Photo: Abeselom Zerit/Shutterstock

The 11 Most Threatened Species in the US and How to Help Them Thrive

United States Travel
by Shelby Huff Apr 21, 2016

1. Gray wolf

threatened species

Photo: Holly Kuchera/Shutterstock

Gray wolves were once the most widespread mammal in the world, spreading from Europe to Asia to North America. There were an estimated 2 million in North America alone at one point. By the 1930s, they had been exterminated in most places in the U.S., with only 30 to 40 in Yellowstone National Park by 1920. Being a keystone species, the gray wolf is an integral part of the ecosystem, balancing prey populations and spreading nutrients. Their wide range reflects their adaptability as a species, and due to relocation efforts, they’ve made a significant comeback. Their number reaches about 5,000 in the lower 48 today.

Organizations you can support to help the gray wolves thrive:

The Center for Biological Diversity has been campaigning for gray wolves since its founding in 1989. They’ve worked on countless successful lawsuits delaying the removal for the federal protection of wolves and opposing the issuance of permits that would allow killing on behalf of the livestock industry. They seek to link isolated wolf populations to combat inbreeding and allow ecosystem rejuvenation on a broader scale.

Conservation Northwest is working to restore Washington’s gray wolf population and the Pacific Wolf Coalition ensures wolf packs disperse to and occupy suitable habitat throughout the West coast.

2. California condor

Photo: Barbara Ash/Shutterstock

The California condor, sacred to Native Americans, is the largest bird in North America and once dominated the western skies. Their population steadily declined in the 20th century until only 22 known were in existence. The cause of this decline is still not known, though many birds died from poison ingestion and illegal egg collection. The remaining survivors were taken into captivity to save them from extinction in 1987. From 1988 to 1991, there were no wild flying California condors in the world. Reintroduction began in 1992 and their population stands at 425 today. Though they are protected, mortality rates are still high due to accidental death, such as powerline collisions.

Organizations you can support to help the California condors thrive:

The Peregrine Fund works to establish a self-sustaining population of California condors throughout Arizona and Utah. They’ve released 162 condors into the wild since 1996. They focus on lead exposure detection from ammunition and monitor daily movement and behavior of more than 70 individuals. Today, they are confident the population can reach its recovery goal of 150 individuals.

The Audubon Society played a huge role in the preservation of this species, have set aside 240,000 acres in California on the Tejon Ranch, and successfully passed legislation requiring the use of non-lead ammunition for hunting in California by 2019.

3. Mississippi gopher frog

threatened species in the US

Photo: Pyetsova Myroslava/Shutterstock

The Mississippi gopher frog was listed as an endangered species in 2001. And in 2012, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) identified them as the most endangered species in the world. Historically, it was found throughout southwest Alabama, southern Mississippi, and southeast Louisiana. Their population has declined significantly due to loss of ephemeral wetlands, native longleaf pine habitat, the decline of gopher tortoises, invasive species, disease and drought conditions. Today, their only wild population is found in Harrison County, Mississippi with an estimated population of 250.

Organizations you can support to help the Mississippi gopher frogs thrive:

The Nature Conservancy manages several sites through prescribed fires and the removal of cogon grass, an invasive species. They also are transferring tadpoles from Harrison County to the Conservancy’s 1,700-acre Old Fort Bayou Preserve in Jackson County to help establish a new population and assist the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks with restoration efforts.

The Gulf Restoration Network, along with several other organizations, established 170 acres of habitat crucial to the survival of the species under a land purchase.

4. Polar bear

Photo: Zhiltsov Alexandr/Shutterstock

Polar bears are the largest carnivorous land mammals on Earth. Due to thinning ice, their critical habitat, Polar bears are not only endangered- they are at a serious risk of going extinct. In 2008, they were the first vertebrate species listed by the Endangered Species Act as threatened by extinction primarily due to global warming. With warmer temperatures, sea ice disappears for longer periods of time, leaving insufficient time for hunting. As the distance between ice patches grows, Polar bears are finding themselves swimming farther and farther, sometimes drowning along the way.

Organizations you can support to help the polar bears thrive:

Polar Bears International conducts population, maternal den, and sensory studies, as well as Hudson Bay coastal surveys. They created an arctic documentary, archiving the changes taking place in the arctic. They’ve created educational programs, started the Save Our Sea Ice campaign and remain the top resource and leading voice for Polar bears and their habitat.

5. Texas ocelot

threatened species in the US

Photo: Omariam/Shutterstock

Only about 1,000 Texas ocelots are thought to roam the Texas-Mexico border today. During the 1970s and 80s, the ocelot population was decimated by the fur trade, with as many as 200,000 taken annually. Like all wild cat species, the population is declining due to pressures from habitat destruction, and the resulting lack of prey species. One of the greatest threats to the species in Texas has also been the automobile. Patches of suitable habitat are widely spaced and the migration of juveniles looking for their own territory result in the death of many animals as they cross roads. But, restrictions on trade have largely mitigated hunting pressures, while thorn scrub conservation is protecting and restoring ocelot habitat.

