When you think of endangered species, elephants, tigers, and rhinos might come to mind. While there are hundreds of species around the world that are threatened with extinction and deserve our attention, there are many animals in our own backyard with dwindling populations. Learning about these creatures is important to aiding in their conservation efforts, whether that means donating to organizations focused on endangered species in the U.S. or telling your representatives to pass laws to help protect vulnerable species.
There are more than 1,300 threatened and endangered species in the country today, but here are some of the most endangered animals in the U.S.
1. Florida Panther
The Florida panther has been listed as an endangered species since 1967 and now lives in just 5% of its former range. This panther used to roam much of the southeastern U.S. but is now only found in southern Florida. There are only about 100 to 200 panthers left. They were heavily hunted and perceived as pests before being listed as endangered; today, their main threats are habitat loss and collisions with vehicles.
Several organizations are working toward Florida panther conservation, including Defenders of Wildlife, The Florida Panther Protection Program, and The Conservation Fund, by preserving existing panther habitat, extending public outreach, educating people on coexisting with the panthers, and establishing funds for continuing conservation efforts in the future.
2. Florida Manatee
Another Florida-based species, the Florida manatee is found off the coasts of Florida and has been listed as endangered since 1973. Boat strikes are a top threat to manatees, but climate change has caused caused problems for these gentle “sea cows.” Water temperature fluctuations put stress on the species, and increasing rates of deadly algal blooms are also to blame. In recent years, sea grass scarcity has led to starvation for these animals.
Currently, Florida is piloting an unprecedented feeding program, as over 1,000 manatees died of starvation in 2021 alone. In the 2021-22 winter season, manatee deaths were labeled as an Unusual Mortality Event due to the high number of deaths. The Marine Mammal Commission has been in talks with government officials at every level to protect the manatees, from establishing slower boat speeds to stopping the harassment, such as touching or swimming near, of manatees.
3. Red Wolf
There are only about 15 to 17 red wolves left in the wild in the U.S. In 1987, they were considered extinct, but a captive breeding program revived the species. Conservation efforts brought the population to over 100 animals around 2012, but by 2018, it dropped to 40 and now sits at less than two dozen.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been increasing the size of its Species Survival Plan (SSP) for red wolves, and the final Recovery Plan is expected to be finalized in 2023.
4. California Condor
California condors are the largest bird in North America. In the 1980s, California condors nearly went extinct due to poisoning from lead and consuming DDT, a pesticide that was banned in 1972. A successful captive breeding recovery program increased numbers from six to 223 in the early 2000s. Today, there are over 400 California condors, but they still are threatened by human-related deaths, such as collisions with power lines.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with several organizations and entities, including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, the Yurok Tribe, several zoos, multiple state wildlife departments, the federal government of Mexico, and multiple conservation organizations to establish The California Condor Recovery Program. The program is working to establish self-sustaining populations of wild California condors.
5. Black-Footed Ferret
The only ferret species native to North America, there are only about 370 wild black-footed ferrets left in the wild. These creatures use prairie dog burrows across grasslands for their shelter, but increasing habitat loss due to agriculture has hurt the population. They eat prairie dogs, too, and prairie-dog eradication efforts have depleted their food source. They are also susceptible to diseases.
Indigenous tribes, federal agencies, zoos, and conservation organizations have worked toward conserving this species’ numbers. The Nature Conservancy works with private landowners to protect prairie dogs, and therefore black-footed ferrets, and The Center for Biological Diversity works to protect the species against further agricultural and oil developments and pesticide use.
6. Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Loggerhead sea turtles in the U.S. mostly call Florida’s coasts home, but rapid development has been their downfall. Their nests, laid on beaches, are often destroyed, or they may be harrassed by humans while trying to nest. They are also often caught as bycatch by commercial fishers. These turtles are essential to healthy marine ecosystems, particularly coral reefs and seagrasses.
NOAA Fisheries works to protect loggerhead sea turtles by creating critical habitat areas, implementing changes to fishing gear to minimize risk of bycatch, monitoring populations, and establishing international treaties to protect the species. Loggerhead Marinelife Center rehabilitates stranded loggerheads, which happens frequently during nesting season.
7. San Joaquin Kit Fox
Like black-footed ferrets, San Joaquin kit foxes have suffered from habitat loss as land is turned into farms. Rodenticides, too, have led to population decline for these mammals. These kit foxes get much of their water from prey, but the smaller mammals they feed on have declined from pesticide use. The San Joaquin kit fox is the smallest fox in North America.
The Center for Biological Diversity has been petitioning for critical habitat designation in San Joaquin Valley for the kit fox since 2010 and has sued against developments that would disrupt the animals’ habitat. The organization also works against harmful pesticide use that harms kit foxes.
8. Mississippi Gopher Frog
This amphibian has been enlisted as endangered since 2001, and there are only about 100 to 250 members of the population left in the wild. Habitat loss, disease, and invasive species have led to this frog’s decline. Their range has come to just three little ponds in Mississippi, but a new, proposed town could lead to their demise.
The Nature Conservancy is transferring some tadpoles to its Old Fort Bayou Preserve to protect the species, and The Gulf Restoration Network has established designated Mississippi gopher frog habitat. The Gulf Restoration Network is also working with other conservation organizations to come to an agreement with the land developer to protect one of the frogs’ last breeding ponds. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated about 7,000 acres of land in Mississippi and Louisiana to boost the population.
9. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin tuna is one of the priciest catches of fish out there and is often sought after for sushi. They are huge, weighing up to 2,000 pounds and spanning nearly 15 feet long. The more their population decreases, the higher prices they fetch. But these massive fish are critical for marine systems as one of the top points in the food chain.
Currently, there are regulations that prevent fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, where they spawn. Fishers may require permits to catch these fish, and NOAA has established quotas, size limits, gear restrictions, and area closures related to fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna. Because these fish are migratory, more international collaboration is needed to protect their population.
10. Woodland Caribou
The woodland caribou population, particularly the southern Selkirk subpopulation, has been listed as endangered since 1984. Deforestation for timber and fossil fuel mining and climate change has caused the population to decline.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 30,010 acres in Washington and Idaho for woodland caribou. Conservation Northwest is also working with Indigenous tribes and conservation organizations in Canada to establish a recovery plan for the species.
Based in Los Angeles, Paige is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That!, and more. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she’s not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).