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September 20, 2017

Top Ten Florida species that could have gone extinct without the
Endangered Species Act

1. Saving Florida's Gentle Giants, the West Indian Manatee

Manatees, designated as Florida’s state marine mammal in 1975, were first listed as federally endangered in 1966. Once numbering just a few hundred, today the West Indian manatee’s total population is more than 6,600. Thanks in large part to the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, actions were taken to conserve the manatee’s habitat. Boat laws were also implemented to make sure motorists slow down in areas where manatees roam so as not to injure them with their boat propellers. Additionally, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission outlawed the practice of providing manatees with hose water so that the animals do not get too comfortable around people and boats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the manatee earlier this year from “endangered” to “threatened.” Wildlife managers say the change in status is largely symbolic and that the slow speed zones and other protections that have helped manatees recover will remain in place. But with ongoing threats posed by boat strikes and habitat loss, many advocacy groups don’t support reducing protections for Florida’s manatees.

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2. The Florida Panther is Finally Moving North

Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the Florida panther is no longer on the brink of extinction as it was in the 1970s. Despite gains over the past few decades, biologists estimate there are still only 240 panthers left in the wild. The good news is that for the first time in decades there are breeding female panther(s) found north of the Caloosahatchee River, a necessary step to increase population and expand their territories.

But this number is in danger of dropping. Every year we break new records for panthers killed by cars. The best thing we can do for the Florida panther is to conserve their habitat so that they have the space they need to hunt, breed, and travel between habitat zones. Additionally, the state needs to establish more wildlife crossings and prevent roads being built through prime panther habitat to reduce panther mortality rate due to a vehicular collision.

And, if you haven't already, sign our panther petition to make sure the panther remains listed as "endangered."

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3. A Symbol of Florida, the American Alligator

American alligators residing throughout the waters of the South came face to face with the threat of extinction in the 1950’s. A combination of excessive commercial hunting practices and a loss of habitat led many to believe that the alligator population would not recover. However, after the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, hunting alligators was banned. This protection resulted in a dramatic increase in the overall population of alligators in the South and, by 1987, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was able to remove the alligator from the Endangered Species List. Today, there are over one million alligators roaming the waters of Florida. Be careful out there!

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4. Eastern Indigo Snakes Slinking Through the Florida Panhandle for the First Time in Decades

The Eastern indigo snake, recognized as the largest snake in the U.S and capable of reaching eight-feet long, has been designated as a threatened species since 1978. Decades of deforestation and massive development projects in Central Florida caused the snake's natural habitat to all but disappear.

In recent years conservationists have begun breeding projects which seek to grow the indigo snake population in a controlled environment. The snakes are then reintroduced a few at a time into wilderness areas where they can thrive.This year, the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation reintroduced twelve snakes in the Florida panhandle. Hooray, science!

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5. The Smalltooth Sawfish

Before the 1900’s the smalltooth sawfish roamed the Atlantic coastline from New York to Florida. Now, these amazing creatures, sometimes spanning between 10 and 18 feet, are found only in the waters around Florida. Their decline was due to commercial nets that are no longer used, trophy hunting for their iconic noses, and the destruction of mangroves where the young grow.

In 1992 Florida passed a law making it illegal to hunt and kill sawfish. It was officially listed as endangered in 2003, and in 2007, sawfish were banned from trade on the international market. These measures have led to an increase in population and more sawfish sightings in the past two decades.

Those frequenting Florida’s waterways can help to protect sawfish by reporting any sighting to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation and by kindly leaving these beautiful creatures alone. If a fisherman accidentally catches a sawfish, the animal should be safely freed and returned to the water as quickly as possible.

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6. The largest land mammal in the Sunshine State, the Florida black bear

In 1974 the Florida black bear was classified as being threatened after it was reported that only 300 or so bears still lived throughout the state. In 2012, after decades of hard work by conservationists to increase the population, Florida’s largest land mammal was finally removed from the endangered species list. Biologists estimate that the current population of black bears residing in Florida is close to 4,000. Conservationists and wildlife officials have worked to educate residents on how to secure their trash to reduce human-bear interactions. They’ve also taught residents how to deal with black bears as safely as possible should they ever encounter one. Even still, in 2015 the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission authorized a controversial bear hunt which resulted in more than 300 bear deaths. [sad face]

Floridians can help to keep the population of black bears in Florida thriving by using bear-proof waste bins and by supporting the preservation of lands which provide habitat for these magnificent creatures.

