how to help endangered species

Since 1970, wildlife populations worldwide have collapsed by more than 69%. Known and unknown species are being gradually eliminated, never to be seen again. This extinction is comparable to the loss of the dodo or wooly mammoth, but it’s happening in the 21st century.

Despite the best efforts of the world’s conservationists, this shocking decline in species sadly shows no sign of slowing down. The habitat destruction and environmental pollution that have caused species to become endangered are extremely entrenched. It will require meaningful action at every level of society to reverse it.

However, despite this bleak outlook, there is always hope. By working together and making simple changes, mankind may slow or stop species loss and promote biodiversity. In this article, we share how to help endangered species with 16 ways anyone can make a meaningful contribution to protecting the world’s most threatened species.

What are endangered species?

Endangered species are groups of organisms that are at high risk of becoming extinct in the near future. The endangerment of a species may be global or in a particular region of the world. Conservationists and other groups with knowledge of the biology, habitat, and population numbers of potentially threatened species reach a consensus option on endangerment.

blue whale swimming under water
Blue whales are considered an endangered species and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act

Who determines which species are endangered?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a Swiss-based international conservation organization comprising over 1,400 governmental and non-governmental organizations. The IUCN produces a Red List, with the assessed status of the world’s most vulnerable species. Charities and NGOs within the IUCN continuously monitor the following:

  • Absolute species population numbers
  • Habitat loss
  • Rates of poaching
  • The presence of invasive species

Along with specialist assessments, this data can be used to assess the conservation status of a particular species. Governments and organizations can use the conservation status of species to determine which species require enhanced protection. Remedial activities can be formalized with the creation of a Biodiversity Action Plan.

Governments have legislated to protect endangered species, forbidding hunting or interfering with their habitats. Conservation statuses can also guide other initiatives like captive breeding programs or the designation of reserves and national parks.

More than 50% of the world’s species face the risk of extinction

The IUCN Red List lists more than 3,079 animals and 2,655 endangered plant species. Species are classified by their class, with Near Threatened (NT) and Least Concern (LC) indicating the species with the healthiest populations and Vulnerable (VU) and critically endangered (CR) indicating the most endangered creatures.

IUCN Red List categories diagram
IUCN Red List categories
Source: Wikimedia

Endangered species can also be described as rare or even locally extinct. Not all conservation status data is precise because the extinction of many species may have gone unnoticed for many years.

The paucity of data means some red list entries may be designated as ‘data deficient.’ This is where there is inadequate data and research available to establish the true status of the species.

Examples of vulnerable and critically endangered species include: 

  • The Siberian tiger
  • Kemp’s ridley sea turtle
  • The Siamese crocodile
  • The blue-throated macaw
  • The brown spider monkey
  • The American burying beetle
  • The Mexican wolf

Some of these species have left more than 150 living creatures worldwide.

Why are endangered species important?

The rising number of endangered species indicates that whole ecosystems are becoming compromised and may be at risk of collapse. As the population numbers of a particular species fall, the critical interactions that species has with other organisms within its local habitat are reduced, throwing the entire ecosystem out of balance and permanently changing its makeup.

For example, the loss of an apex predator species may lead to the unwanted proliferation of prey species that cause environmental damage through overgrazing, burrowing, or other activities. This can threaten other species in the ecosystem that become pressured, like plants and trees.

Another problem with species endangerment is that the world risks losing medicinal plants that may have future benefits to man. Over a quarter of modern medicines are derived from rainforest plants, and discoveries will be threatened if we let rare plant species go extinct.

Also, there is the sadness of knowing that some of Earth’s beautiful and intriguing creatures could be lost to future generations. Once they are gone, they cannot be brought back. This excellent PBS documentary about the life of Broken Tail, a deceased Royal Bengal tiger in India, highlights the pressures faced by endangered species and their tragic loss:

What can we do to help endangered species?

It’s great to know that there is something everyone can do to help endangered species. This is primarily because species of every type are under threat worldwide. Many aspects of our lives drive continuing biodiversity loss.

Simple changes and efforts, however small, can positively impact this serious environmental issue. Here’s what we can do:

1. Get Informed

When you think about endangered species, the well-publicized plight of animals like tigers, pandas, and rhinos immediately springs to mind. However, according to the WWF, 0.1% of all species go extinct yearly. There are so many unidentified species worldwide that it is impossible to know how many organisms are currently threatened.

This is why learning more about species endangerment biodiversity and the local ecosystems that need to be protected is essential. Learning about wildlife sanctuaries and species in your local area can help you contribute time or money to preserving vulnerable species wherever you are.

zebras in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Zebras in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Swaziland)

2. Be vocal about endangered species

Anyone can be an advocate for endangered species by being vocal about the problem. Raise awareness of the biodiversity crisis in your community by:

  • Signing petitions about local habitats that could be threatened by development
  • Writing to your local political representative
  • Organizing fundraisers for animal conservation charities
  • Creating leaflets or flyers to distribute to neighbors, friends, and relatives

3. Support your nearest conservation-accredited zoo

Supporting zoos by visiting them is one of the best things you can do for animal conservation. Zoos are no longer damaging, constrained environments for animals. The conservation of endangered species with education about them is the core activity of a modern zoo. This makes them essential institutions to support to make a difference to threatened species.

