The US Endangered Species Act of 1973 is one of the most successful laws in the United States. Using science-based programs, 99% of species the Act protects have not become extinct. Basically, that means all listed animals were low in numbers and were in danger of dying off.  However, today their numbers are increasing. Overall, the ESA protects more than 2,200 listed species, including plants.

Other services include:

  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for overseeing land and freshwater species.
  • The NOAA National Marine and Fisheries Services, which watches over saltwater marine species.

These organizations check to see how a species (group of animals or plants) is doing on its own.  Of course, is it best to leave plants and animals alone if they are doing well, but if they are struggling to live something needs to be done. It’s important to know that concerned people or groups can ask the agencies to add species to the list. Under the Act, species may be recorded as endangered (in danger of disappearing) or threatened. After that, the agency in charge can make the place where those animals or plants live federally protected. (Remember, a place animal lives is its “habitat.”) Finally, they’ll also develop a plan to guide government and private efforts that help with the species’ recovery process. After all, sometimes humans make life harder on some plants and animals.  For this reason, we need to make sure to help as well.


The Act defines endangered as “the species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range.” These animal or plant species are very rare.  In fact, they are very likely to disappear in the future. If a species is listed as endangered, it is illegal to kill, bother, hurt, or catch it without special permission. In other words, leave these plants and animals alone if you see them. 

Many human activities can cause a species to become extinct.  Some examples include over-hunting, climatic change, and farmland creation.  In other words, our actions can cause a species to be endangered. Finally, some experts believe extinction numbers may increase in the future. So, it’s important for people to take action to protect wildlife and plants.

Some examples of endangered species include grizzly bears, black-footed ferrets, and humpback whales. Also, the ESA also supports the protection of listed species outside of the US, like tigers, giant pandas, and Asian elephants.


In the Act, threatened is officially defined as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Threatened species have many of the same protections as endangered species. Giraffes, monarch butterflies, and polar bears are examples of threatened species the EPA protects. Ultimately, getting protection helps these plants and animals from becoming even smaller in numbers.


The Endangered Species Act saved many species. For example, the American alligator, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and brown pelican.  These animals were close to extinction. Luckily, they are now recovering.

The bald eagle, with only 487 nesting pairs, made the endangered species list in 1967. Now, it is found the species is doing well with an estimated 4,215 pairs and ESA considers bald eagles are no longer in need of protection.

The gray whale was hunted nearly to extinction in the early 20th century, but a ban on commercial whaling and other conservation measures helped the population recover. Today, there are estimated to be around 27,000 gray whales in the wild.

The southern white rhino was once thought to be extinct in the late 19th century due to hunting and habitat loss, but a small population was discovered in South Africa and conservation efforts have led to their recovery. Today, they are classified as “near threatened” rather than endangered.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA continue to improve new technologies and management plans. They hope to make sure the ESA stays successful.  Overall, it’s important for endangered species to be safe so their habitats can recover.

How can you help increase awareness of endangered species?

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