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7. Protecting the World’s Smallest Pelican

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service first placed the brown pelican, the world’s smallest pelican species, on the Endangered Species List in 1970. Due to the use of the insecticide DDT in the 60s and 70s, coupled with the hunting of the birds for their feathers, the brown pelican once faced the threat of extinction. A ban on the use of DDT in 1972 led to a dramatic increase in the bird’s population numbers, and by 2009 there were an estimated 650,000 brown pelicans throughout the Americas.

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8. We also must Protect the World’s Smallest White-Tailed Deer

The Florida Keys are home to many unique animals, including the world’s smallest white-tailed deer, commonly referred to as the key deer. In the 1940’s the population of key deer was less than 50. In 1957 the National Key Deer Refuge was established which helped to nurse the population back to healthier levels. Today, estimates put the number of deer living in the Keys somewhere between 700 and 800. Conservation efforts throughout the Keys have included the fencing of mangrove areas where the deer frequent, warning signs on popular roads, and breeding programs which help the deer continue to populate.

Even still, the Keys are developing quickly, and the key deer are inching closer and closer to civilization. To ensure the survival of key deer, developers must account for their habitat and plan accordingly. Furthermore, residents of the Keys must be careful not to feed the deer as this may cause them to become less afraid of people and cars which could have disastrous consequences.

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9. Gopher Tortoise, a Most Hospitable Species

The gopher tortoise, considered a ‘keystone species,’ is on a short list of tortoises which dig burrows for shelter. These burrows can provide shelter to more than 350 additional animals, including the indigo snake, mentioned above. Not only is the gopher tortoise protected under the Endangered Species Act, but so are its burrows because of the many animals who make their homes in them.

Once plentiful throughout Florida, gopher tortoises declined rapidly in the 2000’s due to habitat destruction. To help protect the gopher tortoise and its burrows, conservation groups and wildlife officials throughout Florida have begun relocation projects which seek to find safe, permanent spaces for tortoises to move to when construction occurs on their lands Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act has provided lawmakers with authority to ban the demolishment of tortoise burrows. Additionally, citizens cannot move tortoises without first obtaining the proper permits. Such efforts have had a stabilizing effect on the population of gopher tortoises in Florida and citizens can continue to assist these creatures by remaining vigilant while driving so that they do not hurt tortoises crossing the road, and by leaving burrows alone when they spot them.

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10. Providing a home for the Florida Scrub-Jay

The Florida Scrub-Jay is a small bird, closely resembling a Blue Jay, and is Florida’s only endemic bird species. By 1993 it is estimated that the total population of Florida Scrub-Jays had decreased by 90% and dwindled to roughly 10,000 birds. The scrub-jay is listed as an endangered species and is protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act in addition to the Endangered Species Act. This beautiful and charismatic bird has suffered a great deal due to a persistent loss of habitat in its homelands of Central and South Florida. Development of agriculture and business purposes has caused scrub-jays to live in smaller and more isolated communities. Being that they use scrub for their habitat, there are few alternative locations for them to occupy.

To aid the suffering scrub-jay population, conservationists and wildlife officials have begun working with local communities to clean and maintain Florida scrub lands, much of which is drastically overgrown. Additionally, land acquisition efforts throughout the scrub areas of Florida, mainly in and around Polk and Brevard counties, has increased to help provide land for scrub-jays to live on safely.

Citizens can help in these efforts by continuing to support the land acquisition for conservation purposes and by watching out for these amazing creatures while driving. Floridians can also participate in Jay Watch, a science program which teaches individuals how to conduct survey research to measure annual nesting results and track the number of scrub-jays in a particular location.

