Endangered Species Handbook

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Profile of an Endangered Species

Project Summary 
Select a species threatened with extinction from the lists of endangered species in the Appendix of The Endangered Species Handbook, the 2000 IUCN List of Threatened Species or another list mentioned below.  Using the list of numbered information below as a guide, list its common name, scientific name and other information in that order.  Not all of the questions listed below can be answered from available sources, but give an overview with as much information as possible. 
 
Background 
Species threatened with extinction may be classified in categories such as Critical, Endangered, Threatened, Vulnerable or Imperiled on various lists such as the US Endangered Species Act, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' (IUCN) 2000 Red List of Threatened Species, publications of The Nature Conservancy or other organizations listed in the Organizations list in the Appendix. (For definitions of the US Endangered Species Act and the IUCN categories, see the list of Endangered and Threatened Species of Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians in the Appendix.)  This project seeks to describe species in decline or those on the verge of extinction.  The number of plants and animals in these categories has increased in the past few decades.  Of the many causes threatening species, the disappearance of wild habitats is the most important overall.  But for many species, rampant trade and introductions of non-native species are the primary causes.  Pollution, pesticides and other toxic chemicals, thinning of the ozone layer and other environmental problems play roles as well.  For some species, several of these factors contribute to their decline. 
 
The attitudes of people toward the environment and wildlife in areas where these species are found are often of extreme importance in deciding whether habitats are conserved, laws passed to prevent killing and trade and other conservation measures taken.  In some countries, such as Bhutan in the Himalayas, wildlife is held in high regard, and heavy penalties are exacted for destroying the natural landscape or killing animals.  In others, high population pressures, faltering economies and political chaos result in destruction of forests and wildlife for commercial purposes, in spite of protective laws and many concerned citizens.  In the United States, the US Endangered Species Act is supported by the majority of people, but opposed by a large segment, who see it as politically and economically intrusive.  Thus, the conservation status of species threatened with extinction is a complicated picture. 
 
Legal protection, if not enforced, can leave the species open to poaching, even in protected reserves.  In spite of strict laws, the Tiger, for example, has been killed in national parks and reserves throughout its range, as a result of high prices paid for its body parts in Traditional Medicine.  Thus, a species must receive many types of protection, from habitat to hunting and sale restrictions, combined with a strong protective attitude by people living within its range and elsewhere.  Also, funding for research and habitat protection is a major factor that is often lacking for the less charismatic species, such as invertebrates and many plants.  The reports generated in this project may consist of only a page or a long report, depending on the wishes of the teacher, student or individual participating in this project.
 
Methods
Answering as many of the questions listed below as possible concerning an individual species selected is the purpose of the project.  It might be easiest to select a native species of animal or plant on the US Endangered Species Act or listed by state Natural Heritage Programs for information that is readily available, or a species about which books or reports have been written, such as the Gray Wolf, the Tiger or the Whooping Crane.  One can contact the state Natural Heritage offices in care of each state capital, the US Endangered Species Office in Washington, DC, for federally listed species or the regional offices of the US Fish and Wildfire Service.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a website as well (see the Organizations list in the Appendix).  For information on birds threatened with extinction worldwide, Threatened Birds of the World, by BirdLife International, published in 2000 by Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, provides status and other background information, illustrations and references on more than 1,000 species of birds.  Mammals of the World, by Ronald M. Nowak (1999, Sixth Edition, Johns Hopkins University Press), is another reference providing much of the information listed below. The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, available in CD-ROM disk and on the Internet (www.redlist.org), lists animals and plants of the world in various categories of threat along with basic background information.  It is published by The Red List Programme Officer, 219c Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK; e-mail redlist@ssc-uk.org.  Additional books and articles can be found in the Books and Publications Section of the Appendix of this book and in reference lists following each chapter.  Within the text of The Endangered Species Handbook are many case histories that might provide background information as well.  Read Traits of Vulnerable Species in Chapter 2, Vanishing Species, to better understand the importance of many of the following questions.
 
