Endangered Species Affect Our Ecosystems

February 17, 2011

Species on the brink of extinction affect us all more than we may realize. Sure, the pandas are cute, and the rhinos are fun to look at, but is there any more to it than that? Absolutely.

All animal and plant life is part of a complex ecosystem that also includes our lands and our waters. Remove one or more of those parts and you damage the ecosystems, sometimes beyond restoration. These ecosystems provide clean water, breathable air, fertile soils, climate control, food, medicine, energy, building materials, transportation, as well as recreational and spiritual uses. Many groups are working to protect endangered species and their habitats; they are mentioned throughout this post and at the end.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service:

415 species are endangered in the US

164 species are threatened in the US

541 species are endangered in other countries

50 species are threatened in other countries

In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Why should we save endangered species? The introduction recognizes that endangered and threatened wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” The purpose of the ESA is to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) , “destructive human activities” have increased the rate of species extinction from 100 to 1000 times the natural rate. WWF lists the following 8 animals as flagship endangered species. Flagship species are used as icons to denote the broader problem. (All info on the 8 taken from wwf.org.)


Tigers are one of the most threatened species in the world, with only about 3200 Tigers left in the wild. The biggest threats to these animals are growing human populations, habitat loss, illegal hunting, trade of tiger parts used in medicines.

Adopt a Tiger here. *

Although pandas are one of the most popular and famous animals on earth, there are only about 2500 pandas left in the wild. The biggest threats they face are habitat fragmentation and unsustainable development.

Adopt a Panda here. *

Sumatran Rhinoceroses
This smallest of the living rhinoceroses is critically endangered, with only 300 alive in the wilds. The biggest threats to these animals are habitat loss and poaching. The forests in which they live need to be saved.

Adopt a Rhino here. *

Polar Bears
Not endangered as yet, polar bears number between 20,000 to 25,000, perhaps due to the 1973 International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat. However, culture change and warming trends pose a very real threat to polar bears over the next century.

Adopt a Polar Bear here. *

Seven of thirteen whale species are endangered or vulnerable. The greatest threats include oil and gas development in feeding grounds, collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing lines, commercial killing, toxic contamination, climate change and habitat vulnerability.

Pygmy Elephants
Smaller than other Asian elephants, pygmy elephants number only about 1600 in the wild. Biggest threats to these elephants are habitat loss and human conflict.

Adopt an Elephant here. *

Marine Turtles
Many marine turtles are endangered and critically close to extinction.
“Having traveled the seas for over 100 million years, sea turtles have outlived almost all of the prehistoric animals with which they once shared the planet. Having survived the extinction of the dinosaurs, marine turtles still inhabit the oceans’ open waters and coastal habitats, feeding on jellyfish and other aquatic plants and animals.”**
Marine turtles can reproduce abundantly, but even under “natural” conditions, few young turtles survive, and it can take decades for turtles to reach maturity. Biggest threats include habitat destruction, egg collection, hunting, entanglement in fishing lines, and climate change.

Adopt a Sea Turtle here. *

Great Apes
This group includes gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees, and are all endangered, some critically so. They are also our closest wild relatives. Serious threats to the great apes include disease, hunting, trade, habitat loss and climate change.

Adopt a Gorilla here. *

What You Can Do

Humane Society Campaigns

National Wildlife Refuge System You Can Help

Endangered Species Program How You Can Help

Humane Society International

Humane Society of the US

World Wildlife Fund Act Now

*I am a big fan of the World Wildlife Fund, so I’ve included links to their “adopt an endangered species” program, simply because I think it’s a cool and fun idea.

** From wwf.org.

Note:  Pictures do not accurately represent species listed. They’re just cute pictures. And, yes, I went a little nuts with the bears. (www.classroomclipart.com)


Issues that Matter: Obese Children, Malnourished Children, By the Numbers

February 5, 2011

More than 25 million children in the U.S. are overweight, but at least 3 million children worldwide died of hunger and malnutrition in 2008.* Obesity is the 2nd leading cause of preventable disease and death, preceded only by smoking.

Experts agree that in the last 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled or even tripled in many large countries such as the United States and Canada. Other countries on this list include Australia, Japan, Germany, Spain and the UK. Some lower and middle income countries, like Brazil, are battling both obesity and malnutrition. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes.

Adult obesity is also on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), none of the 50 states met the “Healthy People 2010” obesity target of 15 percent. CDC data shows that in 2007-2008, approximately 72.5 million adults in the United States were obese (CDC, unpublished data, 2010). A study from 1987 to 2001 showed a 27 percent increase in medical costs for diseases associated with obesity. Obesity medical costs exceed $147 billion. The CDC also estimates that obese persons have medical costs $1429 higher (2008) than people with normal weight.

On the flip side, Bread for the World estimates that worldwide, 178 million children under 5 have stunted growth, due to malnutrition. “Children who survive early childhood malnutrition suffer irreversible harm—including poor physical growth, compromised immune function, and impaired cognitive ability.” Many of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia. Bread for the World estimates economic losses in these countries as high as 2-3 percent of the GDP.

Obesity is the result of a calorie intake higher than a calorie output. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) estimates obesity commonly begins at age 5 or 6 and costs society about $100 billion per year. The chance a child will be obese is 50 percent with one obese parent and 80 percent with 2 obese parents. AACAP relates childhood obesity to:

poor eating habits

overeating or binging

lack of exercise

family history of obesity

medical illness


stressful events or life changes

family and peer problems

low self-esteem


Body Mass Index is an indicator of body fat, and may be used to determine overweight and obesity categories. The CDC BMI Calculator, shown here, is for adults over the age of 20. Check with your doctor for overweight and obesity indicators for kids.

BMI For Adults Widget

More statistics from the Clinton Foundation:

The current American generation may be the first in our history to have shorter lives than do their parents.

The average teen eats fast food twice a week.

Only 3 out of 10 of high school seniors report eating green vegetables nearly every day or more.

Almost one in four children does not participate in any free-time physical activity.

A typical American youth spends approximately four to five hours a day watching TV, using the computer or playing video games.

The indirect costs of obesity (such as missed work days and future earnings losses) have been estimated at $56 billion dollars per year.

Children treated for obesity are roughly three times more expensive for the health care system than children of normal weight.

Severely overweight people spend more on health care than smokers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, this can have both immediate and long-term health risks for children (and adults). Topping the list are risk factors for heart disease such as cholesterol and high blood pressure. Potential health problems are many: bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, social and psychological problems. Obese kids are more likely to become obese adults wither higher risks for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis and cancer.

AACAP makes the following suggestions to combat this problem.

Ways to manage obesity in children and adolescents include:

* start a weight-management program

* change eating habits (eat slowly, develop a routine)

* plan meals and make better food selections (eat less fatty foods, avoid junk and fast foods)

* control portions and consume less calories

* increase physical activity (especially walking) and have a more active lifestyle

* know what your child eats at school

* eat meals as a family instead of while watching television or at the computer

* do not use food as a reward

* limit snacking

* attend a support group (e.g., Overeaters Anonymous)

*Stats from Clinton Foundation and Bread for the World.

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