Can you guess how many animals are on the US Endangered Species List?

Honduran emerald hummingbird
CC BY 2.0 Dominic Sherony/Flickr

According to a new survey, most people think there are around 100 – most people are way off.

Most of us know that there is such a thing as the Endangered Species List in the United States. Under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, species may be listed as "endangered" or "threatened," and thus make up a sad who's who of animals whose numbers aren't looking so great.

But when it comes down to how much we know about these animals – well, we don't seem to know that much. Sure, we know that bald eagles and humpback whales are endangered – but that was a trick sentence, because bald eagles and humpback whales are no longer on the list. Yet according to a survey by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) about half of Americans believe that bald eagles are still endangered; the same goes for humpback whales. (The bald eagle was delisted in 2007, the humpback whale in 2016 – though it seems to me like they should get lifelong status as a courtesy.)

All told, there are currently 1,459 animals on the list; most Americans think there are around 100. Although 87 percent of those asked in the AZA survey said they would be willing to help save animals from extinction, zero of the 1,002 respondents knew the correct number of species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

When survey takers were asked if "saola" and "vaquita" were types of food, clothing brands or endangered animals, 68 percent thought that the saola was a food or clothing brand; 64 percent thought the same for the vaquita.

(For the record, the vaquita is a desperately endangered porpoise in the Gulf of California. With fewer than 30 vaquitas left in the wild, the "panda of the sea" is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. The saola antelope is often referred to as “the last remaining unicorn” because of its dwindling numbers and elusiveness.)

And while people can be forgiven for not knowing about vaquitas and soalas, many were surprised to learn about the status of some of our most beloved members of the wildlife clan. Twenty-eight percent of respondents were surprised to learn that giraffes and some hummingbirds are endangered, like the Honduran emerald hummingbird (Amazilia luciae) pictured above. Other surprises included salmon and cheetahs – only half of the people asked knew that cheetahs are endangered, while in fact they have declined to just 10 percent of their original population size. (The list currently includes 631 records for international species.)

Of course there is no way to know every animal on the list, but we could all be a bit more familiar with the species that are suffering. To that end, it is relatively easy to check in at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, which among other things, has an ongoing series of videos about featured species.

For more about the survey, visit the AZA.

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