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Florida's Most Endangered List

Wetlands support many of Florida's most popular — and endangered — species. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has acquired several tracts of wetlands in order to preserve them.

Imagine travelling back in time a few hundred years and visualize the area where you live. What do you see there? No houses or cars, buildings or streets. Instead you see mostly marshes and grasslands, swamps and forests-hardly touched by humans.

What animals might you see there? In wild grasslands, you might see a red wolf stalking its prey. In an estuary, you might see a West Indian monk seal sunning itself in the warm water. In a large open plain, you might even see a small herd of roaming buffalo.

Florida still has millions of acres of wetlands and wilderness where a variety of animals den and nest, eat and are eaten. However, some animals are missing from the Florida landscape. The wolf, monk seal and buffalo among many others have all disappeared from Florida -they have become extinct. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission currently lists more than 100 animals in the state as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern. Each of these species is in danger of becoming extinct unless the harmful factors affecting their habitats cease.

Animals in Florida can become extinct for a number of reasons, ranging from loss of habitat to overhunting, from pesticides to vehicle collisions. Some species have become so fragile that a hurricane or viral infection can cause their extinction. Once a species becomes extinct, it is gone forever. Many of Florida's most popular animals including the panther, manatee and our national symbol, the bald eagle face the risk of becoming extinct - unless people act in order to save them. Fortunately, people today care now more than ever and are willing to act, brightening the future of many of the animals currently listed as endangered species.

Animals are given various classifications by either the federal or state government. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, animals are classified as endangered (the closest to extinction) or threatened. Animals being considered for listing are called candidate species. Federal law gives protection to these species. At the state level, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission designates species as endangered, threatened, and species of special concern. Animals given a state listing are protected under Florida law.

This fact sheet contains information about eight of Florida's most famous animals. Each has an endangered species classification. From these descriptions you will learn the kinds of wetland habitat these animals need so they can survive. You will also learn what the animals need from humans to keep from becoming extinct.

Florida Sandhill Crane

Grus canadensis pratensis

Status: Threatened species (state listing)

Features: Grey-to-cinnamon colored plumage. One of Florida's largest birds.

Population: Roughly 4,000 cranes live in Florida.

Home: Cranes migrate throughout central Florida.

Habitat: The habitat of the Sandhill crane includes freshwater marshes dominated by pickerelweed and maidencane. They also require upland forests and grasslands. They often eat seeds, leaves and roots of various plants.

Outlook: Protection of suitable plant communities within wetlands is important to the crane's survival. Cranes are picky eaters!

American Alligator

Alligator mississipiensis

Status:Species of special concern (state listing); threatened species (federal listing, due to its similarity in appearance to the endangered Florida crocodile).

Features: Elongated reptile with muscular flat tail and long, round shovel-shaped snout. Armored skin on back.

Population: Roughly one million alligators live in Florida.

Home: Alligators live in marshes and swamps in every county of west central Florida.

Habitat: They depend on large, shallow lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, canals, freshwater marshes, hardwood swamps and cypress swamps.

Outlook: Species on the rebound. After nearing extinction in some areas 30 years ago, the species has recovered. Protection of wetlands and strict penalties for poaching have helped. The alligator retains its protected status due to its close resemblance to the crocodile. Only 500 crocodiles remain in Florida.

Roseate Spoonbill

Ajaia ajaja

Status: Species of special concern (state listing)

Features: A long-legged wading bird with a spatula-like bill and rose-pink feathers.

Population: Approximately 880 nesting pairs live in Florida.

Home: The Gulf Coast north to Tampa Bay appears to be the population center.

Habitat: Roseate spoonbills forage for small fish in shallow marine, brackish or freshwater sites. Wetland habitats include coastal marshes and mangrove swamps. The birds nest in red and black mangroves.

Outlook: Species on the rebound. The future of the spoonbills in Florida depends upon protection of estuaries, coastal marshes and mangroves.

Florida Black Bear

Ursus americanus floridanus

Status: Threatened species (state listing)

Features: Black fur and brown muzzle. The largest land mammal in Florida.

Population: Most likely between 1,000 and 1,500 bears live in Florida.

Home: A small population of the Florida black bear roams in the Chassahowitzka Swamp and the adjacent coastal wildlife refuge areas in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Larger populations occur in the Ocala National Forest, the Big Cypress Swamp and other protected wilderness regions across the state.

Habitat: Bears live in forests and wetlands including hardwood swamps and cypress swamps. They eat mostly plants. Bears roam in long, connected forest areas.

Outlook: Protecting the black bear depends on the preservation of large connected wetlands and woodlands. Bear crossing signs along highways can help reduce the number of bears killed by cars.

West Indian Manatee

Trichechus manatus latirostris

Also called Sea Cow

Status: Endangered species (federal and state listing)

Features: Robust, greyish-brown, nearly hairless aquatic animals. The head blends into the rest of the body. Its forelimbs are paddle-like and have nails.

Population: At least 1,435 manatees make Florida their winter home.

Home: In winter, manatees gather at warm freshwater sources including Crystal River, Homosassa River, Tampa Bay and Fort Myers. Manatees spend summers in Florida's coastal offshore habitats.

Habitat: Manatees are frequently encountered at the lower reaches of rivers and in estuaries bordering mangrove swamps and coastal marshes. Manatees forage on a wide variety of aquatic plants including seagrasses and mangroves.

Outlook: Additional sanctuaries free from motorboats and development can help protect the West Indian manatee.

Florida Panther

Felis concolor coryi

Also called puma, cougar and mountain lion

Status: Endangered species (federal and state listing)

Features:A large slender cat, tawny on top with a whitish underside.

Population: The number of Florida panthers remaining in the wild is probably between 30 and 50.

Home: Panthers live in long, connected wilderness areas in the southern part of the region.

Habitat: Panther habitat includes swamps and marshes. Panthers eat mostly white- tailed deer, feral pigs, armadillos, and raccoons.

Outlook: Hunters used to pose the greatest threat to panthers. Today habitat loss most threatens the panther. The panther does not adapt well to human intrusions and habitat changes. However, the population should remain stable as long as habitat protection continues.

Wood Stork

Mycteria americana

Status: Endangered species (federal and state listing)

Features: A large, long-legged wading bird with white plumage.

Population: Roughly 3,588 nesting pairs live in Florida.

Home: Primarily in freshwater marshes and swamps throughout the region.

Habitat: Storks fish in water less than 15 inches deep. They will feed in any shallow water where they can find fish. They nest in swamps.

Outlook: Species on the rebound. A large number of storks will feed in human-made wetlands or agricultural wetlands. Many nesting colony sites throughout Florida are now protected.

Southern Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocphalus leucocephalus

Status: Threatened species (federal and state listing)

Features: White head and tail, chocolate-brown wings and body, yellow eyes, bill and feet. The largest raptor breeding in Florida.

Population: Approximately 2,000 individual and nearly 700 nesting pairs live in Florida.

Home: Bald eagles nest in and fly over natural areas throughout the region.

Habitat: Proximity to water is important. Bald eagles feed mostly on fish. Nesting habitat consists of tall trees with a clear view of the surrounding area. Wetland habitats include freshwater marshes and swamps.

Outlook: Species on the rebound. Curbing human activities a mile away from prominent nesting sites can benefit the eagle population.

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