Giant Panda Conservation Centre in Zoo Negara Malaysia
Giant Panda in a conservation center in Zoo Negara, Malaysia
Source: Wikimedia / Frostpolar

Your entrance fees, donations, and memberships fund practical conservation, research, outreach, and advocacy for endangered species. They are expert conservationists who can effectively inform and communicate the need to protect the most vulnerable species on Earth.

Animal biologists in zoos research animal behavior to give their animals the best quality of life in captivity. Modern zoo facilities are often equipped to breed endangered species and may even become involved in rehabilitating them for release into the wild.

4. Volunteer at your local nature reserve or wildlife sanctuary

Many wildlife reserves are vital havens for threatened non-exotic species. You can help protect these creatures by contributing your time to the charities and organizations that manage nature reserves in your community. These reserves and sanctuaries are often havens for rare species like bats, deer, amphibians, and birds which would become extinct without conservation.

Volunteers at wildlife sanctuaries can make a difference through activities that include species surveying and mapping, grounds maintenance, and welcoming visitors. Without the efforts of volunteers, these important reserves allow people to discover and explore the natural world.

5. Make your yard a haven for pollinators

Endangered species come in all shapes and sizes, and it is often the smallest creatures that disappear from the environment fastest. The collapse in numbers of vital pollinator species like bees, butterflies, and moths is a recognized issue.

insects hotel made of recycled wood pallets
Bug hotel made of recycled wood pellets

In recent years, over 20% of pollinator species have shown a strong decline, even threatening the pollination of essential crops. One of the ways in which you can help these endangered species is to encourage pollinators to thrive in your yards. Helpful additions to your yard include:

  • Bug hotels: simple wooden structures that have lots of crevices where bee species, beetles, and moths can shelter during the colder months.
  • A saucer of fresh water: to safely provide vital hydration for bees and other insects.
  • Planting wildflowers: Flowers attract pollinators to your yard and provide them with the nutritious nectar and pollen they need for their hive.

6. Take care when driving to prevent roadkill

Ideally, road infrastructure would include wildlife crossings that provide safe migration routes across major roadways. Unfortunately, more than 5.5 million animals die on roads worldwide every day! In the US, West Virginia has the highest levels of roadkill, with odds of 1 in 38 of hitting a deer. Pensylvania’s elk country is another hotspot.

Taking care when driving can make a massive difference in roadkill rates. Slow down as much as possible so that animals have time to respond to your vehicle. Honking your horn can also deter animals. If you do hit an animal, move it from the road to prevent the corpse from attracting predators onto the road.

7. Don’t buy products made from hunted endangered animals

One of the key drivers of species endangerment is the illegal wildlife trade, a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the entire globe. There is a continual demand for trafficked animal parts eaten, used in traditional medicines, or used as fashion or furnishing. Examples of poached animal products include:

  • Ivory products
  • Tiger skins and bones
  • ‘Bush meat’ including the flesh of primates and rodents
a close up view of the elephant tusks
Ivory trade has a devastating impact on elephant populations

The criminals that kill and sell poached wildlife only do it because people are willing to buy from them. By avoiding products from the illegal wildlife trade, poachers and traffickers are starved of profit and won’t take the risk of harming endangered species.

8. Don’t buy exotic pets

Wildlife crime doesn’t just involve dead animals. There is a demand for living rare and exotic creatures to be kept as pets. This is a particular problem in the aquarium industry, where demand for tropical saltwater and freshwater fish has led to their depletion in their natural habitat.

These animals often struggle to thrive outside of their native habitat. Owners may struggle to care for larger animals like big cats, or poor security may mean that they escape. Despite being threatened, these species may even become invasive in a new environment.

9. Go plastic-free

Plastic is one of the world’s most pernicious pollutants. Over 14 million tons of plastic enter oceans and waterways annually, forming over 80% of all marine debris. Plastic is not only ingested by diverse marine organisms and can also be a potent endocrine disruptor.

grey fish caught in a plastic glove
Plastic is one of the world’s worst pollutants especially for marine life

This means that our addition to single-use non-recycled plastic products threatens the health and reproductive capacity of endangered marine species. Avoiding these cheap and convenient plastic products is not always easy, but reducing plastic use can improve marine environments and biodiversity.

If you end up using plastics, recycling them will help keep them out of landfills and the sea.

10. Reduce your use of synthetic chemicals

Synthetic chemicals like cleaning agents, dyes, and personal care products are a part of daily life. Though humans largely tolerate them, many of the chemicals we use can cause significant environmental damage if they get into lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Aquatic life, including rare and threatened species, is harmed by many household products that are washed into surface water and persist in these fragile marine ecosystems. An example is the nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) used in the textile industry. The long-term ecological effect is environmental degradation and a loss of biodiversity.

Make the switch to using environmentally-friendly alternatives of household products like laundry detergent, dish soap, surface cleaners, and personal care products. Many of the best eco-friendly products feature natural ingredients that biodegrade quickly before they can harm living things.