Organizations you can support to help the Texas ocelots thrive:

The International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) aids in the conservation of small cat species through education, public awareness and support for scientific field projects. And while the Nature Conservancy works to protect remaining ocelot habitat and restoring acreage for them, the Conservancy’s plans have been jeopardized by the U.S.-Mexico border fence, isolating ocelot populations from one another.

6. Florida panther

threatened species in the US

Photo: RC Reid Photography /Shutterstock

The Florida panther is the last remaining mountain lion sub-species in the United States and the only mountain lion species found east of the Mississippi. Because they’re perceived as a threat to humans, game animals, and livestock, the Florida panther was hunted to near extinction by the 1950s. It was one of the first species added to the Endangered Species list in 1973. Today, their largest threats are habitat loss due to human development and car accidents. There were a record number of Florida panthers killed this year due to car accidents. There are about 180 surviving panthers today.

Organizations you can support to help the Florida panthers thrive:

The Florida Panther Protection Program is working to establish as many as 2.5 million acres for panther habitat. And The Conservation Fund saved 650 acres of prime panther habitat.

7. Woodland caribou

Photo: Pim Leijen/Shutterstock

Woodland caribou have been reduced to one small population in northern Idaho and Eastern Washington. The population, known internationally as the Selkirk population, is numbered at 18 individuals. Forest fragmentation and degradation are the most dominant threats to them. But the health of the Woodland Caribou population is not only important for their species, but for the health of the boreal forest itself. Overall woodland caribou health reflects the health of the forest

Organizations you can support to help the woodland caribous thrive:

Conservation Northwest is working with conservation groups in Canada to establish a recovery plan agreement, which is in the process of being legislated.

8. Cui-ui (Nevada Fish)

Cui-ui is a lake sucker found only in Pyramid Lake, Nevada. It inhabited nearby Lake Winnemucca until the 1930s when a drought caused the lake to dry up. The cui-ui population started declining in 1905, after the construction of the Derby Dam, new agricultural projects, and public consumption. Due to decreased flows in the Truckee River, Pyramid Lake dropped about 75 feet by 1970, resulting in the formation of a sand bar delta, blocking the cui-ui from ascending the river to their spawning grounds. Hatching programs have succeeded in pulling the cui-ui from the brink of extinction.

Organizations you can support to help the cui-uis thrive:

The Koch Cui-ui Fish Hatchery facilitates and supplements recovery of the cui-ui, raising them to supplement their population in the lake.

9. Leatherback turtle

threatened species in the US

Photo: Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtles and also one of the most migratory, crossing the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. Though they range from their nesting beaches in the Coral Triangle to the California Coast, their numbers have dwindled down due to intense egg collecting, plastic pollution, coastal development and irresponsible fishing. In the 1980s, there were an estimated 100,000 swimming the world’s waters. In 1996, one beach in Mexico documented 6,500 nests, but only 50 by 1993. Some Pacific populations have disappeared completely, such as in Malaysia.

Organizations you can support to help the leatherback turtles thrive:

The Sea Turtle Conservancy works with conservationists and leading scientists to ensure the survival of sea turtles through education, research, training, and protection of their natural habitats. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) banned the import and export of sea turtle products in 115 countries.

10. Red wolf

Photo: Abeselom Zerit/Shutterstock

The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered canids. Once common throughout the southeastern United States, their population was decimated in the 1960s due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat. After their listing in 1973, efforts were initiated to locate and capture as many as possible. Once the 17 remaining wolves were captured by biologists, 14 became captors of a successful breeding program. They were declared extinct in 1980. But by 1987, enough were bred in captivity to establish a restoration program, which covers 500,000 acres today. Reintroduced red wolves have had high mortality rates due to disease and parasites, and occasionally high tolerance to humans.

Organizations you can support to help the red wolves thrive:

The Endangered Wolf Center manages breeding, reintroduction, and leads inspiring education programs.

The Wolf Conservation Center provides education programs emphasizing wolf biology, the ecological benefits of wolves and other large predators, and the current status of wolf recovery in the United States.

11. Southern blue fin tuna

threatened species in the US

Photo: Alexius Sutandio/Shutterstock

Bluefin tuna are one of nature’s most successful ocean inhabitants, the biggest of the tuna and a top-of-the-food chain fish with few natural predators. But due to industrial fishing and a taste for them among sushi lovers, their population in 2013 had declined more than 96% and are only 15% of their historical size. Despite being on the seafood red list, Bluefin tuna have sold for over 1 million dollars in Japan, illustrating its rarity and continued demand. It’s believed to be near ecological and commercial extinction.

Organizations you can support to help the bluefin tuna thrive:

ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) complies fisheries statistics, coordinates research, develops scientific-based management advice and produces relevant publications. And Atuna has an extensive list of tuna organizations world-wide.

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