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Today Is Endangered Species Day

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is dedicated to saving species. Every day, its scientists and partners — here in Washington, D.C., at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, and in more than 30 countries across the globe — undertake important conservation efforts to protect species and their habitats.

In honor of their work and in recognition of Endangered Species Day, we’re highlighting some of the endangered animals you can see at the Zoo and the work being done to protect them.

Black-footed Ferret

black-footed ferret kit

Every year, black-footed ferret kits born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are reintroduced to the wild. This species once ranged across the North American Great Plains but was thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered in 1981.

The last remaining 18 wild ferrets were caught to establish a breeding center in Wyoming. In 1988, the Zoo became the first institution outside of Wyoming to receive their offspring and begin a breeding program.

More than 700 black-footed ferrets have been born at SCBI since, many of which have been reintroduced to the wild!

Scimitar-horned Oryx

Extinct in the wild for more than 35 years, scimitar-horned oryx are back in their native habitat thanks to international collaboration and the power of science.

This reintroduction project is led by the Environmental Agency - Abu Dhabi, and includes the Sahara Conservation Fund, the Zoological Society of London and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, who are working collaboratively with the government of Chad and the international zoo community to return oryx to the Saharan grasslands.

Asian Elephant

A close-up photo of an Asian elephant in Myanmar

SCBI scientists are tracking endangered Asian elephants in Myanmar using satellite GPS collars, and their efforts to understand how these magnificent animals use their habitat has revealed a troubling rise in poaching.

Smithsonian and Clemson University scientists discovered the emerging crisis after seven of the elephants they were tracking were poached within one year.

Watch Field In Focus: Elephants in Myanmar, the first in a series of videos about the Smithsonian’s work with Myanmar’s Asian elephants.

Panamanian Golden Frog

Smithsonian scientists and partners are working to save this iconic, critically endangered yellow frog and others like it by establishing assurance colonies — healthy, genetically diverse populations in human care.

Their efforts are also focused on reducing the impact of amphibian chytrid fungus, a disease that has decimated wild frog populations, so that one day these animals may be reintroduced to the wild.

In fact, earlier this year, Smithsonian researchers released 500 endangered variable harlequin frogs in Panama’s Colon province as a first step toward full-scale reintroduction.

Western Lowland Gorilla

Native to Africa, western lowland gorillas live in the forests of Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Congo, but their population has dramatically declined in the past 20 to 25 years.

A 2018 study estimates that more than 360,000 gorillas still inhabit the forests of Western Equatorial Africa, but 80 percent of those gorillas live outside of protected habitat.

Adult female western lowland gorilla Calaya carries her infant Moke outside in the Smithsonian's National Zoo's gorilla habitat on a sunny day

The Central African nation of Gabon is one of the last strongholds for western lowland gorillas, harboring approximately one-third of the entire population. SCBI’s Gabon Biodiversity Program has been on the ground since 2000, working with local stakeholders and the government to monitor the status of biodiversity and identify best practices to minimize development impacts on Gabon’s stunning forests and rich wildlife — including the Western lowland gorilla.

The Zoo recently celebrated the birth of a male western lowland gorilla. The infant, named Moke, is the first western lowland gorilla to be born at the Zoo in nine years.

Take some time on this Endangered Species Day to learn more about endangered animals, share their stories and spread the word about the importance of wildlife conservation and restoration!