Where Are They Now?: 2015’s Endangered Species to Watch
About 12 months ago, we predicted that 2015 would be an important year for the protection of these five wild animal species. Here’s where they stand as we head into 2016.
The pressures on African lions made headlines in July, when an American dentist and trophy hunter shot and killed Cecil—a lion well known to researchers and the Zimbabwean public—after his guides lured the animal beyond the border of a wildlife conservation park. The outrage in the wake of Cecil’s death went viral, leading three major airlines to ban the transport of wild animal trophies.
Later in the summer, legislators introduced bills in Congress to ban transport of trophies from any federally protected animal species to the U.S. While the House never passed its “CECIL Act,” it did pass a "global anti-poaching act" in November. The parallel measures in the Senate never came up for a vote, however.
But the African lion still ended the year with more protection, on paper at least, than it had at the beginning: On Dec. 21, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that lions of western and central Africa, which are nearly extinct, will be listed as endangered under U.S. law, while lions of eastern and southern Africa will be listed as threatened. The agency also ordered that anyone who had previously broken wildlife protection laws at home or overseas be barred from importing wildlife to the U.S.—a provision that covers individuals such as the American who killed Cecil.
Sierra Nevada Red Fox
Conservationists believe this mountain species—one of 10 red fox subspecies in North America—is critically endangered in California and Oregon. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mostly disagreed. In October, the agency announced that just one small subpopulation of the fox, living in the Sierra Nevadas north of Yosemite National Park, needed endangered species protections. But it stopped short of taking further action, stating that the subpopulation was “warranted-but-precluded from ESA listing by higher priorities.”
Antarctic Minke Whale
After taking a one-year break from hunting minke whales in the Southern Ocean, Japan announced in June that it considered the hunt a right, not a privilege. The country submitted a plan to the International Whaling Commission to hunt 330 minke whales a year in Antarctic waters between 2015 and 2027.
Although an expert panel advised the IWC’s scientific advisory committee that Japan’s plan was not justified on scientific research grounds, the committee pushed off a final decision to its next meeting in 2016. In November, Japan announced it would resume its minke hunt during the 2015–16 season.
West Coast Fisher
In October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the West Coast fisher under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. The proposal is in its public comment phase, which will end in early January. Wildlife advocates are hopeful that this slinky North American mammal, a denizen of Pacific coast forests, will gain federal endangered species protections before the end of 2016.
Alexander Archipelago Wolf
The news was largely bad for this Alaskan wolf species in 2015. In June, the U.S. Forest Service released a report stating that the wolf’s entire population had plummeted more than 50 percent in just one year, from 221 animals in 2013 to 89 in 2014. Around the same time, the state of Alaska confirmed that one rare subpopulation of the Alexander Archipelago wolf, living on Prince of Wales Island, had dropped to around 50 individuals—but that it would issue hunting permits for them anyway.
In July, however, a judge upheld a ban on new logging roads in the Tongass National Forest, which encompasses the range of the Prince of Wales Island wolves. The decision effectively averted the threat of clear-cutting in the wolf’s habitat.
As of mid-December, the Obama administration has yet to formally give the Alexander Archipelago wolf endangered species protections, despite considering the matter for more than four years. The decision could still arrive before the end of the year.
CORRECTION, Dec. 31, 2015:
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the wildlife poaching-related legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in November. It was the "Global Anti-Poaching Act," H.R. 2494.