“Grandma, what makes some animals stink?” my 6-year-old grandson asked.
I launched into a description of how some animals wander through some unsavory brush or garbage and are unable to clean themselves well enough to get rid of the smell, or how they may have had an unfortunate encounter with a skunk before it dawned on me that he was asking why animals become extinct, not why they stink.
Ah…..having once written an article on the danger of the Giant Panda becoming extinct, that was a subject I knew more about—or thought I did. I just didn’t realize how extensive the problem had become in recent years. (1)
After a bit of brushing up, I was able to tell him that there are more than 1000 endangered species in the United States alone, and the number is growing at an alarming rate. Fortunately, we, and that even includes six-year-old grandsons, can do something to reverse the trend.
The bald eagle is proof that the situation is not hopeless. For many years, the bald eagle population shrank until there were alarmingly few left. A concentrated effort including the prohibition against killing bald eagles, the provision of more nesting areas, and public education about the problem produced results and the bald eagle was removed from the endangered list in 2007. A great victory for those who battled so hard to save this specie.
Although the terms, endangered species, and threatened species, are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. To be listed as an endangered species, the numbers in existence are so small that, without intervention, the specie will almost surely become extinct. A threatened specie is one in which numbers are decreasing rapidly, even though there may still be large numbers of the specie in existence. Conservation efforts are being made on both fronts.
We usually think only of animals and sea creatures as being in danger of extinction, but many plant forms are also in danger. Natural disasters such as fire, volcano eruptions, and severe climate changes affect both plants and animals.
Human caused extinction is another factor. As people intrude on areas formerly populated only by vegetation and animal life, water sources may be polluted or eliminated; food the animals relied on for their existence disappears and their entire habitats may be destroyed. Pesticides are at fault for many of the problems causing a decline in the total numbers of various species.
The list of endangered species in the United States includes many familiar names as well as ones you may never have heard of. Just a few examples are, the short nose sturgeon, the Nashville crayfish, the Red cockaded woodpecker, the Eastern indigo snake, the West Indian manatee, the monitor gecko, the Florida Panther, the green pitcher plant, the Mississippi sandhill crane, the Ozark big-eared bat, the Wyoming toad, and the black lace cactus.
Among those on the “threatened” list are the mission blue butterfly, the desert tortoise, and the grizzly bear.
Check out the links below to find a great downloadable coloring book for kids with pictures as well as some info about the threatened and endangered species I mentioned above. It not only includes the pictures, but also a bit of interesting information about each one. (2)
The 21 species shown in the color book are just a drop in the bucket when you consider that there are thousands of others on the list throughout the world, but the book is a good place to start building awareness in small children that all life is precious, and that we can each do our part in caring for creatures unable to care for themselves.
For older kids, there are websites that give much more information about the different species. On one, I found out that Ospreys could not swim. This was amazing to me since I had, over the years, enjoyed watching Ospreys swoop down, grab a fish out of the lake right in front of me, and fly away in triumph.
According to this article, if an Osprey makes the mistake of choosing a heavy fish, the fish may dive deep into the water, dragging the Osprey under the surface before it can untangle its talons from the fish, causing the Osprey to drown. (3)
A final website I should mention is also for older kids. It has a list of activities for kids to do that will reinforce the idea that we do need to care for endangered species.
Some activities mentioned there include: making a bat finger puppet; writing a letter to the local newspaper about why we should protect endangered species; reading a book about a particular endangered species and tell a friend about it; making a turtle craft from recycled materials, helping wildlife in one’s community by picking up litter, sign a pledge about caring for endangered species, etc.
I thought the ideas were excellent and could be used by kids for gathering information to do school assignments in some of their classes. (4)
If, you would just like to know more about how many species in the world are actually in danger, check out link (5) at the end of this article. If there were only a few species, I could understand just shrugging the problem off and saying it wasn’t all that important, but when there are thousands world-wide, I think even the most staunch skeptic has to admit that it’s time to take serious action about solving the problem.
Many solutions have been suggested. Some of the most popular are:
1. Pollution control.
2. Population control.
3. Designation of more sanctuary areas.
4. Climate change.
As individuals, some of these things are out of our control, but we can all work on pollution in our own neighborhoods and encourage our political representatives to enact laws limiting pollution whenever possible.
We may not be able to control reproduction throughout the world, but we can work on solving the problems caused by an out of control population taking over land used as sanctuary by endangered species. Of course this is a difficult problem, but many areas are enacting laws to control development outside of cities, not totally stopping development, but requiring that destroyed sanctuary be restored, or that certain portions of land be designated as sanctuary areas in any new development. This is a good start.
One area near where I live has actually set up several poles that look like telephone poles, and constructed shallow boxes on platforms on top of them. Huge birds have built nests on the platform boxes every year, so this project has worked out well.
Climate change is still under discussion. Let’s hope the people working on it come up with some real answers for us soon. In the meantime, we each need to do what we can to conserve natural resources and make sure we aren’t adding to the problem any more than absolutely necessary.
Education is probably the area where the average person can be most effective in helping to slow the rate of specie endangerment. We need to read about it and stay informed on what is happening so we can share our knowledge with others. We can choose one specie to channel our efforts into, or spread out and work on several at a time.
Check with national organizations to obtain brochures to distribute locally, since getting the word out about the problem is really important if we are to succeed.
Some effort is being devoted world-wide to each of the above ideas, but just a few people can’t do the whole job. It is going to take the cooperation of millions of people around the world before we start seeing a real difference. Why not get personally involved in one or more of the areas, and see what you and your family can do to save some of our disappearing species before it is too late?