Photo Credit: Juan Vargas V.

Amazing, yet threatened: celebrating Endangered Species Day


Today is Endangered Species Day, when people across the USA celebrate national conservation efforts to protect the country’s imperilled species and their habitats.

American bison - Bison bison
Credits : Nick Garbutt

The day marks the enactment of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – a Federal US Law approved in 1973, and designed to highlight and conserve imperilled species.

The ESA currently lists 2,268 species, and is in part informed and underpinned by the science of the The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Established in 1963, the IUCN Red List is a comprehensive database of expert knowledge about the global conservation status of species and their extinction pressures, which currently includes global assessments of over 86,000 species. It is freely available for public consultation and use by all sectors of society, including any government worldwide to assist in decisions about environmental impacts.

While there are a number of difference between the ESA and the IUCN Red List - including their scope and categorisation of species extinction risk – together, they work to help protect some of our most precious plants and animals.

This photo gallery presents just some of the species listed by both the ESA and the IUCN Red List. Many of the stories are examples of real conservation successes, reminding us that conservation works – and works best through coordinated, informed action on the ground.

About the species in the photo gallery

1. American bison - Bison bison

Photo © Nick Garbutt

Although now stabilised thanks to conservation efforts, the population of the North American bison underwent a drastic decline in the 19th century because of over-hunting, and has never fully recovered. National Refuges and Parks and State Parks play an important role in maintaining conservation herds of bison in Canada and the United States.

Endangered Species Act status: Threatened

IUCN Red List status: Near Threatened


  1. California condor - Gymnogyps californianus

Photo © Juan Vargas V.

Thanks to a captive breeding and reintroduction programme using the last remaining 22 birds in the wild captured by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the skies of Southern California and northern Mexico are now home to some 200 of what Native Americans call the “thunderbird” - America's largest flying bird. The reintroduced birds remain susceptible to human induced threats such as lead-poisoning and garbage such as bottle caps that choke the birds. IUCN’s SOS - Save Our Species has supported the conservation of California Condors from January 2012- December 2013 through this project here.

Endangered Species Act status: Endangered  

IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered


3. Black-footed ferret - Mustela nigripes

Photo © Elisa Dahlberg / USFWS

North America’s only ferret species is recovering thanks to captive breeding efforts using the last remaining 18 wild animals caught in 1981, which release hundreds of weaned animals each year. Yet its future remains insecure due to loss of habitat by conversion of grasslands to agricultural uses and the virtual disappearance of its prey - prairie dogs - persecuted as agricultural pests for much of the 20th century.

Endangered Species Act status: Endangered

IUCN Red List status: Endangered


4. Loggerhead turtle - Caretta caretta

Photo © Ukanda

Despite conservation actions, human impacts remain a threat to the Loggerhead. Although monitoring efforts are improving, turtles are still being caught in fishing nets in the open sea and near to shore while uncontrolled development of coastal and marine habitats threatens to destroy the nesting beaches and feeding grounds of long-lived Loggerhead turtles.

Endangered Species Act status: Endangered

IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable


5. Olulu - Brighamia insignis

Photo © Daderot

With only one individual remaining, the olulu is on the brink of becoming extinct in the wild. A hawk-moth species, which was the pollinator of the olulus, is now thought to be extinct. Hence, the survival of this species is dependent on human intervention for hand-pollination using pollen from plants grown in cultivation, in order for it to produce seed. Fortunately a good stock of plants are being grown and maintained in cultivation  that can hopefully be reintroduced into the wild at some point in the future.

Endangered Species Act status: Endangered

IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered


6. Rusty patched bumble bee - Bombus affinis

Photo © Steve Evans / Citizen of the World

Once common and widely distributed in North America, the rusty patched bumble bee has undergone serious decline across most of its range. Experts recommend that all known and potential sites of this species should be protected from pesticides, habitat alteration, grazing, and other threats.

Endangered Species Act status: Endangered

IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered


7. Przewalski’s Horse - Equus ferus

IUCN Photo Library © Marie Fischborn

Successful reintroductions have brought this species back from the brink. The population is currently estimated to consist of more than 50 mature individuals, free-living in the wild for the past seven years. Yet many threats remain for these reintroduced individuals: small population size and limited distribution, potential hybridization with domestic horses, and competition for resources with domestic horses and other livestock.

Endangered Species Act status: Endangered

IUCN Red List status: Endangered

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