Here's a pop quiz: what do the Indiana Bat, Jaguar, Puma, Bighorn Sheep, and Sperm Whale all have in common? Give up? They are five of the sixty-five different species of mammals that are designated as endangered in the United States.
The term "endangered species" means any species that is in danger of "extinction." Extinction is the state in which all
members of a group of organisms, such as a species, have disappeared from a given habitat, geographic area, or the entire world. According to a 2002 United Nations report on the state of the environment, almost 25% of the world's mammals face extinction within 30 years. Ironically, humans, who are mammals themselves, are responsible for many of the factors that threaten so many mammal species today. These factors include hunting, trapping, illegal trade in exotic animals, and destroying habitats by over-development.
Most people do not realize the importance of protecting endangered species and of "biodiversity." Have you ever heard this term? "Biodiversity" is a term used to describe the variety of plant and animal life on Earth. All living species interact with each other in complex ways and occupy a variety of different habitats throughout the world. By protecting endangered species and biodiversity, we are able to protect animals and plants that may become important sources of new medicine or food for us in the future. Endangered species can also provide an early warning to us about any increases in pollution and changes in the environment, which can greatly affect human health and safety.
Though people are to blame for creating most of the factors that threaten so many species today, we also have the ability to create the solutions to the extinction problem. For example, in December 1973, the U.S. Congress gave conservation a big helping hand when it passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973. That law aims to protect and preserve threatened and endangered plants and animals from extinction. As a result of this legislation, the bald eagle, America's national symbol, was brought back from the brink of extinction.
But laws alone cannot stem the tide of extinction. The future of our planet is in your hands. So learn more about protecting endangered species and biodiversity and spread the word!