Let’s face it – not every animal is going to win a beauty contest. Not every one has glossy fur, shimmering scales or soulful eyes. But all of them are important, and they all deserve a chance at survival. So with Valentine’s Day approaching, let’s show a little love for some of the endangered species that may not be the prettiest, but need our help all the same.
The Bottom-dweller: Pallid Sturgeon
This ancient fish has whiskers, is covered in armored plates, and spends its time grubbing along murky river bottoms in the Missouri and Mississippi River systems. Pallid sturgeon can grow to be huge – up to six feet long and more than 80 pounds! And if you think that’s impressive, get this: The species has been around for more than 78 million years. That’s right, these guys once shared the planet with dinosaurs.
And sadly, they could be going the same way as their now-fossilized friends. Today, the last wild-born pallid sturgeon are nearing extinction. As humans built dams in the waterways these fish need to survive, they blocked the pallid sturgeon from being able to reach its breeding grounds. We’re working to bring down a dam on the Yellowstone River, right in the heart of pallid sturgeon habitat. But it will take years of restoring this and other parts of sturgeon habitat before this species can rule its home rivers once more.
The Scavenger: California Condor
Like all carrion eaters, the California condor sports a bare featherless head, the better to plunge into dead things without getting too dirty. Add to that the scaly skin and those glaring red eyes, and it’s clear these birds don’t exactly fall into the “cute and cuddly” category. But there many things about California condors that are just plain cool. With a wingspan of up to 9 ½ feet (!), they’re one of the largest birds in the world. They can glide for hours without beating their wings, and the skin on their necks can actually change color based on their emotional state – kind of like a mood ring.
But due in large part to habitat loss, illegal shootings, and lead poisoning, by 1985 the entire known wild population had been reduced to just nine birds. It took a concerted conservation effort to bring this bird back from the brink of extinction. Today, 228 condors survive in the wild. But they still face a range of continuing threats, including lead poisoning from ammunition used by hunters to kill wildlife that condors eat. Not long ago, we won a victory in California where hunters are now required to use non-lead ammunition throughout the state. It’s a great step forward, but it will take a wider effort to secure a stable future for these birds.
The Bad Rap: Northern Long-eared Bat
Few animals have as undeserved a bad reputation as bats do. Far from creepy or dangerous, bats actually provide incredibly valuable services like pollination or eating insects that could otherwise kill crops or make us sick.
North American bats like the Northern long-eared bat are being decimated right now by a fungal disease called “white nose syndrome.” This epidemic has lent new urgency to efforts to protect bat habitats and reduce other threats to their survival. Sadly, some in Congress don’t seem to agree. Last year saw several legislative attacks on the efforts to protect this species. And thanks to pressure from the oil, gas and timber industries (which have a vested interest in seeing the bat’s habitat stay less protected), the Northern long-eared bat hasn’t even been given the level of protection under the Endangered Species Act that it desperately needs. We’re fighting these battles for the bat in the courts and on Capitol Hill, but we’re going up against a decidedly anti-wildlife Congress and many extremely well-funded industries; it’s going to be a long road ahead.
These are just three of a long list of imperiled species that need our help – even if they aren’t always the ones that get the lion’s share of the spotlight. This Valentine’s Day, show some love for species like these. Pick your favorite image below, then click to share and help spread the word!