On Endangered Species Day, we recognize thousands of different species across the globe that need our help. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed several species as federally threatened or endangered in the United States. Their habitats are being destroyed and infringed upon, and the devastating effects of climate change are causing populations to dwindle.

SCA participants are heavily involved in wildlife conservation efforts through data monitoring, helping to restore natural habitats and educating others about the importance of a balanced ecosystem. We’ve rounded up a few of these threatened and endangered species and why it’s critical to protect them – for the planet and us!

1. Sea turtle

Green sea turtle
Green sea turtle.

Classified as some of the largest living reptiles, sea turtles spend most of their lives in the water. While nesting, hatchlings provide abundant nutrients on the sandy beaches and ultimately deliver them to the ocean, ensuring that other marine life stays healthy and essential vegetation continues to grow.

Unfortunately, due to human activities and climate change affecting nesting site temperatures, nearly all six species of sea turtles found in the United States are now listed as threatened or endangered. To preserve their populations, SCA interns help monitor and protect nesting sites at places like Padre Island National Seashore in Texas to increase the chance of hatchling survival.

Dr. Donna Shaver documents nesting Kemp's ridley sea turtle.
SCA alum Dr. Donna Shaver documents nesting Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. (National Park Service)

2. California condor

California Condor spanning wings.
California condor.

“It’s a bird…it’s a plane…” takes on a whole new meaning if you’ve ever had the rare experience of spotting a California condor. With a wing span of nearly 10 feet and weighing over 20 pounds, this bird is the largest flying species in North America. Scavenging across deserts in California, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the California condor acts as a natural garbage collector by removing animal carcasses.

Once on the brink of extinction caused by lead poisoning and human behavior, conservation programs have succeeded in increasing the population of these magnificent creatures. But while the numbers have risen, only around 500 worldwide remain. SCA interns assist in wildlife management at national parks, forests and refuges where critically endangered species like the California Condor reside.

3. Ocelot

Ocelot
Ocelot.

Commonly referred to as “the little leopard” because of their spotted patterns, Ocelots are small wild cats not far removed from our domestic feline friends. One of six wild cat breeds currently in the United States, these nocturnal critters are great swimmers and climbers and keep their surrounding habitat balanced and thriving by hunting small vermin. Populations used to occupy most of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas but can now only be spotted in the South Texas area.

In 1986, Ocelots were listed as endangered in the U.S. from habitat loss, and less than 60 live in the country. Additionally, Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge in Texas is now the only site with a breeding population. SCA interns work to restore the vegetation ocelots need to live and track their routes to decrease their collisions with vehicles.

SCA member holding ocelot
SCA intern with an ocelot. DISCLAIMER: Do not attempt to hold wildlife at home. This ocelot was under an anesthetic with supervision from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff.

4. Dusky gopher frog

Dusky Gopher Frog
Dusky gopher frog. ( Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Department of Agriculture )

What’s in a name? The Dusky gopher frog is just what it sounds like – a dark frog with gopher-like traits, including living underground. They can be found in the wetlands of Mississippi and are efficient pest controllers thanks to their diet of mosquito eggs and larvae.

The amphibian is critically endangered, mainly partly from habitat loss due to urbanization and severe drought. Multiple recovery plans to protect them have been ongoing, and SCA interns participate in wildlife biology programs that monitor tadpoles and research patterns of adult Dusky gopher frogs.

All of these species contribute to biodiversity and the overall health of our planet. By bringing awareness to their roles and significance, we are protecting our environment for future generations.

For opportunities to Join The Crew and work with critically endangered and threatened species, visit the SCA’s Individual Internships page.

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