9 Threatened Animals of the Southeast

Diverse ecosystems

Wkikmedia Commons.

One of the most populous areas of the United States, the Southeast is also home to a richly diverse ecosystem. The area covers more than 430,000 square miles and 10 states, including parts of the Caribbean, Appalachian Mountains, as well as the Ozarks and the southern half of the Mississippi basin.

The Southeast is home to stalking panthers, lively parrots, gentle manatees and majestic whales. But it’s a land where the balance between animals and people is precarious — Florida alone is home to almost 19 million people, while the more rural Mississippi has a population of 3 million.

While 17.5 million acres are owned and protected by the government, there are still as many as 322 federally listed endangered species in the region. Here are nine animals currently under threat in the American Southeast. (Text: Katherine Butler)

Florida panther

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast.

The endangered Florida panther, or Puma concolor coryi, is one of 30 Puma concolor subspecies. They are large, unspotted cats also known as cougars or mountain lions. The animals used to roam as many as eight Southeastern states, but early settlers, fearful for their livestock, went to great lengths to destroy them.

Today, the Florida panther is the last puma subspecies living in the eastern U.S. There are estimated to be around 100 of the animals left. The Florida panther remains threatened by human encroachment.

Gopher tortoise

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast.

The Gopher tortoise, or Gopherus polyphemus, makes its home in the coastal plains, from South Carolina to Florida to southeastern Louisiana. With a shell that can grow to almost 16 inches long, the tortoise prefers to burrow into the sandy soils, though it has been known to appear in ditches, roadsides, and drainage pipes when its habitat has been threatened.

While loss of habitat remains the primary reason for the species' decline, the tortoise is also threatened by predators like skunks, raccoons and armadillos. Classified as threatened, the gopher tortoise population once soared throughout the Southeast. Now, the tortoise is primarily found in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

Whooping crane

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast.

The endangered whooping crane, or Grus Americana, has endured a tumultuous past in the Americas. Before non-native American settlement, there were thought to be as many as 20,000 of the birds. Human encroachment on their habitat soon brought their numbers to 1,400 in 1860, further dropping to just 15 surviving whopping cranes in 1941.

Biologists intervened, bringing the numbers back to 214 in 2005. The birds stand as tall as 5 feet, with a wingspan of more than 7 feet. Today, they live primarily in Florida and Texas, and they migrate to Wisconsin.

Tulotoma snail

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast.

The tulotoma snail, or Tulotoma magnifica, is a small, aquatic snail believed to exist only in the lower Coosa River drainage of Alabama. Classed by biologists in 1991 as endangered, the snail has made a bit of a comeback thanks to federal protection. Since then, its habitat has increased from 2 percent of its original range to 10 percent.

Today, its status has been raised from endangered to threatened. However, it still remains vulnerable because of drought, spills and pollution that can ravage its watershed home.

Puerto Rican parrot

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast.

The endangered Puerto Rican parrot, or Amazona vittata, is the only native parrot to Puerto Rico and the only parrot species remaining in the United States.

Due to an almost total loss of its forest habitat, the bird population dipped to as low as 13 birds in 1975. Today, the birds live in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico, where recovery has been slow. The species' population numbers around 250, captive and wild.

West Indian manatee

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The endangered West Indian manatee, or Trichechus manatus, swims along the Southeast coast and parts of the Caribbean. Found in salt, brackish and freshwater, the animal can grow to be more than 9 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

The animal’s numbers declined due to hunting, as their fat was popular for oils and their hides for leather. Today, the propellers of speed are the greatest threat to the mantees. Less than 5,000 manatees are thought to be alive today.

Key deer

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast.

The endangered key deer, or Odocoileus virginianus clavium, makes its home only in the Florida Keys. While deer seem to be prolific in the Southeast, this particular subspecies has been nearly driven to extinction by overhunting, habitat loss, illegal feeding and cars.

In fact, by the early 1950s, only 50 key deer were still alive. Conservation efforts have helped restore the key deer to around 1,000 animals. Today, the deer remain threatened primarily by continued habitat encroachment and vehicular hits.

Northern right whale

Wikimedia.

The endangered northern right whale, also known as the North Atlantic right whale, is officially the State Migratory Marine Mammal of South Carolina and the State Marine Mammal of Georgia. Eubalaena glacialis makes its home off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida during its mating and breeding season. The animal can weigh up to 70 tons and grow to a length of 55 feet.

The whales’ population was initially decimated by hunting. They first achieved protected status from the United States in the 1930s. Today, the whales are near extinction and remain threatened by climate change, illegal hunting, speeding vessels and entanglement in fishing gear. It is believed that between 300 and 400 of the animals exist today.

Roseate spoonbill

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast.

The Audubon Society calls the roseate spoonbill “the canary in the coal mine" because it's seen as an indicator species by which the health of Florida Bay and the greater Everglades can be judged.

Often mistaken for a pink flamingo, Ajaia ajaja can grow to a length of 34 inches and can achieve a wingspan of more than 4 feet. While not yet endangered, the bird has a status of “species of special concern” because its wetland habitat has been threatened by human encroachment. As many as 880 nesting pairs are believed to be living in Florida.