By Ken Ramirez, Chuck Knapp, Tim Binder, Jim Robinett
Since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed by President Nixon on Dec. 28, 1973, the Act has helped recover more than 30 species, prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects and currently protects more than 2,140 species. Conservation and learning at accredited zoos and aquariums, in partnership with local and federal agencies, have been key players in wildlife recovery efforts, including animals on the ground such as the black-footed ferret to those in the sea including the green sea turtles and those in the air like the California condors. Forty years later, the numbers are an incredible reminder of the power of a single act.
While our efforts have saved some species, we have lost others in the wild. Today, a few species that are thought to be extinct in the wild can only be seen in aquariums and zoos – a reminder of the frailty and majesty of the living world and our impact on it. At Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, we are home for 14 animals on ESA’s threatened or endangered list, 33 animals on the IUCN Red List and five threatened in Illinois. As the anniversary approaches, four leaders from Shedd reflect on 40 years of the ESA and what the next 40 years will hold.
Species protection with extinction prevention
Accredited zoos and aquariums have always been conservation-minded, but the way we approach conservation has expanded. We now use a multi-dimensional approach focused on individual animals in our care, field research on wild populations and their natural habitats, and public education.
We as a zoo and aquarium community have forged stronger and more collaborative recovery efforts to create a substantial impact as a united front. Many of us care for animals protected under the ESA, and we play a key role in advancing the science of wildlife recovery that is critical to avoid further species extinction.
The most important part of our work is the emphasis to keep species off the threatened or endangered list. A long-sighted view about protecting animals and habitats that are currently thriving is essential to successful conservation. I hope one day we are so successful in our efforts that we no longer need to add new animals to the ESA list each year. More....