Legislation designed to protect certain animals has a long history in the U.S., the first law specifically addressing species threatened with extinction was the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. The Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to determine what wildlife species were facing extinction in the United States. Today we’ll discuss some aspects of this law, and what can cause such extreme endangerment to many species that are at risk today.
The two most important aspects of the Endangered Species Conservation Act was that it:
- Promoted research on endangered animals, and
- Authorized the purchase of habitat
In 1973, the Act expanded the original 1966 legislation to include all species of vertebrates and some invertebrate groups. The Act also prohibits the importation of endangered species or their products. The 1973 Act also added foreign species to the United States’ list.
- An Endangered Species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range
- A Threatened Species is one that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future
Causes of Endangerment
- Natural Causes – Extinction is a natural biological process
- Unregulated Hunting – E.g., passenger pigeon
- Introduced Predators (“exotic species”) – E.g., mongoose in Hawaii
- Nonpredatory Exotics – Agents of competition and disease (E.g., pigs in Hawaii)
- Human Overpopulation and need for food
- Use as a medicine or for religious purposes
- Habitat Modification – ultimate destroyer of wildlife, mainly via habitat fragmentation; animal can move, adapt, or go extinct.
So what features predispose a species to become endangered?
- Species with narrow habitat requirements
- Species with economic importance – especially those animals migrating to other countries
- Species of large size, especially predators or those animals intolerant of humans
- Species that have limited number of young, long gestation or incubation periods, or require extensive parental care
- Species with highly specialized physical, behavioral, or physiological adaptations or genetic variability
So why save these animals?
- Direct benefit to people
- Ecosystem value
- Esthetic reasons
Don’t only think of large “famous” animals, such as Giant Pandas – plants, fish, invertebrates, and other animal classes are also on the list.
For example, the annual value of medicinal drugs and treatments with active ingredients derived from plants exceeds $40 billion/year. And 40% of all medicines prescribed today are based or synthesized from natural compounds. For example, aspirin is derived from the Willow tree, Digitalis from the Purple Foxglove plant, and cancer drug “Taxol” derived from the Pacific Yew Tree.
Don’t think an Endangered Species is some exotic animal on the other side of the world, chances are, you have some very close by. Look into your local endangered species and see what you can do to help!