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Bonus: The Rarely Seen Florida Bonneted Bat

The Florida bonneted bat is the largest species of bat in Florida and can reach a length of 6.5 inches with a wingspan of 20 inches. Their diet primarily consists of flying insects.

The Florida bonneted bat was once believed to be common along Florida's eastern coast. Observations of it declined in the 1960s and 1970s, and in 1980, it was believed to be extinct. Today Florida bonneted bats are thought to be exceedingly rare, only occurring in a handful of counties in south Florida. Because there is no estimate on population size, the Florida bonneted bat didn’t meet the “official” parameters of being listed as endangered, but in 2013, they finally received endangered status under the federal Endangered Species Act.

To date, scientists have only documented a few bonneted bat nursery roosts. Due to the species’ small range, the greatest threats to Florida bonneted bats are the loss of habitat through the destruction of natural roost sites from development, flooding from sea-level rise, and natural disasters such as hurricanes. Additionally, pesticide use could potentially threaten the bonneted bat population by affecting its food source.

So, if you live in South Florida and you have bats, leave them alone because you may have a rare roost of one of the most elusive and endangered bat species in the world!

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Would you like to add a species to our Top 10?


Tell us in the comments below!

16 Comments

  1. Liz Armstrong says:

    What about the kingfisher? I haven’t seen any for 8 years at least, how are they doing?

  2. troy says:

    Stone crabs, coral snakes, grouper, hogfish, bees, songbirds

  3. The Florida Burrowing Owl should be included on this list. It was currently uplisted to threatened status by the State (FWC) but the conservation measures accompanying this uplisting are woefully inadequate to ensure recovery. Loss of habitat and lack of proper management are the major culprits. Occupied breeding sites are offered no real protections except during the breeding season, and those protections are very limited and do not go far enough to ensure successful breeding. There ARE ways to ensure continued survival of this species, but we need public education and political will to make it happen.

  4. Ernestine says:

    Congratulations
    I’m a 70 Floridian.
    I think if these as flo rida

  5. Carolyn Walsh says:

    The Miami Blue and Atala butterflies are rare Florida butterflies. I would love to see them profiled!

  6. elsa labonski says:

    Miss the burrowing owls that used to live in our neighborhood park. I think they are endangered, at least in Broward County.

  7. maria CICARELLI says:

    I hope this government is not going to overlook this issue please do not allow this to happen our most treasures are the flora and fauna of the Everglades.

  8. Debi London says:

    I think there should be an amoratorium of spiny lobster, maybe allow catching them every other year….I’ve been diving off the east cost for 15 years and hardly ever see them…lobster min season s.b banned. Leave them ALONE!

  9. John says:

    I don’t hear or see the Bobwhite quail anymore.

    • Allan Horton says:

      My family owns a commercial beef cattle ranch in southeastern Manatee County and we see (and hear) quail quite often, though not in the numbers we used to. They will respond to a whistled “bobwhite” call and another quieter call I cannot describe accurately, but which I have learned to use. They actually will run towards that second call, but one has to sit absolutely still, like when calling a wild turkey, or they will flush (as will a turkey). However, you can issue the quail call from a parked car and they will ignore the car – something you can’t (to the best of my knowledge) with a turkey. We do not hunt quail, but a neighbor does, much to our dismay.

  10. Laurie D Bennett says:

    Monarch butterflies, actually all butterflies, and honey bees. We moved to Florida in 1986 and the butterflies and honey bees were prolific then. Now I hardly see them at all! We need better regulation on three pesticides that are killing them! Not only do we lose the beauty of them, but if we lose our pollinators, we also lose many of the foods we eat!

  11. Ginny Shaller says:

    I bought an empty lot on the West coast of Florida so no one would disturb the burrowing owls there by building a house or other structure!

  12. Ann Skyler says:

    Ground Owls should be included.

  13. I would add Least Terns and Snowy Plovers, both shorebirds that have declined dramatically in recent years.

  14. Alice Naegele says:

    We also need to consider some of the invasive species problems we have such as the ball python, monitor lizard, and other weird lizards cropping up all around….

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