historically, wetlands were considered wastelands, suitable only for mosquitoes and draining. Today we realize that wetlands are important not only to animals but also to humans. They filter out pollutants from water, provide a dependable water supply. The wetlands that remain are now recognized as a valuable natural resource.
There are two reasons why tigers are endangered, habitat loss and illegal killing.
Tigers are killed to make rugs and coats out of their skins, and also because in many Asian cultures medicines made from tiger parts are believed to cure diseases. It is estimated that 100 years ago, there were 50,000 to 80,000 tigers in India alone. Today there only 5,000 or fewer in the whole world.
Tigers and many other endangered species are killed illegally for their skins and body parts. Products made from rare wild animals such as spotted cats, tigers, rhinos, and elephants are still sold illegally.
Certain human activities are also the main problem facing the endangered manatee.
These plant-eating "gentle giants" live where people often use boats for recreation. The boats can hit the manatees and kill them
As long ago as 1893, Florida passed a law to protect manatees. Florida passed a law to make the state a refuge and sanctuary for manatees. Speed limits for boats are helping to protect manatees.
Not all endangered species are mammals and birds we are familiar with. There are also many insects and other small, less-known animals that are disappearing from our planet. This is the endangered Lange's metalmark butterfly.
Many plants, like this insect-eating pitcher plant, are endangered. In areas like tropical rainforests, we are losing species sometimes before they are even discovered and given a name.
All living things, from mammals to fish and insects, are connected and depend on each other for survival. The removal of one species can set off a chain reaction affecting other species, like the old growth forests and the northern spotted owl.
All living things are connected to each other including humans. It is like a web. The more we learn about the "web of life" the more connections we discover. We are quickly learning that when we remove anything in nature, something else is affected.
It has been estimated that a disappearing plant can take with it up to 30 other species, including insects, higher animals and even other plants. Endangered species are the fire alarms telling us that the living things being affected include us.
Endangered species show us that our world may not be as healthy as we think and that we need to take better care of it...there's no place else to go.
What can you do to help endangered species? Here are some ideas for you to think about
The most hope for endangered species lies in the hands of young people like you who care enough to make a difference.