U.S. Americans Greatly Underestimate How Many Animals on the Endangered Species List, Study Shows

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Expands Endangered Species Conservation Initiative to Draw Attention to High Need for Greater Wildlife Protection

Silver Spring, MD, May 15, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A recent survey by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) found Americans underestimate the number of animals protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act by less than one-tenth the actual number of animals on the list today. AZA is releasing the survey findings to raise awareness in advance of Endangered Species Day, May 18.

While 1,459 species are currently protected by the Endangered Species Act,[1] survey respondents said only 100 species were on the Endangered Species List.[2] Young people in the United States (18-34) are even more optimistic, believing only 80 endangered animals are protected.[3] Although 87 percent of those surveyed are willing to help save animals from extinction, none of the 1,002 respondents knew the correct number of species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“No one wants to see a species go extinct, but it is difficult for most animal lovers to know how to help,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “As leaders in conservation and education, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and its accredited members are making it easy for people to learn which animals are at the greatest risk and the steps they can take to help save species from extinction.”

•  Is it an animal? Not everyone is sure. When asked if endangered animals like the saola and vaquita were types of food, clothing brands or endangered animals, more than half of respondents thought the endangered animals were types of food or clothing brands (68% for saola and 64% for vaquita). In fact, the vaquita is a highly endangered porpoise experiencing population declines due to gillnet fishing. Scientists estimate there may be fewer than 30 vaquita remaining. The saola antelope is often referred to as “the last remaining unicorn” because of its elusiveness. Saola populations have been reduced to between ten and a few hundred individuals in the wild.

•  Bald eagles have made a comeback, but most missed the good news. The bald eagle was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species Act list of endangered and threatened species in 2007, and the humpback whale was removed in 2016. Half of respondents (49%) believe the bald eagle is endangered, and over half (58%) believe humpback whales are endangered.

•  Animals on the brink that people need to know. Respondents were most surprised to learn giraffes and hummingbirds (28% for both), followed by salmon (19%) and cheetah (17%). Only half of survey takers accurately identified cheetahs as endangered (53%). Cheetahs have declined to just 10 percent of their original population size. Fewer than 30 percent of respondents know that giraffes with extinction. Two of nine giraffe subspecies are endangered.[4]

The AZA and its members are deeply committed to saving endangered species and have established the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction® program, which uses the collective expertise, resources and reach of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to save species.

The AZA SAFE program has been expanding, and the organization recently announced the addition of two more species to the program: Atlantic Acropora corals and red wolves. Caribbean Acroporids and red wolves have experienced drastic declines in their wild populations due largely to human causes.

Both SAFE Species Programs will work with field conservation partners to increase genetic diversity and restore populations back to sustainable sizes in the wild, while also raising awareness of the issues and how AZA zoo and aquarium visitors can become a part of the solution. These two additions further highlight the tremendous need for resources and collaboration to protect the habitat endangered species need to make a comeback.

The total number of SAFE Species is now 16 and includes:

  • African penguins
  • African vultures
  • Asian elephants
  • Atlantic Acropora corals
  • Black-footed ferrets
  • Black rhinoceros
  • Cheetahs
  • Giraffes
  • Gorillas
  • Radiated tortoises
  • Red wolves
  • Sea turtles
  • Sharks and rays
  • Western pond turtles
  • Whooping cranes
  • Vaquitas

For an infographic, the survey findings and top ways to help save animals from extinction, please visit the AZA press room.

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.


[1] U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Environmental Conservation Online System (2018)

[2] Median

[3] Median

[4] Giraffe were added to the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List in 2016 after an overall population decline of 40 percent over the last 30 years.


AZA's Endangered Species Day 2018 infographic


01-AZA_Endangered Species Survey_Summary.pdf

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