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Endangered species are organisms that are at risk of becoming extinct because of dwindling numbers, or due to changes and threats to their environment. The World Conservation Union has calculated the percentage of endangered species as 40 percent of all organisms based on the sample of species that have been evaluated through 2006. Only a few of the many species at risk of extinction actually make the list. Many more species become extinct, or potentially will become extinct, without the public ever knowing. Many countries have laws that offer protection to endangered species, such as forbidding hunting, restricting land development or creating preserves.

The American Bison, also known as the American Buffalo, once inhabited the Great Plains of the United States and Canada in massive herds. The buffalo is the largest terrestrial animal in North America and they are vital to the prairie ecosystem. They were hunted to near extinction by the mid-1800s. Today, Bison are found in both publicly and privately held herds. Custer State Park in South Dakota is home to 1,500 bison, which is one of the largest publicly held herds in the world. There are only four, free roaming and genetically pure herds on public lands in North America at Yellowstone National Park, the Henry Mountains in Utah, Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and on Elk Island in Alberta, Canada.

The American Bald Eagle was on the brink of extinction in the continental United States in the late 20th century. It has made a remarkable comeback and now has a stable population and has been officially removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species. There are still threats, but with the banning of chemicals such as DDT, the future of the American Bald Eagle looks good.

The Grizzly Bear, which is a symbol of American wilderness, is threatened in the lower 48 U.S. states. In the 19th century, Grizzly numbers were greatly reduced as the nation expanded westward and hunting and trapping went unchecked. The Grizzly is a subspecies of the Brown Bear and lives in the uplands of western North America.

The Gray Wolf, also known as the Timber Wolf, plays a vital role in the proper functioning of our ecosystems. It is an Ice Age survivor and studies indicate that it shares a common ancestry with the domestic dog. The Gray Wolf was once one of the most plentiful animals in North America, but it was hunted ruthlessly and also had widespread destruction of its habitat. Today, the Gray Wolf is making a comeback. They are protected in some areas, hunted for sport in others and perceived as threats to livestock and pets in other areas.

Other endangered species include the Polar Bear, which is threatened due to the impact of global warming and the Canada Lynx, which is such a secretive animal, scientists are unsure how many are left in America. The Florida Panther used to range throughout the southeastern United States, but due to years of habitat loss and persecution, there are now only about 80 Florida panthers left, occupying only five percent of their historic range.

Sea Otters once numbered between 150,000 - 300,000 but were hunted extensively for their fur between 1740 - 1911. The world population of sea otters then fell to between 1,000 - 2,000. An international ban on hunting, along with conservation efforts, have contributed to the numbers rebounding, and the species now occupies about two-thirds of its former range. The recovery of the Sea Otter is one of the most important successes in marine conservation. However, populations in the Aleutian Islands and along the California coast have recently declined again. For these reasons, as well as the vulnerability to oil spills, the Sea Otter remains classified as an endangered species.


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