Today is Endangered Species Day. This day is observed each year on the third Friday of May, a day to raise awareness about endangered species and celebrate those that have recovered through conservation efforts.1 But like me, I bet many of you probably already try to raise awareness when the opportunity arises.
When I was a child, I learned that baby harp seals – the adorable, white, fluffy ones – were killed solely for their fur. At 6 years old, I could not understand how people would kill these animals just for their coats. I believe this is what sparked the environmentalist in me at that young age. I would try to teach others about harp seal pup clubbing and I had a Greenpeace ‘Save the Seals’ button that I wore. A few years later, I learned about elephant poaching – again, shocked and dismayed that people would kill such a large, beautiful animal just for the ivory in its tusks. I wrote papers in school and even designed a t-shirt advocating for elephants.
Obviously, this has continued into adulthood.
Why Are So Many Species Endangered?
Most endangered species become endangered because of human activity. As our own population increases, other species experience the loss and degradation of habitat, mainly from deforestation. People overhunt and overfish, introduce invasive species, and contribute to climate change.2 Each of these actions slowly degrades the ecosystem of each species and they cannot survive. “Human activity has altered about 75 percent of the surface of the land, eliminating natural systems millions of years in the making and squeezing wildlife into fragments of their former ranges,” wrote Dr. Sylvia A. Earle.3
When we lose a species, we lose an important component in the intricate web of life. The loss creates a butterfly effect in the food chain and ecosystems. Scientists call this the decline of biodiversity. But when we lose a species forever, I feel like we’ve lost more than that – we are losing part of our humanity. We are losing something we can’t replace or reproduce. Technology can’t reverse extinction. (And even if it could someday, we don’t understand every single moving part of ecosystems. Have you ever seen Jurassic Park?)
“We are now causing the extinction of more species than have gone extinct in the last 65 million years.” -Rob Stewart, Revolution
How Many Species Are Threatened?
More than 40,000 species are threatened with extinction!4 Today, there are 8,722 critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.5 The IUCN, or the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the international authority on assessing the status and conservation of plant, animal, and insect species across the world. Here’s a short video about their importance:
“It amazes me that some of our most well-known species are the ones that are closest to extinction.” -Joel Sartore, the Photo Ark
The Endangered Species Act of 1973
This act is the main legislation in the United States aimed at conserving plants and animals at risk of extinction. “The act’s main directive is to recover threatened and endangered species to a state of health and stability in which they no longer require protected status,” Jeff Corwin wrote.6
“The act is easily the most important piece of conservation legislation in the nation’s history. Its most dramatic successes include the recovery of the American alligator, gray whale, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and eastern population of the brown pelican.” -Edward O. Wilson, Afterword of Silent Spring
Regardless of our political beliefs or affiliation, we must protect and preserve this act and its related legislation. We must stop allowing our representatives to strip away its protections, which they are consistently trying to do. Joel Sartore of the Photo Ark, wrote: “Legislators passed it almost unanimously in 1973. But it has not been reauthorized – given multiyear funding – since the late 1990s. As it stands now, funding for the [Endangered Species Act] comes from annual appropriations requested by the Department of the Interior – subject, of course, to the President’s agenda.”7
Let’s Go Back
“People protect what they love.” -Jacques Cousteau
We can’t just toss a few of every species into zoos and then call it good. We’ve got to do more. Maybe we should go back to thinking like we did as kids. Animals were special, exciting to see and learn about, and important to protect. We all understood this so clearly as children! Even Walt Disney understood:
“How could this earth of ours, which is only a speck in the heavens, have so much variety of life, so many curious and exciting creatures?” -Walt Disney
So what can you do? Protect what you love. Teach others. Here are “10 Actions You Can Take to Conserve Endangered Species” from the Endangered Species Coalition:8
Thanks for reading, and Happy Endangered Species Day!