The World Conservation Union, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are three agencies that classify species as "threatened," "endangered," or "extinct." Listing a species as endangered means its population is so limited that it is in imminent danger of becoming extinct. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed nearly 2,000 international species as threatened or endangered as of March 2011.
The gray wolf once thrived throughout North America but its threat to livestock and settlement saw most killed. By the 1930s, North American gray wolf populations remained only in Canada, Alaska and certain northern and northwest regions of the contiguous U.S. As of 2011, it remains on the endangered species list despite efforts of wildlife conservation organizations. The gray wolf was temporarily removed from the endangered species list in 2009 and wolf hunting was legalized in several parts of the country. Its protected status was reinstated after several conservation agencies won a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010. Wildlife activists encourage land owners to protect homes and livestock from wolves by using barriers and alarm systems.
West Indian Manatee
West Indian manatees live along the coast of the south and southeast United States as well as near Central America and the northern coast of South America. Water-dwelling, they are mammals most closely related to the elephant. According to the Save the Manatees Club, there are a minimum of 4,480 living manatees as of January 2011. Manatees naturally live 60 years and have no natural predators. Loss of habitat due to human development, ingestion of litter and other hazardous materials and collisions with watercraft threaten their survival. Coastal areas inhabited by manatees have implemented regulations on developers, watercraft and beach patrons.
Cheetahs are exceptionally fast large cats. As recently as 1900, these rare felines lived throughout all of Africa and a large part of southern Asia. According to the Defenders of Wildlife website, as of 2011 there are approximately 12,000 cheetahs throughout Africa and around 200 in Asia, all near Iran. Cheetahs thrive in open grasslands where they hide when hunting prey. Human encroachment on their hunting grounds has caused populations to dwindle. Cheetahs are also seen as threats to livestock and human housing. Conservation experts are working to restore cheetah populations by creating wildlife sanctuaries and educating humans about nonviolent ways to protect livestock.
Wild giant pandas are exclusive to Chinese mountain ranges. Pandas used to inhabit woodland at all elevations but human development has depleted their habitats and pushed them into the mountains where, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo, about 1,600 live today. Approximately 300 more pandas live in captivity. Pandas subsist almost exclusively on bamboo and can live for up to 30 years. They have a slow breeding rate of approximately one cub every 2 years during the 10 to 15 years females are fertile, so populations struggle to recover from habitat loss and poaching. Conservation groups have designed breeding programs and protected habitats.
The Javan rhino is critically endangered with only 37 to 45 rhinos living -- all on the island of Java, Indonesia. Although the remaining rhinos live in the protected rainforest of Ujung Kulon National Park, they exist independently. With no Javan rhinos in captivity, the World Wildlife Fund says a volcanic eruption or other natural disaster could drive them to extinction. The Javan rhino fell to such small numbers through illegal poaching for its single horn, rumored to have medicinal qualities. Deforestation is also a significant threat.Conservation groups monitor and protect the remaining rhinos. Relocation to other rainforests may diversify and strengthen the species.