10 of the Greatest #WildlifeWin Stories of All Time

Office of the Secretary

A #WildlifeWin can come in any shape or size. It could be pulling an entire species back from the brink of extinction. It can be a partnership that helps stabilize a species’ population -- allowing it to grow. It can be the removal of a species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act because it is recovered. Or it can be when a bear dribbles a ball in for a winning layup as time expires at the Forest Basketball finals (wait, scratch that last one).

Since 1973, the Endangered Species Act has helped preserve vanishing plants and animals for future generations -- making it the ultimate tool in achieving a #WildlifeWin. For more than 40 years, Interior Department’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has worked with partners to protect imperiled species and their habitats, ensuring stable populations. And they’ve made remarkable progress -- 34 species have successfully recovered and no longer need federal protection, while many more have rebounded to the point where their status can be downgraded from endangered to threatened. Many more species have had their downward population trends stabilized as well.
 
Here are 10 awesome wildlife successes through the years.

#1 - American Alligator

Nearly 50 years ago, many people believed the American alligator might go the way of the dodo because of habitat loss and commercial overexploitation. But working with state wildlife agencies in the south helped save these animals. The result: By 1987 the American alligator population recovered and was removed from the Endangered Species list. What makes alligators so cool is that they are basically living fossils -- surviving 200 million years on the Earth. Plus they have a bite with a force of more than 2,900 pounds per square inch -- ouch! Humans, by comparison, chomps their food at about 150-200 PSI.

An alligator swims close to the camera with an open mouth.
An alligator at Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. Photo by Robert Sullivan (www.sharetheexperience.org).

#2 - Bald Eagle

Widespread use of the pesticide DDT, unregulated and illegal shooting and habitat loss almost wiped out our national symbol in the lower 48 states. But bald eagle populations are now soaring (pun intended) with more than 10,000 breeding pairs in the U.S. But did you know that these pairs will mate for life? Who doesn’t like a good love story? Also, a bald eagle's wingspan can reach over seven feet long? That’s on par with Shaquille O’Neal’s height. #Merica.

A bald eagle perched on a small mossy island in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
A bald eagle at Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska. Photo by Stewart Brackett (www.sharetheexperience.org).

#3 - Peregrine Falcon

The peregrine falcon faced similar threats to the eagle in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. And like the eagle, we were able to recover the species to a point where it could eventually be removed it from the Endangered Species List in 1999. These raptors can dive for prey at 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest flying birds in the world -- basically a Lamborghini with wings.

A peregrine falcon flying by a rocky cliff in California.
A peregrine falcon near Point Reyes National Seashore in California. Photo by Leslie Scopes Anderson (www.sharetheexperience.org).

#4 - Channel Island Fox

This adorable creature is the island fox, one of six subspecies found on the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California. In 2004, the island fox's future was uncertain, but thanks to a captive breeding program and relocating the fox's predators -- golden eagles -- the island fox population is on the rise. It’s considered one of the fastest recoveries of a mammal in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act. They are about the size of a house cat, but way cuter in our opinion. When we think about what the fox says, we imagine it’s, “Thanks ESA!”

A fox sitting by a cliff side in California.
A Channel Island Fox looks at the camera in California. Photo by Aaron Echols (www.sharetheexperience.org).

#5 - Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel

One of the first animals listed as endangered, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is now thriving. With more than 80 percent of the squirrel's home on private lands on the Delmarva Peninsula, local residents were key in the species' recovery. Today, there are an estimated 17,000-20,000 squirrels in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia (Del-Mar-Va). Despite being the largest tree-dwelling squirrels in North America, the Delmarva fox squirrel is less active than other squirrels and is typically quiet and shy -- barely passing public speaking in college.

A light gray squirrel gets close to the camera on the forest floor.
A Delmarva fox squirrel. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

#6 - Lake Erie Water Snake

Lake Erie water snake populations declined because of destruction to their shoreline habitat and being killed by humans. The species was listed as threatened in August 1999, but through a strong recovery plan, were fully recovered 12 years later. While these snakes aren’t venomous, they will protect themselves and may bite if cornered, so give them their space. These reptiles have an average litter size of 23 snakelets (yes, baby snakes are really called snakelets). During the winter, Lake Erie water snakes hibernate underground, although some theorize that they are just hiding from another Cleveland Browns football season (a die-hard Cleveland fan wrote this joke out of love).

A close-up of a coiled snake.
A Lake Erie water snake. Photo by Guy Denny, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

#7 - Louisiana Black Bear

The Louisiana black bear became part of American culture in 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot one that was tied to a tree -- a story that led to the creation of the “Teddy Bear.” Yet habitat loss led to a decline in their numbers and listing as a threatened species in 1992. Thanks to a public-private partnership spanning more than two decades, an estimated 500-750 Louisiana black bears now roam the country, approximately double the number at the time of listing. This wasn’t the only federally protected animal to inspire a children’s toy, but the giant kangaroo rat doll never caught on with the same success.

A large black bear stands in a path with a bear cub peeking out of tall grass nearby.
A Louisiana black bear and cub. Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

#8 - Oregon Chub

When the Oregon chub was listed as endangered in 1993, there were eight known populations. Currently, there are more than 140,000 of these tiny minnows at 80 different locations. Males at least one inch in size are the only ones to spawn and females can lay several hundred eggs at one time. It’s also the first fish removed from the endangered list due to recovery! This #WildlifeWin is so awesome, we don’t have any jokes to make about the Oregon chub.

Two small silver fish swimming in opposite directions.
Two Oregon chub swimming in shallow water. Photo courtesy of Rick Swart, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service.

#9 - American Bison

The American bison, which was recently named the national mammal of the U.S., gets an honorable mention here because it was never listed under the Endangered Species Act. Instead this animal that has roamed North America since prehistoric times illustrates a #WildlifeWin without ever needing the law’s protection. By the late 1800s, there were only a few hundred bison left, but a few private individuals working with tribes, states and the Interior Department, saved it from extinction. What is it called when you lend a Bison money? A Buffa-loan! Get it? 

Several baby bison walking with large brown adult bison.
Bison in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service.

#10 - Greater Sage Grouse

The greater sage grouse was the focus of the largest collaborative land conservation effort in U.S. history, which succeeded last year in preventing the need to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. A diverse group of people, organizations and agencies across 11 western states came together to protect the greater sage-grouse, which calls the iconic vast sagebrush landscape home. Fun fact: The birds know how to get down. On breeding grounds called leks, male birds strut, fan their feathers and inflate bright yellow throat sacs while making a popping sound -- all with the hope of attracting a female. As Paul Rudd’s character, Brian Fantana, will tell you, “Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.”

Two sage grouse strutting around on the grass.
Greater sage grouse on the grasslands. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.