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Endangered species are those at immediate risk of going extinct. The primary factors leading to species becoming endangered include habitat loss, pollution, introduction of other species, and overexploitation. Facing extinction are: one-third of amphibians, nearly half of all freshwater turtles, one in eight birds, and one in four mammals, as well as more than 8,000 plant and algae species.

What's Involved?

Endangered Species Protection
A variety of international and U.S. laws offer protection to endangered species. Depending on the law, it may be a crime to capture or kill listed species, fail to act to recover them, or harm their habitat or range.

The Endangered Species Act lists more than 1,200 U.S. plant and animal species as endangered or threatened with the possibility of becoming endangered. The law requires recovery plans to ultimately delist species.

The IUCN-World Conservation Union maintains a record—the Red List—of the world's species that are threatened with extinction. The Red List now includes 16,928 species—more than 8,400 animals and more than 8,400 plants—that are critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable.

Signed by more than 160 countries, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an agreement to restrict trade of more than 30,000 species of animals and plants, including live and dead specimens (such as marmosets) and parts (such as ivory).

Other laws and treaties—such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles—have a narrower focus.

Recovery Plans
In the United States and many other countries, recovery plans are often developed to aid in the recovery of the species. These recovery programs can be in situ (take place in the natural range of the species) or ex situ (in areas outside their natural range) and can involve

  • habitat restoration,
  • captive breeding efforts or husbandry studies,
  • assisted reproduction efforts or field research into behavior,
  • reproduction, and
  • biology or ecology studies.

The major functions of recovery programs are to:

  • identify the most important actions needed to save the species from extinction,
  • identify major players in the recovery effort, and
  • collaborate and coordinate clearly defined objectives to speed the recovery process.

Who's Involved?

Saving endangered species usually involves disciplines from many fields. Wildlife biologists, ecologists, veterinarians, geneticists, behavioral biologists, reproductive biologists, environmental educators, captive breeding specialists, geographic information specialists, environmental policy makers, reserve managers, and legislators all work together to develop recovery plans.

Governmental Organizations
Many recovery programs involve both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Governmental organizations that may be involved with a plan include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service, and governments of foreign countries, states or provinces within countries, and groups of states or countries.

Non-governmental Organizations
Non-governmental organizations that work to save endangered species include private funding groups, cooperative zoological institutions, private breeders, and organizations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and IUCN-World Conservation Union.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
The National Zoo is proud to participate in the recovery efforts for endangered and threatened species. Our scientists, biologists, captive breeding specialists, and veterinarians have contributed to the recovery of giant pandas, tigers, golden lion tamarins, cheetahs, and black-footed ferrets, to name only a few.