Activities
Answer the following questions with the best available information.
 
Part I. Description and Characteristics of the Species
 
 1.  Species common name, scientific name
 2.  Class and Family
 3.  Past range: in recent years and historically
 4.  Present range: country or countries, region or location
     Does the species have a small breeding range, but a large wintering
     range?
 5.  Is the species endemic to a restricted area or region, such as an island?
 6.  What type of habitat does the species inhabit?  (For example, oceans,
     undammed rivers, lakes, old-growth forests, grasslands, mixed habitat.)
 7.  What is the approximate size of its territory?  For example, Siberian
     Tigers may require 500 square miles per animal, while a small gazelle
     might survive in an area of only a few square miles.  The territorial
     needs of a species are crucial to its conservation.
 8.  Does the species require a specialized habitat or diet?  Is it adaptable
     to a variety of habitats or diets?
 9.  Does the species show altruism, or the unselfish care for members of
     its own kind?
10.  What is the species longevity, if known?
11.  What is the species rate of reproduction?  (How many young or seeds
     does it produce, at what intervals and what is their survival?)
12.  What is the species rate of natural mortality?  (Does the species have
     few natural enemies or causes of mortality or do large numbers of the
     species die each year?)
13.  Is the species a flightless bird or slow‑moving animal?  How does this
     affect its ability to defend itself against predators--human and animal?
14.  Is this a large or small animal?  The term is relative and denotes size
     that humans consider large, such as elephants, and other large ungulates,
     such as antelope, giraffes or rhinoceros, as opposed to small gazelles;
     for predators, Tigers are large as compared to Ocelots or Margays.
15.  Does the species breed in colonies or require large numbers of its own
     kind for protection, to locate food sources or for other means of
     survival?
 
Part B.  Status and Conservation
 
 1.  Status:  What are the threats to this species' survival?  (For example,
     habitat loss, effects of exotic species, trade or other causes.)
     Describe them in detail.
 2.  Population numbers, where known, past (historic) and present.  (In most
     cases this would be general information, such as common and widespread
     in the past, and small population numbers at present.)
 3.  Current situation:  Is the species in steep decline, making its status
     Critical, or in gradual decline, making its status Vulnerable.  Is its
     population stable, but threatened because of very small numbers?
 4.  If in decline, does the present rate of decline exceed annual
     recruitment by reproduction?  If so, by how much?
 5.  Legal status:  Is the species legally protected from killing,
     capture, sale and harm in all or a portion of its range?  If a species is
     found in many countries, provide as much information as possible.  If
     protected, is the protection enforced?
 6.  Status of habitat:  Are there reserves or national parks protecting
     the habitat?  Is the habitat being destroyed, or is land use compatible
     with the needs of the species?
 7.  What are the attitudes of most people who live in the range of the
     species toward it?  Are they aware of its presence and status?  If so,
     do they support its protection or are they neutral or even negative,
     persecuting it?
 8.  Adequacy of existing conservation:  What is being done, either by
     governmental or private conservation organizations or individuals, to
     help the species survive?  Is the present program effective?  Is adequate
     funding available for its protection?  What would be needed to better
     ensure its survival?
 9.  What are the potential threats to the species, such as future habitat
     destruction from expanding human settlements and government policies
     of land development? For example, the wildlife of India will be under
     increasing pressure as the population increases and wild habitat is
     destroyed.  Government policies, such as resettlement of people or
     development of grassland or rivers for human use, can present major
     threats to wildlife.  China, for example, is gradually resettling
     millions of people into the steppe grasslands of its far west who are
     having a negative effect on native wildlife and the environment.  Through
     data in almanacs on the rate of human population growth, calculate the
     threat of habitat loss in the future.
10.  Can you think of something that needs to be done for the species, such as
     research; publicity in the form of articles or a film about its status; 
     increased commitment from government or organizations to its
     conservation; or a website on the Internet asking for more information
     and suggestions?  Can you think of a way you or your class could help
     the species?


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