8 Animals the Endangered Species Act Has Saved

The U.S. Endangered Species Act is a key piece of environmental legislation that’s had a tremendous impact on the survival of numerous fauna and flora. Passed in 1973, it brought the U.S. into alignment with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the international commitment to stop improper trade of endangered plants and animals.

The act has been applied extensively across a host of legal settings and comes up routinely in lawmaking and regulatory processes about the environment.

Critics like to claim it’s being “abused” and used as an excuse to block oil and gas exploration and other natural resource exploitation across the United States. It’s a frequent target of conservative ire in conversations about “overregulation.” And it’s worth noting that the Trump administration has repeatedly attacked the processes used to list endangered animals, pushed to delist or downgrade some species and used the regulatory process to withdraw rules designed to help endangered animals thrive.

Do you know how many animals on the brink have been saved by this legislation? I rounded up a few of my favorites, starting with the country’s symbolic raptor.

1. Bald Eagles

a bald eagle screaming

Photo credit: vencavolrab/Getty Images

Shot, hunted, harassed and then decimated by DDT, bald eagles got into big trouble in the 1960s and 1970s as their numbers dwindled. It would be pretty embarrassing to lose the national bird to environmental destruction and carelessness. The recovery from 500 breeding pairs in the early 1960s to nearly 70,000 birds today — so many that they’re infamous for hanging around dumpsters like street urchins — was a fantastic accomplishment for conservationists.

2. Humpback Whales

humpback whales underwater

Photo credit: Baptiste Le Bouil/Getty Images

Whales in general have had a tough go of it. They’ve been chased through the oceans for centuries by whalers — and then confronted with declining fisheries, triggered by overfishing and climate change. At one point, all humpback whale populations were dangerously low, putting them close to the point of no return. Now, after endangered species protection, they’re rebounded in such numbers that in most habitats they’ve actually been delisted — the ultimate victory for endangered animals. And yes, these are the whales who sing.

3. Grizzly Bears

grizzly bear and cub

Photo credit: Wendy/Jeff Sparks/Torquemada/Getty Images

When you think “bear,” these bad boys and girls probably come to mind. Once widespread across North America, they were targeted extremely efficiently by hunters. Just 1,800 remain today in the lower 48 states across a much smaller range than they once roamed, down from an estimated 50,000 at their peak. But thanks to aggressive conservation efforts, grizzly bears are starting to rebound so well that officials are thinking about delisting some populations.

4. Florida Manatees

A manatee

Photo credit: NaluPhoto/Getty Images

The sea cow, as it’s sometimes called, is a tremendously endearing endangered species. These lovely marine mammals are slow, gentle plant-eaters who are extremely vulnerable to habitat disruption and harassment. Thanks to the establishment of protection zones, paired with outreach and education, their numbers are starting to rebound from a critical low. Still, if you see manatees while you’re out and about in Florida, you should keep your distance and admire from afar.

5. California Condors

a california condor

Photo credit: pjsells/Getty Images

Fellow fans of carrion birds will appreciate my love for the condor — and know how scary it is that in 1982, we counted just 23 birds. Conservationists took them into what amounts to protective custody for breeding in the hopes the species could recover. It worked. We now have just over 400 birds, and we’re slowly reintroducing them to the wild, though their long-term survival is still in question. One protection that would benefit their fragile population is a nationwide ban on lead shot, which the Obama administration actually enacted — and the Trump administration withdrew.

6. Gray Wolves

a gray wolf

Photo credit: hkuchera/Getty Images

When it comes to endangered species in North America, the gray wolf has become a public relations darling. It’s not just that there’s something wild and beautiful about wolves. They’re also a testimony to the worst that humanity has to offer nature. When colonists started expanding, farmers poisoned, trapped, shot and brutalized gray wolves, claiming they preyed on livestock. This brought their populations to dangerously low levels. But they’re starting to make a cautious comeback at last.

7. Whooping Cranes

whooping cranes

Photo credit: Napoleon Photo/Getty Images

These 5-feet-tall birds played an iconic role in the push for the Endangered Species Act. They were some of the first prominent victims of westward expansion and were singled out early for protection. Like many endangered animals, whooping cranes are facing shrinking habitat, but they also have to contend with hunters. Sadly, they’re still endangered. But there are more than 800 living today, a rebound from numbers once in the 20s.

8. Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

a sierra nevada bighorn sheep in the snow

Photo credit: California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Creative Commons

These sheep aren’t pasture pals. They once roamed across much of the Sierra Nevada, where their signature big horns made them stand out — a little too much perhaps. In addition to being hunted, they were also stalked by mountain lions and put at risk by diseases from domestic sheep. Climate change has also played a role in their shrinking numbers, changing their habitat and food sources in ways that are tough to adapt to.

Take action

This May, Care2 is launching a campaign to protect endangered species. Join us to save these real-life fantastic beasts!

Photo credit: Morning Dew Photography/Getty Images


Vincent T
William T13 days ago


Jan S
Jan S14 days ago


Michael Friedmann

Thank You For Sharing This !!!

Muriel S
Muriel Servaege15 days ago


Beth L
Alice L15 days ago

Thank you

Toni W
Toni W15 days ago


Toni W
Toni W15 days ago


Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn15 days ago

Many thanks to you !

Terri S
Terri S15 days ago

Petition signed previously. Trump needs to keep his hands off our Endangered Species Act!!!!

Daniel N
Daniel N15 days ago

thanks very much