11. Boycott companies that damage our environment

People are increasingly recognizing the industrial, commercial, and financial activity that is damaging our environment, leading to the loss of species worldwide. These corporations continue their activities because it has remained profitable for them to do so. Attempts for reform in this area are often little more than ‘green-washing‘.

polluted body of water with a factory in the background
Refusing to buy goods and services from companies that damage the environment is the least everyone can do

One of the most effective ways to hold big polluters to account is by boycotting their products and services. Circular Magazine says some of the world’s biggest polluters include McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola.

Efforts to switch to eco-friendly alternatives that operate more ethically would send a clear message that they must change their polluting ways. It may initially be more expensive and less convenient, but if enough people say no, the message is sent. You can even write to the CEOs to let them know your concern about the environmental harm they are causing.

12. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Mankind’s insatiable demand for natural resources has led to the destruction of the ecosystems that are home to many endangered species. Demand for raw materials like oil and gas, wood, minerals, and precious metals has meant that the habitats of many animals have been removed to make way for industrial development.

This leaves vulnerable populations of creatures without safe environments to live, hunt, and breed. Even where there are pockets of land that are left intact, there are no wildlife corridors that facilitate the movement of animals from one region to another.

The exploitation of natural resources only continues at the rate it does because of demand. By reducing the number of new items purchased, reusing, repairing, and recycling them at the end of their usable life, you can drive down demand for raw materials and allow valuable ecosystems to recover.

13. Avoid invasive species

Invasive species are plant and animal species that have been introduced to an ecosystem where they are not native. They include animals, amphibians, and fish kept as pets, plants, and even seeds that can escape into the local environment and proliferate. This makes them a massive threat to local wildlife!

Invasive species are tricky because the alien organism may have a selection advantage that enables it to outcompete native organisms and dominate the ecosystem. If the spread of invasive species is not curtailed, native species can quickly become threatened or even eradicated by them.

close up shot of the feral cat
There have been reported negative impacts of cats on several species of seabirds in the Azores, Portugal

You can help to reduce the spread of invasive species by:

  • Only plant native plants in your yard and opt for active house plant species.
  • Learning the common invasive species in your region and reporting them to environmental agencies if you see them anywhere.
  • If you travel, clean your footwear, luggage, and other equipment to prevent potentially invasive plant seeds and debris from being introduced to your locality.
  • If you go camping, purchase firewood near your campsite rather than bringing it from home.

14. Avoid foods and products that use palm oil

Palm oil consumption is a massive driver of habitat destruction and environmental degradation that endangers multiple South East Asian species like the Sumatran rhino, pygmy elephants, and orangutans.

Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo due to palm oil plantation
A satellite image showing deforestation in Malaysian Borneo for oil palm plantation
Source: Wikimedia / NASA

Palm oil is derived from the flesh and kernels of the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis). It originated in Africa but is now heavily cultivated in Asia. Over centuries this oil has been extremely useful to man and is currently used in almost everything we buy including.

  • Soaps and detergents
  • Cooking oil
  • Processed foods
  • Cosmetics
  • Chocolate
  • Peanut butter
  • Toothpaste
  • Biofuels

Because the oil palm tree is a lucrative crop that is very quick and easy to grow, many people are cutting down and burning valuable rainforests to use the vacant land to cultivate it. This prolific deforestation has largely destroyed the habitats of many species, which have now become endangered. Without reform of this sector, the damage will continue unchallenged.

One of the ways in which you can help these endangered animals is by not buying products that use palm oil or switching to palm oil products that come from a certified sustainable source. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil  (RSPO), founded in 2004, certifies palm oil sources as being sustainable and not contributing to deforestation.

15. Become a sustainable tourist

In many parts of the world, species become endangered because it is simply more lucrative for locals to poach them than keep them alive. One way of contributing to animal conservation is by participating in sustainable tourism that profits local communities and empowers them to be stewards and protectors of their natural environments and species.

Going on safaris, snorkeling trips, or sustainable tours means local populations can earn a good living by caring for vulnerable species and promoting their welfare. Choosing sustainable tourism helps reduce the tourist industry’s negative impacts and alleviates poverty, demonstrating to local communities how valuable their natural resources are.

16. Eat locally and sustainably produced food

Agriculture is essential for feeding the world, but some methods are more damaging than others. One effect of globalization has been the massive number of food miles clocked up but the things you eat before they get to your place. Extensive air, rail, sea, and road freight of food is not only polluting but also drives:

Another way that everyone can help endangered species is by eschewing these damaging forms of agriculture and opting for eating locally and seasonally. Local producers who farm organically and use non-intensive agricultural methods are great stewards of the environment.

Their food may be more expensive in the short term, but it is often better quality and more nutritious. If enough people change the way they eat, these environmentally friendly forms of farming could go mainstream:

Rounding up

Reducing the detrimental environmental impact of our modern way of life can give the world’s most endangered species vital breathing space to recover.

If everyone makes the small changes outlined above, there may be enough momentum gained to effect real and lasting change in how we steward the environment. This should allow species of all kinds to flourish in their natural habitats and be appreciated by all.

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