Based on the amount of airtime that the subject of endangered species receives in the U.S., you might think that we have the highest number of endangered species in the world. The good news is: we don’t! The bad news is: we are #2 on the list. Ecuador is the country with the highest number of endangered species, ringing in at 2,301 as of 2013. Somewhat fortunately, the U.S. follows with about 1,500 (as of 2015). While this number is still high enough to be #2 on the list, we can take comfort in the fact that it is far below the number of the country filling the #1 vacancy. We fall slightly above Malaysia, which had 1,226 as of 2013.
What makes Ecuador different in that it has such a high number of endangered species? To put it simply, Ecuador is #1 not because it has more types of endangered species or because its species are more critically threatened than those of other countries. Ecuador is #1 because it has made a concentrated effort over the last 15 years to study and identify its species and evaluate plants and animals at risk. Ecuador has determined that 1,843 of its native plant species are threatened, proving that the people of Ecuador have worked hard to ascertain the country’s biodiversity and formulate a plan to counteract species endangerment.
With this in mind, it is actually partly a good thing to discover that the U.S. is #2 on the list for endangered species numbers. This means that the U.S. is also putting out a concerted effort to evaluate and conserve. Unfortunately, numbers don’t mean everything in this case. As we know here in the U.S., studying and assessing take time and funding, and it seems that there is never enough of either. In addition, total numbers for each country do not take into account the size of a country or its biodiversity differences. Not to mention there are lots of species that exist (in all countries) that have yet to be evaluated or are on the waiting list to be considered threatened or endangered. And if you look at the bigger picture, the earth contains as many as 1.9 million species—and those are only the ones we know about. Each day, more are discovered. Assessment and evaluation of endangered and threatened species is an ongoing process that cannot be ignored.
Why Are Animals in Ecuador Endangered?
While no country is immune to having some number of endangered species, we have to take a look at the reasons Ecuador is first on the list and has the highest number. Besides the fact that Ecuador has been more conscientious over the last several years about studying and listing species, there are many legitimate reasons as to why so many species are endangered there. Massive deforestation is one of them, with hundreds of thousands of acres lost. Development of coasts and land has contributed, as well as hunting, water contamination and pollution, erosion, habitat destruction, overfishing, and pet trades. Habitats are destroyed, and the animals that live there are being destroyed along with them.
Deforestation and its Effects on Animal Species
Ecuador’s mangrove forests provide a large biodiversity and play an important role in the ecology of the country as a whole. Due to the massive amounts of deforestation, the mangrove forests are critically endangered and have experienced devastating habitat changes. The majority of the mangrove forests are along the Ecuadorian coasts and near the rivers, and thus provide a natural barrier to protect from wind and salt water coming in from the coast. The forests provide shelter and habitats for several animal species, including reptiles, birds, mollusks, mammals, and fish. As one example, the mangrove forests house as many as 42 bird species—and if birds were the sole species inhabiting the forests, that alone would be devastating when deforestation occurs. But birds aren’t the only forest inhabitants, and the effects of deforestation are debilitating for many species. The forests also provide essential backup and have an important ecological relationship with other regions of the country. When one area is affected, all areas are affected.
However, not all the causes for endangered species are man-made. Climate change and weather patterns such as El Niño can produce intense ecological disturbances that contribute to the state of the country’s ecosystems. But Mother Nature cannot be stopped as human-caused destruction can. Efforts can be made to curtail construction and settlement, the introduction of invasive species to the native forest, and the destruction of habitats and wildlife.
The Work Must Continue
While Ecuador has made great strides in their country’s work for the conservation of endangered species, it cannot stop or fizzle out. Conservation is an ongoing process that requires consistent work and diligence. Perhaps Ecuador’s attentiveness should be the model all countries follow—and we should work together to devise a plan to revitalize and restore endangered species throughout the world.
The Pegasus Foundation exists to protect and support animal welfare through grants and education, partnering with non-profit organizations to share resources, educate the public, and facilitate communication. For more information, please contact the Pegasus Foundation directly.