National Endangered Species Day: What to Know About North America’s Animals at Risk

by Jon D. B.

The 16th Annual Endangered Species Day is upon us! It’s the perfect time to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how much further we have to go.

Outsiders! Did you know the third Friday of each May is our North American Annual Endangered Species Day? 2021 marks the 16th occurrence of this awareness holiday; one that has helped shed much light on some of conservation’s most dire stories.

While this tends to be a “doom & gloom” topic, don’t let the heft of “endangered” ward you off! There’s much hope ablaze in conservation, especially here in North America.

Our vast, incredible continent plays host to some of the most remarkable success stories in all of science. The bald eagle. The wood and plains bison. Each were brought back from the brink of extinction. Everything we’ve learned from these species, too, is being applied to those that remain endangered – like the storied California condor, rare red wolf, and even the precious monarch butterfly.

So for 2021’s Endangered Species Day, let’s take a look at those that still need our help, while also highlighting those we’ve given our all to protect. But first, a bit more on this holiday from the creators themselves, The Endangered Species Coalition:

Every year on the third Friday in May, thousands of people around the world participate in Endangered Species Day by celebrating, learning about, and taking action to protect threatened and endangered species. Wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, gardens, schools, libraries, museums, community groups, nonprofits, and individuals hold special programs or events for people of all ages. Due to the global coronavirus crisis, the programs organized for Endangered Species Day 2021 will primarily be online events, digital actions, and remote activities. 

Endangered Species: The Monarch Butterfly

It’s odd how often we overlook the monarch butterfly when it comes to dying species. These fiery insects are a staple of many cultures in the Western Hemisphere. Their incredible migration, and the numbers they once held, make them one of nature’s most brilliant marvels.

Many of us will remember these orange beauties as facet of childhood. It was near-impossible to visit a national park and not see flocks of monarchs. After decades of over-development, pesticides, deforestation, and decimation of their native milkweed habitats, though, the FWS cites their numbers decreasing a tragic 90% just in the past two decades. If you’ve wondered where they’ve all gone as an adult – this is the sad, but true, answer.

So why begin with the monarch? Despite their numbers being at 10% of what they were at the turn of the century, these beloved insects have yet to receive endangered species status. As recently as 2020, “a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled last year that insects couldn’t be protected under California’s Endangered Species Act,” states the LA Times in an article from March of 2021.

And as the trade cites, these beautiful butterflies – a hallmark of our hemisphere – will disappear within our lifetime if we do not act. It falls to us – every person with a passion for wildlife, nature, and conservation – to reach out to our representatives and represent the monarchs that cannot speak for themselves.

The East Coast: Red Wolves

Red Wolves are seen at the North Carolina Museum of Life + Science in Durham, NC. (Photo by Salwan Georges/Getty Images)

Having seen one of these remarkable beasts in the wild during wildlife tech work, the red wolf holds a special place in this author’s heart. This critically endangered species holds no more than 7 wild individuals, with zoos and refuges keeping these once plentiful predators from total extinction.

The first week of March 2021 held hope for the red wolf as the North Carolina government and wildlife officials came together to release more into the wilds of their state. The critical status of the species, however, means that there are precious few available for rerelease.

The red wolf, once as widespread in the U.S. as their grey cousins, now dwindles on the brink of total extinction. No more than 7 individuals exist in the North American wilds. Around 250 exist in zoo, refuge, and sanctuary breeding programs, but reintroduction into their natural habitat has proven difficult.

“Red wolves are protected as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and are classified as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List,” states Wolf Conservation Center.

Condors, Whales, and Panthers in NA

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP) (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)

Where Have All the Whales Gone?

There are only about 40 Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico. This incredible species is “in danger of extinction throughout all of its range due to its small population size and restricted range, and the threats of energy exploration, development and production, oil spills and oil spill response, vessel collision, fishing gear entanglement, and human-caused noise,” cites the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The North Atlantic right whale, too, is among the world’s most endangered large whale species. Just 400 whales remain, NOAA adds.

“Entanglement in fishing lines attached to gillnets and traps on the ocean floor is one of the greatest threats” the organization details. Much of our ocean pollution, too, is of great concern for our whale species.

Yet few whale species receive the publicity of the storied California condor. This critically endangered species has been saved from extinction, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. Only 200 remain in the wild, but California remains stern in their mission to revitalize these remarkable, enormous birds.

And then there’s the Florida panther, a species most North Americans are completely unaware of. “The subspecies is so critically endangered that it is vulnerable to just about every major threat,” the National Wildlife Federation says of their plight.

Unfotunately, these species are, for lack of a better term, just the tip of the iceberg.

Bald Eagles & Bison: Hope Lies in our National Symbols

A herd of bison from Yellowstone National Park pass by Cutler Lake in the Gallatin National Forest in the Gardiner Basin expanded tolerance zone north of Yellowstone Park. Bison must be back in Yellowstone by May 15. A proposal to allow bison in the tolerance zone year round is under review. (Photo by William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images)

But there is hope! Brilliant work by conservation organizations have led to the world’s most fantastic conservational success stories happening right here in America.

Bald eagles, for instance, are now of “least concern” in North America. In fact, our bald eagles are now increasing rapidly in numbers. With over 316,000 bald eagles soaring above U.S. states, America’s national symbol is finally regaining its strength.

It is indeed one of America’s greatest conservational success stories. Clawing back from the brink of extinction, North America’s majestic bald eagle numbers have quadrupled since 2009, reports the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Wednesday.

The American bison species (woods and plain bison), too are now “near threatened,” with their population stable, according to FWS. Thanks to Theodore Roosevelt’s American Bison Society, the U.S. has done much since 1905 to prevent the species’ total annihilation.

Thanks to these efforts,  bison now live in every single U.S. State once more. We owe this to the Dept. of the Interior, conservation programs, national parks, preserves, and all-important Native American Reservations, as well.

So whenever you think of National Endangered Species Day, be sure to marvel in hope. It’s there, and it’s up to us Outsiders to keep it alive.